Thursday, May 21, 2009

Drones - the lazy bums

Sometimes I get the feeling this is a common misconception: "Drones are just lazy bums - mating with the queen". No. Drones in a hive do not USUALLY mate with their own queen (sister) because they drift from hive to hive (I suppose there's room for an "oops"). Mating occurs in DRONE CONGREGATION AREAS - well away from the nest and high off the ground, out of site. Your virgin queen mates this one time - with SEVERAL (12-15) drones. She stores the sperm in her spermatheca and she SELECTIVELY lays either "fertilized eggs" (female workers) or "unfertilized eggs" (drones). If you watch your hive - you'll see that drones are departing the hive along with other workers - usually to return in the afternoon.

If by chance a drone would mate with his sister - a spotty brood pattern would likely result - it's not entirely understood if it's from a higher mortality rate of larvae and thereby removal by nurse bees.

Drones are an important part of the bee life cycle - not so important in YOUR hive...but important to OTHER hives.


'tis the season when hives are cooking-up queens for swarming.  Swarming - nature's way of dividing the hive.  Good for the bees (go forth and multiply)....bad for the beekeeper interested in honey production (half your workforce disappears).

oh, how you learn and grow with your bees and your beekeeping hobby/habit...

I've "hived" 4 swarms in 3 days.  My Own!  I've got single deeps of bees all over the backyard - had to make an emergency run to the bee supplier for more"hardware".

As this is my third year as a keeper, having a LITTLE history...I can look at some of my methods/goals/objectives/preconceptions that have come and GONE.  As a first year - I had my "nose" in the box WAY TOO MUCH.  My second year goal was, "the bees know more about beekeeping than I do - interfere less".  My third year (THIS YEAR) goal is SWARM PREVENTION and understanding.

I've been reading some "alternative thought" about swarm prevention....and this is my CURRENT thought & question.  I had two whopping big hives come through winter with VERY little die off.  I thought that I "kept ahead" of the mother hive by splitting it early - but swarm cells were ALREADY created by the time I got to it (May 1!)....I really don't want to be cutting out perfectly good, natural can I prevent SWARM CELL creation - how can I "get to" the bees BEFORE they even THINK about splitting?

One line of alternative thought is keeping the bees in 2.5 boxes(2 deeps & a super) - or 3 deeps!  Why do we think they MUST stay in 2 boxes?  If they want more room for brood production - why not give it to them?  Another thought process is the practice called, CHECKERBOARDING....which is alternating BROOD frames with EMPTY/honey frames. According to the practitioners of checkerboarding - it actually increases the hives brood production and "storing" desire - they get the feeling of much more "space" in the hive.

Honey production is a "by-product" of my hobby.  I can see where a honey producer might think - adding another deep - that's a lot of honey/storage that "I don't harvest".  But if you have MORE BEES - bees that don't leave - more workers = more honey....happy bees.

Going into the winter months with ALOT of bees is a good thing too.  Remember - the larger the cluster - the more likely they'll survive - they can more readily maintain the warmth of the cluster and MOVE for food resources....and with 3 boxes of food reserves?  When I "popped the top" of these two hives in April - the clusters were AT THE INSIDE COVER.

Hind-site being 20/20.  In the cases of my hives coming through winter as strong as they did.....they should have received another box after I did my hive body switch (putting the bottom "empty/eaten" frames on top of them).

Practitioners of "HIGH BEEHIVES (3 boxes) with a combination of the practice of CHECKERBOARDING" have reported that hives NATURALLY SUPERCEDE queens in the spring.  A much more CALM and natural way of the hive maintaining their OWN production.

The bees know more about beekeeping than we do - that's for SURE!  In the case of these two hives - I'm throwing out "MY NEED of 2 deeps" - I'm going to give these bees more space.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Practice Makes Perfect

An excellent point brought up at our Field Day....Practice "picking up your queen" with DRONES. Drones don't have a stinger - so you can handle them painlessly.

There may be a day when you need to handle your queen:
  1. Putting her "away" for safe keeping while you're seriously messing with the hive.
  2. Grabbing her and making sure she "goes in the right box" if you're splitting hives.
  3. Grabbing her to "do away" with her

Queen Cells

My two backyard hives came through winter GANG BUSTERS this year. I noted a "slowing" of pollen the last couple of weeks...and last weekend's check confirms they're making queen cells - and LOTS of them! Swarm and Supercedure. Hive one was split last weekend. Hive two will be split as soon as I put together some empty frames (or I'm hoping to catch them if they swarm).

I opted to use an empty DEEP as my "nuc" for hive one's split. Yesterday, during the inspection of hive 3 (the new hive), I heard PIPING! (that's the newly emerged queen's "rally call") THAT WAS WAY COOL.

Here's a youtube link I found - where you can hear an example of PIPING. (looks like this guy was cutting queen cells out - there's a bunch of them in his box)

Thank you Jeff

A BIG THANKS to Jeff for letting us in his beeyard to explore and learn. This was our bee club "meeting" for the month - a FIELD day - and it was well received. We all got to see and compare the progress of newly installed packages, a queenless hive, a captured swarm hive, and last years overwintered hives. Jeff showed us his technique of POWDERED SUGARING a hive to check for mites. It was interesting the little WHITE bees emerging...and the change in the sound of the hive. Destroying drone brood was discussed - the freezing method, the cutting out method, etc - as a matter of mite control. Jeff briefly explained his technique of creating NUC hives as well.


Monday, May 11, 2009

To "queen exclude" or not

Queen excluders - AKA: honey excluders. As a "newbee" beekeeper, I bought into the queen excluder idea my first year. Well of course the thing that "NEVER HAPPENS" first year package bees swarmed. I thought I was keeping ahead of them - I felt they had plenty of space.....but apparently THEY THOUGHT this excluder was a ROOF overhead.

I don't use them anymore. Oh, but what about the queen laying eggs in your supers!??? It happens, but rarely and when it does it's a FEW. The queen doesn't like to travel over capped honey. This a simple check - make sure your frames in the top box, have honey on the tops (and the brood is below).

And so what??? if there are a couple of bees brought-up in the supers? by the time honey harvest rolls around - these bees will likely be hatched out....and the tendency of the workers is to keep that queen down in the deeps.

Of course this subject is a little different if we're talking about CUT COMB vs. extracted. The brood cells will be darkened and not real appealing to the consumer....

To me, the trade-off is a HANDFULL of "darkened/brood cells" or a hive BURSTING with workers and honey. (the excluder also slows the workers down in getting honey into the supers)

my opinion....Queen excluders = Honey excluders = Swarm inducers.

Keeping Ahead of the Hive

When do I stop feeding the bees? When they stop taking it. Take a look around you....are there flowers in bloom? flowering trees? dandelions? If there's other resources for them, it's time.

When is it time to SUPER? Remember the "feeling" of SPACE is very important - STAY AHEAD OF YOUR BEES.

If you haven't already - you should consider the spring time hive body switch - which will put the "empty" lighter frames on top (these are the frames they ate-up over the winter)

According to one beekeeper - give your hive bodies a "heft" test - lift....heavy? Is the hive BURSTING with bees? - top deep box frames covered with bees? ....SUPER

Tis the season - drones are "made" and hives are making queen cells....

Friday, May 1, 2009

Essential Oils

Follow this link to review which natural oils may help keep bees healthy.


To the Beekeeper - the Dandelion is a FLOWER.

Home-made Dormant Oil Spray

(I'm sorry that I'm a little late in getting this out - apple trees are beginning to come out of dormancy - but file this away for future reference)

There are likely many of us who maintain a couple of apple trees (or keep hives at orchards) and are weary of spraying because of our bees. Dormant oil spray is used kill overwintering insects or insect eggs. It is meant to be sprayed at 2 week intervals when the tree is DORMANT (before buds form/open) (I also spray around the base of the tree and the ground surrounding)

The recipes for homemade dormant oil spray I've come across must have been written for an ORCHARD! Here's a scaled down version to treat 3 or 4 trees.

2 Cups of Mineral Oil
2 oz of Oil Based Soap (granular)
1 Cup Water
Boil all of these together and mix well. Further dilute: 1 part to 20 parts water and use immediately (cooled of course). ingredients separate quickly.

Mineral oil can be found at Walmart/Fleet Farm (around the pharmacy/health area). Oil Based Soap is like "Ivory Snow" - though I couldn't find it in a granular form.....I found something similar called "ECOS" in the natural foods section of Festival Foods.


The girls have actually been taking in pollen for some time now. The first pollens available to them in the season is from trees.

A quick glance as I passed this hive revealed bees covered from tip to tail in YELLOW! So thick with pollen that I couldn't see any stripes - and I thought there was something wrong with them.

Much can be learned about your hive by observing from the outside. Bees incoming with pollen...means BROOD. Pollen is the bees protein - it's body builder. Nectar/Honey is the bees carbohydrate - it's energy.

Lack of pollen inflow can mean a couple of things:
  • Remember, that the queen slows laying and stops all together in preparation for swarming (this is a good thing - you have lots of bees in the box!). Check the hive for swarm/queen cells. Remove ALL queen cells and or create a "false swarm" (consult your favorite bee book for details). or SPLIT the hive - ideally - you want the queen in one box and the new queen cells in the other.....if you're unsure - check both soon after for eggs to verify which box the queen is in.
  • Something has happened to your queen or she's failing miserably. Check for her. Check for eggs (no eggs = no queen). If you have a spotty brood pattern and/or a lot of drone brood, the queen's fertility is failing - this hive will fail. Replace her. If it's too late to purchase a queen, and you still have sufficient workers to make one, give them a frame of eggs from another hive. If this colony is otherwise healthy and it's getting late in the season - you may want to plan on combining it with another hive before winter (you'll have to pinch the weak queen - if she exists). Your goal is to go into the cold months with strong & populated hives - population increases their chance of survival.
  • Disease. Check the hive for signs of disease with your bee book in hand. Treat if neccessary. Don't combine colonies weakened by disease with healthy hives. Nature may take it's course with this hive.

Beekeeping Class Well Received

The first part (of two) meetings went well. Over 50 people joined-in for the evening - our room was changed to accommodate the numbers.

An interesting question that I will quickly comment upon - because it's very relevant to NOW:

Spring Feeding - why and what ratio? Use the 2 parts water to 1 part sugar/fructose mixture in Spring. This thinner mixture simulates "nectar flow" and will get your queen stimulated to laying more eggs. When you start feeding - don't stop. Keep feeding until they don't take it anymore.

(the 1 to 1 ratio is used in the fall. This thicker mixture requires less evaporation and is easier on the bees to store for the coming winter)