Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mary in the Intensive Care Unit

Mary is failing. Her population is to low to survive another month. She has plenty of stored honey & pollen but the cold is killing her. From occupying a double deep she's down to a corner on 3 frames. There is only a couple hundred bees left. Why she's crashing is anybodies guess. Bad genetics, poor hygiene, Nosema, Tracheal mites, who knows. I'm not giving up on her just yet though. So it's time for extraordinary measures. On Tuesday i brought Mary's entire hive into the garage. She will stay inside this improvised Intensive Care Unit until the colony improves or it dies out.

First, being inside the house she will need a new entrance to the outside like a Observation Hive has. I fit a stretch-tube to a plank of MDF on top of the hive then ran it to another plank set in the window. Now the bees can go outside when they need to. It's longer than I need but the extra length allowed for a heat trap. Just a bend in the tube to keep the cold air out & the warm air in. It's 20 F outside at night. I'd like for that cold air not to flow over them from the new window entrance.

Not a Dryer

New Window Entrance

Also I closed off the hive's usual front entrance with #8 hardware cloth. They need to be outside, not in the garage. I may need to close it off with a solid block. The bees have ganged up on it once or twice. Trying to get out and fly I think. Right now it serves as a useful window into their activities. They may forget about it after they discover the new entrance up top.

Have a peek

What I'm doing Now...

Now that the hive is in a controlled environment I hope to help the colony back from the brink. As I see it the main issue is heat. To that I turned on the space heater in the garage and placed it near the hive. If the area can stay at about 50 F the bees should not cluster. Out of cluster they can roam freely to get what food they need. Their energy can also be put towards working the queen. Getting her to lay eggs is the one thing that will save this colony. If not they're dead. 50°F is also cool enough to keep them from getting too antsy to fly since it's still 30 F outside. I hope.

In the garage moisture won't be a problem so I'm feeding them with 1:1 syrup. The light syrup promotes brood rearing so they're going to get a lot of it. I'm using the Boardman feeder in the old (original) entrance. I wanted to use the hive-top feeder but that would interfere with their New entrance. I'm not sure if they've found it yet. With so few bees it would take a while for the syrup level to drop enough to notice. There were signs of possible Nosema during the last inspection. If I see more of it I'll medicate the syrup.

The bees have not wanted for honey or pollen. When they weren't to cold to get any that is. Empty frames have been rotated out for filled frames all Winter. Yet at this point everything must be tried. Though the frames are filled I will start adding pollen patties immediately. Pollen starts the queen to laying so the more the merrier.

The amount of Sunlight available to plants & animals is dependent on what time of year it is. The bees thinking it's Spring instead of Winter might be further spurred towards brooding up. Plus bees love the sun so I've put 3 shop lights on the hive for 15 hours a day to mimic later in the year.

When it gets warm enough to go into Myrina, still outside & doing fine thank you kindly, I'll rob some of her brood or bees and place them in Mary. The beeks I've talked to said 2 frames of bees or brood, with nurse bees, should do the job. The boost in numbers will significantly help this colony survive.

The point of it all...

If this colony dies out I'll have a nicely primed hive ready to accept a package of bees this Spring. They'll be way ahead of the curve if they start with a hive filled with honey & pollen. Honey in spades for sure. So why all this trouble then. For starters a package costs money; minor but important. The big reason is that I can take a swarm cell out of Myrina and put in in Mary. If Mary is still here that is. Then all the problems of Mary can go away as the new queen produces more bees. Replaced with Myrina's superior genetic traits that have kept her healthy & strong for 2 years now. Also gone will be drones carrying Old Mary's genetics to other colonies polluting them with lousy hygienic tendencies. I know first hand that Myrina is a master at dealing with all local climate & pest issues. I'd have to guess, fuss, & worry about a package from somewhere else.

They say breed your own local queens. That's what I aim to do.

Oh, did I mention I saw a bee come out, fly around, and go back in the window entrance today. Hope she tells the others.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Inspection 2/21/10

Mary & Myrina
54 f
Sunny's 54 degrees. Really!

She is in her last days unless I do something drastic. Even then she might not make it. Her end is at hand. Poor Mary, she never could figure things out.

Before i opened the top there were only a few girls flying around the hive. The first fly day since mid-January. One would expect there to be tons of bees taking cleansing flights. When the cover came off I saw hundreds of dead bees covering the sugar on the inner cover.

95% of these bees are dead

This sugar was put on the inner cover Jan 18th. It had hardened over from the moisture in the hive. The brown stain is bee waste. It could be Nosema but I'm not sure. When I cleaned out the entrance lots of dead bees fell out. Maybe it was clogged, so the girls had nowhere to go. I regularly clean the dead bees out the entrance. They are apparently dying faster than I am cleaning.

Nosema or clogged entrance?

This is the Vent box. Very messy. The Inner cover was stained just as bad. If you click on the image a larger image will open. There you can see where the girls chewed the styrofoam around the vent holes to make them bigger.

Now I got a good look at Mary's cluster. What a sad sight indeed. A couple of hundred bees is all that remains of Mary. Her cluster could fit in a two cup measuring cup. She can't possibly generate enough heat to survive these cold Winter months now. Egg laying should be starting soon if not already. Without sufficient heat to rear brood, let alone lay eggs, Queen Mary won't have a chance to replace the dead bees with new bees. She is over the edge. Past the point of no return.

The Last Stand

I pulled out all the frames to see what's going on. Four frames were light on stores so I replaced them with honey & pollen frames I had in waiting (The cleaned Wax moth frames from this post). The remaining frames had plenty of honey in them. Plenty of dead bees too. Two types of dead bee. The 'Starvation bee' & the 'Cold bee'.

Symmetry in death

The 'starvation' bees are tails out of the cells. They were inside the cluster when they died. The 'cold' bees died on the outside of the cluster where the temps were coldest. They were likely too cold to re-enter the cluster to feed. You can see the outline of the cluster at the time these 'cold' bees died. Oh, might I add a giant 'I Think" to the above hypothesis.

Also I found where Mary's girls were storing the sugar in one of the frames.

Sugar in cells

Notice how they put it in the brood area of the frame. Apparently beneath where they were clustering. Must have been done on a few warmer, but not fly, days. I replaced the hard messy sugar on top of the inner cover with fresh sugar. I hope it helps.

I've posted a question about their plight on the BeeMaster web forum. Lots of ideas there. I'll post what I do with sad, sad Mary.

Queen Mary nearing her end


What's to say about an aggressive clean freak who's population is sky-high. Other than she's doing fine if not great. Popped her cover to find thousands of bees moving freely around the inner cover where i put the sugar last month. I swear one of them yelled at me with a Brooklyn accent "Hey yous,..Shut dat door...We's workin' here". These bees came out of that hive like it was on fire. All of them head-butting me to move me off. I can't imagine how bad honey collection is going to bee in July when it's hot.


The best part of this was that I could not find ANY dead bees. All her dead have been removed with the efficiency of a well oiled machine. Note that you do not see any bee waste anywhere. These are some very hygenic bees.

Next I took off the inner cover to look at her population. After all those bees came out to greet me I didn't think I needed to but should just to make sure.

Myrina's Legions

I don't think Myrina knows it's Winter. Just thousands of bees busy with hive chores milling about. Remember she's a double deep so there is much more than you see here. Again, not one single dead bee was to be found. I began to pull a frame to check for brood when another cloud of bees came at me. I realized I did not have the smoker with me. I didn't bring it thinking it was to cold to need it. Again Myrina always likes to prove me wrong. I called it a day and closed her up. I'll check her brood on the next warm day instead. She's healthy & strong. No need to pester her just yet.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bee'ginners Bee School

Tonight was the first class of the 'Beekeeping for Beginners' course presented by the Piedmont Beekeepers Association in Lynchburg, Virginia. About time! About time, because I've had bees for Two years and am finally attending a class. About Time, also because the first two classes were postponed due to bad Winter storms. The class was packed with soon to be new beekeepers. Which is a very good sign. People mentioned many different reasons for enrolling:
  1. Lack of pollinators
  2. Bees need a helping hand
  3. I want honey
  4. My garden needs bees
  5. Parent & child shared activity
  6. I have bees and don't know what to do with them
  7. I saw a demonstration and decided to start
  8. My wife saw a demonstration and decided that I was going to start
Or this one,
My relative who kept bees in the States moved to a Caribbean island where he was attacked and almost killed by Africanized bees.

I have no idea how that last one works but I'm glad they came all the same. #'s 6 & 8 apply mostly to me. I can't wait to finish this bee class & bee smart.