Monday, March 29, 2010

Bow in the Foundation

Plasticell has been my choice of foundation since I started with bees in 2008. This year I've begun to use other foundation types. Namely Pierco Drone Frame & Crimped-Wire. I also looked into Honey Super Cell & Natural Comb. Both of which I'd like to eventually try. Pierco & Crimped-Wire both have an issue though. They both suffer from 'bow'. Bow in the foundation will cause extra deep cells on one side and cells too short on the other side. It may balance out in a honey super but causes problems in the Brood box.

Not a surprise with Crimped-Wire. It just needs to be supported. We were shown how to cross wire it in Bee Class. The pins only hold down the edges. The middle still bows out some. The cross wire does a good job and I plan to use it. It's extra steps I wouldn't need to take if I used all Plasticell. But the bees like the regular wax so much better than the plastic stuff. Also, when it's time to renew the wax comb I can pull it ALL out, clean the frame, & add all new wax foundation. With plastic I can only scrape it off. There would always be some old wax stuck on the foundation. Pluses & minuses either way.

Unsupported Wax Foundation

The Drone comb surprised me. I bought 3 frames and they all had a slight bow to them. As a ridged plastic product it should not have this problem. I could say 'warp' but it bent the same way unsupported wax foundation does; pushed out from the middle. Maybe I got a bad batch maybe not. I added a coat of wax to them so the bees would draw them out faster. With the heat of the melted wax the bow became very pronounced. Practically unusable. After cooling off they returned to their original condition. What little bow remains I might get rid of with a few weights left to sit on top for a week or so. Again extra steps but do-able.

The more I think about it the more I think I have a bad batch. I'll ask around at the club meetings and on the forums.

Waxing Plasticell Foundation

My first year of beekeeping introduced me to Wax Moth & disintegrating comb in the extractor. Since then all new frames are made up of Plasticell. Well, bees don't really like plastic foundation so the manufacturer coats it in beeswax. Nice but the bees are still somewhat hesitant about using it. They will draw it out but only when they have no choice. That can take all season in some cases.

I want the bees to draw out the frames faster than that so I'm adding some incentive. More beeswax. I have a little West Bend hot pot that works great for directly melting wax. It has a basic temperature set dial. Medium heat gives the best results. Quick to melt but no boiling or spitting.

I use a foam brush for the application. It soaks up enough hot wax to stay liquefied for up to half of one side of a deep frame. Though, 3 brushings are necessary to properly cover one side. It's a simple process, melt the wax, dip the brush, shake off the extra, paint the wax onto the frame, mash it in as it firms up. Also, no mess if you use paper towels or cardboard. I did it in the kitchen without getting a drop on the floor.

Top- Pierco Drone frame / Bottom- Plasticell Deep

This process eats through the wax in a hurry though. I've never worked toward producing wax and I've only been beeking for 2 years. There are 20 Deep frames that need done. I don't have much wax on hand but hopefully there might be enough to finish the job. Otherwise I'll have to drop 10 & punt.

Unfortunately the Pierco Drone Frame did not like the heat. It began to warp as I waxed it. It looked like it might not work but after it cooled off again, much later, the shape went back to normal. The Plasticell Foundation had no reaction to the heat. It never warped at all.

Before Waxing
After Waxing

I wonder if adding some essential oils might induce to bees to draw it out faster yet. Many Beeks use the essential oils. I worry about disturbing the pheromones already in the hive with foreign scents. I'll need to read more on that. This will be the first time I've tried this so I won't know if it works until mid-season. The Packaged bees will start out on the Plasticell so won't have a choice. When Mary gets her second DHB back filled with the double waxed foundation I will get a better idea.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

New Colony Coming Soon

Next week I'll order a package of bees through the Piedmont Beekeepers Association who is presenting the Beginners class. They will come from Georgia with a marked queen. Delivery date is currently near the end of April.

This will be the first time I start a hive with a package. When I got my first 2 hives they were already established (unknown how many years old) and filled with wax, brood, pollen, & nectar (and nosema, varroa, & waxmoth in Mary). So I've never seen a colony start from the beginning. The best part is all the new wooden ware. With Mary & Myrina I had to start replacing parts piece-meal from day One. Neither of them has ever had all new parts.

Things I must do first:
  1. Build & paint all wooden ware
  2. Select hive location & build stand
  3. Add Chronolog to Blog
  4. Read up on installing packages
  5. Pray it won't be raining when they show up.

Mary out of ICU

Today Mary comes out of ICU (the garage). Actually last night she came out. After it got dark and all her bees were inside for the night I sealed up the entrance hole and moved her. But only to a temporary spot until I make a stand for the permanent site.

New Temporary Location

She gets to come out into the world again. She's had 2 weeks of gathering pollen & nectar. Her population is still small but Myrina's stolen bees have helped tremendously. There may be a few cold nights left but they should be fine. I really want them outside now so they can forage as early as they want to. They also need to finally clean up the inside of the hive. In the garage for the past 2 weeks the bees have been chopping at the steal mesh closing off the entrance. Now outside with the front entrance finally open they may commence all hive activities.

I left her closed up all night and opened her up completely this morning. I place several sticks right in front of her entrance. That should tell the bees something has changed causing them to re-orientate the location of the hive. I'm afraid they won't do that and gang up at the old window entrance.

Of course with Mary everything is going to be a problem.

After I placed her out last night I wanted to add a Hive top Feeder. The bees were calm & resting in the Hive body so I gave it a try. Oops, her girls did not like me opening the top cover and became defensive. I didn't want all her bees flying around at night in a new location so I quickly gave up. In the moment the top was off I saw where the syrup jar had leaked sugar all over the Inner Cover. I'll need to clean that up when I can get in there again.

When I opened up the hive this morning I had more of the same. At the front entrance and at the top where the ICU entrance was located. I was able to get the HTF on but not able to use the Vent Box as a shim. So right now the T-cover is sitting directly on the HTF. I filled the HTF with the syrup. I used a 1:1 syrup medicated with Fumagilin. They still have the Nosema because they didn't take their medicine the first time.

The new hive stand is a tree stump. I cut a tilt to it but made it to much. I can not get the whole gallon of syrup in the HTF without the syrup over flowing the front end. I'll stick a piece of wood underneath the front end and fix that.

I really want to break into the hive and do a complete inspection but I want to see them learn where there hive is first. Plus the shock of moving will need some time to wear off. I'll update this post later after I've fixed the HTF & the tilt.

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I was able to get the HTF inside the Vent box after I suited up. I adjusted the tilt and poured in the rest of the syrup. After an hour or so I noticed much buzzing around the entrance. Behavior I always attribute to the bees having found the syrup.

The Inner Cover was trashed with crystallized sugar. That and the Nosema stain may mean the end of that Inner Cover. If I can't get it clean without too much water damage then to the burn pile it will go.

Most field bees performed Orientation flights but about 20 to 30 kept going back to the previous entrance location. I'd put them back in the hive then wait an hour and do it again. By nightfall all were back home from what I can tell.

Now I'll sit back and see what Mary can do. If she needs another infusion of bees I can grab a frame of brood from Myrina easily.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

First Sting of 2010

The only reason I'm reporting this is because it's the first of the year. Hours after I had worked on Myrina I was trimming a tree in the front yard. I stepped back to check the last cut. While standing there, not moving, a bee came right at me from high & left. Nailed me right in the back of the neck. Dirty rotten bee!

Where I was standing was under a low hanging Red Maple. Afterward I looked at it and saw many bees working the blooms. I was still in the same shirt as when I inspected Myrina. Draw your own conclusions. There are 4 other beeks within a mile of my house but I'll blame Myrina all the same.

Smoker Fuel: Hardwood or Pine?

Breaking into the hives today gave me a chance to try out a new smoker fuel. I have always used pine needles as they are free & abundant here. The problem with needles is the tar they give off when burning clogs up the smoker. The smoker must then be cleaned with a propane torch. Also, the bees hate the smoke. I say that because they always attack the smoker & me.

So I bought a bag of those small wood pellets from Dadant. I hoped the pellets would be better and they are. The smoke from the pellets is cool & moist. I don't know how it's moist but it is. Some water dripped out from under the cap while it was lit. The smoke was less noxious than the pine needles smoke as tested by my eyes. The pellets stayed lit all day. I put a cork in the spout to smother the embers after I was finished messing with the bees.

I'll leave the unburnt contents in the smoker until I need it again. Then I'll relight it with a propane torch. I tried it once tonight to see how hard it was. It lit up in a second. Some squeezing on the bellows got it the rest of the way.

The biggest test is how it affected the bees; namely, Myrina. At the first puff Myrina's girls came out as usual to kick someones butt. Unusually, though, they did not directly find me. They buzzed around looking but only a few could locate me. Contrast that with the pine needles where they all come out directly at me.

During the inspection the bees spent more time in the hive than outside being defensive. Again another improvement. The best part is when I would give them a good blast of smoke they would actually move deeper into the hive as appose to attacking the smoker & me.

All in all the bees were calmer today than they have been since I got them; by Myrina's standards. If this behavior continues I will be sold on these pellets, or at least hardwood fuel vs. pine fuel.

Inspection 3/20/2010

72 f

A perfect day for an inspection. Lots of activity as I opened up the hive. The bees had chewed farther through the styrofoam insulation in the vent box. Its debris was scattered on the inner cover & looked like sugar. I may need to change to a different product next year.

After the inner cover was taken off I could see that the bees were not eating the pollen substitute I had left them. It had flowed/melted down the frames some. So that's it I'm done with it. I scraped it all out and chucked into the woods. Maybe they don't need it after the Maples bloom or I'm making it wrong. Either way they won't be seeing it anymore.

Unwanted Pollen Patties

Looking at the frames was good. They are beginning to store pollen and nectar next to the brood frames. It's mostly from the Maples and is consistent in color.

Maple Pollen & Nectar

Since the population is less than in Summer it's easier to look at individual bees. One thing about Myrina's girls is the difference in colors between them. Some are dark & others are brighter. I figure the instructors at Bee class can explain it. I hope.


The bees were mostly in the top box. The brood was still only in 3 frames, like the last inspection, but occupied 1/2 to 3/4 of each frame. My reading glasses made seeing the eggs much easier. Lots of little eggs expanding outward on the frames. The larva looked great too. The bees had loaded them up with royal jelly. I never realized how much of that stuff goes into a cell. The capped brood was plentiful and in a solid pattern. I also saw several drone cells.

I pulled an empty frame and replaced it with a Pierco Drone frame. I only have one per hive right now. I'll pull them out, freeze them, then place them back in the hive. I may get one more per hive so that I can replace a drone frame 'with' a drone frame. As long as I don't forget to change them out I should put a big hurt on the Varroa Mite.

Overall, such a healthy colony is a beautiful sight after such a bad Winter. This next image is for every beek still waiting to get into their hives.

Eggs, Royal Jelly, & Larva
(click for close up)

Myrina is sure doing her job. I tried to get a blue queen marking pen yesterday but Dadant was out of them. I did buy the queen plunger which I can't wait to use. Right now it's easy to find the queens. A month from now it will go back to be almost impossible. Neither Myrina or Mary are marked; both being children of swarms. Until then I hope to see lots of this.

Queen Myrina on frame #3, with pollen & capped honey

So the top box is where all the action is. This means it is time to reverse boxes. Not a difficult task. It will lessen the need to swarm and contribute to build-up. I get another chance to clean off the BB. It wasn't very dirty at all just cappings mostly. The top box gets switched to the bottom and the former bottom box is now on top. Where I can now pull it's frames to see what is going on there.

This box has really gotten away from me. All but one of the frames are the old farmers frames. A bunch of old and black crimped wire wax frames. I have culled many new Plasticell frames that are drawn out and with some honey & pollen left over. Those will replace these soon. Though old these frames currently hold a good bit of honey & pollen. Bees in this box are occupying the frames that were beneath the brood. Frames 1 & 2. The girls have started this year on the Eastern side of the boxes.

Other than the old frames propolis is a slight issue right now. What the girls are doing is adding a layer of propolis to each spacer on every frame. This increases the space between the frames and leads to more bur comb. I scraped all 20 frames in this hive. Put them back in the boxes and squeezed them tight toward the East side. I hope the bees get the idea now.

Old Propolis on a Old Frame

After all that everything went back together. With the addition of the Hive Top Feeder. I had made a shim box to put it in but I found the Vent box does the same job. I'll drill holes in the shim boxes and turn them into Vent boxes too.

HTF with Syrup

The HTF was filled with a gallon of 1:1 syrup with a Tbs of apple cider vinegar. The inner cover & T-cover went back on and the day was almost done. I checked the lean of the hive. It had settled back some. I added a couple of shims to the back under the Bottom Board. Now it has a slight lean forward again. After about 30 minutes the bees came out in force for the rest of day. I believe they found the syrup and had at it.

The Event-log was updated (here)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Silver & Red Maple

Silver Maple <---Click link for species info
At last the Maples are in bloom. First up is the Silver Maple. Not a majestic tree but still good for the bees. It grows naturally in moist areas like swamps & stream sides. At maturity it will have large spreading limbs and none of them will be straight. A fast growing tree that is widely used as a landscaping tree so most of them are found in someones yard. As in my case since my neighbor has a handful of them.

The Male Flower

The male flowers provide the pollen my bees are currently collecting. I've read these maples can be a good source of nectar. There are, of course, temperature issues with gathering nectar so early in the year. Also, there are not enough bees to get out of the Maples what they can give.  Regardless, the bees are hitting every Silver Maple they can find. This will be the pollen & Nectar that gets the queens to start laying again.

Female Flowers are Red

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Red Maple
<---Click link for species info
Also in bloom. Straighter form than the Silver with lighter bark. Again widely planted as an ornamental. However it is mostly found throughout the forests and woodlots in this and other areas. It also breaks the fresh pollen & nectar fast for the bees. With the same nectar argument as it's silver cousin.

Stamens almost in full bloom

The flowers on this tree resemble a patch of tulips if you ask me. These ubiquitous trees will account for much more forage simply because there are so many of them. The red everyone sees in the forest canopies while driving down the highway are from these trees.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bringing in the Pollen

Since about Sunday the Silver & Red Maples have been in bloom. Both Mary & Myrina have been bringing it into the hives. Fresh pollen will stimulate the queens to begin laying eggs. This will be a turning point for Mary. She can now replace & increase her population. Once her numbers are big enough I can requeen her with (hopefully) a new queen from Myrina.

Mary still has a few other obstacles. The Nosema continues to affect her. She would be OK if the bees drank the medicated syrup but they won't touch it for some reason. Her population is so low it will take a while for her to increase in size. To do that she must replace the worker bees faster than they die off . Unfortunately, as evident from last year, her egg laying ability is weak too. So it will be some time before Mary is out of the woods (or should I say 'garage'). The next good sign is when I find she is actually laying eggs in a good pattern. When I see that and the weather has permanently warmed up I'll place Mary's hive outside again.

Here's a quick video of Mary's girls...
Mostly what you see are several bees taking their Orientation flights. Important stuff since it tells them where their hive is located. The bees that flew off are fledged field bees going to get pollen & nectar.

Myrina is doing well of course. I have no doubt that she'll brood up as fast as she can. What I'm looking for in her are Swarm Cells. Some time in the next few months she might produce some. These Swarm cells will contain the queens I'll use to requeen Mary and split Myrina to make another colony. That plus the packaged bees I will get from the Beginners Class and I hope to have 4 strong colonies at he end of the year.
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My new Beekeeping Assistant
Guarding against Robing

My one cat likes Mary's ICU hive in the garage. Maybe it's the sound, the smell, or the heat lamp but I catch her there each day. She mostly loves watching the bees fly in & out from the safe side of the window.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Modifications & Some Success

The bees in Mary finally found the window entrance! I'd like to congratulate Mary on this but likely it was Myrina's robed bees that figured it out. Today was in the high 40's which is a little too cool to fly. I figure they were OK to fly because the hive sits in a heated garage. They weren't bringing in pollen but taking Orientation flights. THAT is the success part. Myrina's bees could have flown back to their hive. Instead they have accepted Mary's ICU hive as their home. The orientation flight is a bees way of learning were her home is located so she can always find it after a days hard work.

Home Sweet Home

There were also some cleansing flights. This is an important step in Mary's survival. Now that they can go outside to work they can tend to the colonies needs. Which is better that relying on me to guess what they need next.

I had to modify my original ICU setup before the bees found the entrance. The aluminum tube was long and dark at first. I put a bend in it to act as a heat trap. I though it important since the cold air would otherwise flow over the little cluster. The bees never ventured into it to find the light at the end of the tunnel. So i shortened it and made it a straight shot directly to the entrance. 2 days went by and no effect. Last night i stuck a row of nail holes into the top ridge of the tube. Then put the shop lamp directly over these holes. Now with light streaming into the hive from the entrance
tube I believe the bees saw the light and followed it out.

Top Perforated Entrance Tube

Also, here is the top syrup feeder I added a to the cover. The bees still haven't found it yet. I do not know why. I'm still working on it. It may be a gap issue. There is still a entrance feeder in the original entrance too.

We are looking at 50 degree weather next week. The maples will bloom and Mary's bees will have a chance to improve their lot significantly. She's not yet out of the woods though. Mary has a weak queen. The queen will need to start laying eggs to further her survival. As soon as I can steal a swarm cell from Myrina I will requeen Mary. That Queen will be strong and hygienic like Myrina and most, if not all, of Mary's problems should go away.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Inspection 3/1/10

48 f

To aid Mary I need to rob brood or bees from Myrina. I should have done it a week ago. The temperatures have been to low to crack into Myrina to do it. Today though was close enough.

As I opened her up the bees were calm but it didn't take long for the girls to come out in force against me. It's a pain but I love this colony. They clung to my sleeves and veil in clumps. Later I checked the shirt for stingers and found none. As usual their primary target was the smoker. I think I need to relocate this hive to a sunnier spot were they might act less defensively.

Intimidating but I am getting use to Myrina and her antics. So off comes the T-cover & the Vent box. I saw that many of her girls were hanging out on the dry sugar. Many more were on the bottom of the IC. The majority of bees were milling about on 5 to 6 frames of the top Deep. They were not clustered but the bees covered the frames top to bottom.

Unlike the previous inspection there were a few dead bees to be found. The hive & frames still looked clean though. Stores were good in the top box with only 3 empty frames. The bottom box has been depleted of it's reserves. I was able to look through each frame of both boxes. Population is good for this time of year but moderate overall.

Two high points. There is capped brood on frames 2, 3, & 4. A small patch on each. I did not see any uncapped brood but the bees were very thick on the frames. Also I finally found Queen Myrina herself.
Queen Myrina

She was running around frame 3. I did not see her lay but it seemed like she was looking for something. This is the first time I've seen Myrina, or any queen from this colony. I love finding the queens. Always a thrill.
Queen on Plasticell Frame

I enjoyed a moment of watching her walk around then carefully put the frame aside to continue the inspection.

After finding the queen I felt better about which frames of bees to take out and give to Mary. Frames 5 & 6 picked the short straws. Each was 3/4's to 1/2 full of bees with enough capped honey. I slid them out and into a nuc. I replaced the frames with empty drawn out frames. These frames had clean fresh wax in them from last year. They were honey frames I culled to lure a swarm that never showed up. So I left them out in the yard last fall for the bees to pick through. They've not been used for brood yet. I read that a queen prefers fresh comb for laying eggs. I hope Myrina likes these.

Everything looked good down to the bottom board. All that was on it were cappings and dead bees. I gave it a good scraping and put everything back together.

After all this I threw on 2 pollen patties (Mega Bee) and added an entrance feeder to the hive. It's filled with a light 1:2 syrup now. Not medicated since I've not seen any problems. She got a good stirring today but it looks good for now.


Adding the 2 bee filled frames to Mary was easy. Pull out 3 frames, add the 2 frames donated by Myrina, then put back 1 of Mary's frames. No one gets mashed or ruffled. Drop & close. I honestly do not believe that Mary is going to live but it's worth it to try. She also got 2 pollen patties and she's had syrup since I moved her inside the garage. Although I did locate a feeder to the top of the hive. They've not yet found the lower entrance feeder. I hope they find one of them soon. I trust Myrina's bees will find what they need to survive.

Time will tell.