Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bee Tea & the Venting Issue

Are the bees going for the Bee/Tea syrup?  Well, I don't know yet, but don't take that the wrong way.  Typically the maples break the pollen & nectar fast for the bees.  At the same time we beeks like to start feeding the bees 1:1 sugar syrup.  It supplements their diet and helps them brood up in early Spring.  Which I have done.  The bees however aren't bothering with the syrup very much.  It has been on them for nine days and they have only taken half of it, maybe.  

It seems right now the Maple flow is amazing.  The mature trees are blooming on consecutive days instead of all at once.  This gives the bees a prolonged flow & pollen source.  The trees that bloomed first have been picked dry and are now closer to seed growth.  While more large trees are breaking bloom each day or so.

Might the Tea be another bad idea.  I had thawed a bunch of full honey frames for the last inspection; in case the bees needed a resupply of honey.  Once they thawed out the tray they were on and the deep they were in  became covered in dripping honey.  Today was warm so i put the tray outside for the bees to clean off.  In fact i placed it between the two hives to guarantee they would find it.  Well, this is what that tray looked like six hours later...

Empty Buffet Line !?
Where are the bees?  Not on the free honey!  In fact we found them on a large Red Maple that had bloomed this morning.  My neighbor & I stood beneath her tree and could hear the actual buzzing of the bees; all four hives worth.  Remember she has two as well.  I remembered that bees will locate a major source and stay with it while skipping other minor sources.  Also that bees prefer Nectar to Honey. 

So I can't tell if the bees like the Tea.  They're taking it slowly which is more than what they are doing to the free honey.  Does that count?  When I open fed them the Tea before the bloom started they were all over it.  That's all I know for now.

They're always on it but not many
 I did finally find a way to clean up the spilled honey on the tray and on the deep those frames were in.  I'm glad it wasn't wasted...

Look who came to help
☼   ☼   ☼

The Ventilation issue still confuses me.  The hive, Myrina, has never had a moisture problem.  Yet, here she is with water practically running off the t-cover.  What i did was add Another Vent Box atop the one she already had.  It looks like this.

Note how much Tea/syrup is still left
The added VB is a Summer version with nine holes.  I changed to VB's with fewer holes last year going into Winter, hence the one with only three.  This did clear up the condensation problem.  I still don't know why it happened.  What I do know:
  1. The cluster is directly beneath the HTF
  2. The t-cover is new to the hive but used and a year old
  3. The Tea/Syrup seems to have a thinner consistency than syrup
  4. The other hive has the same setup but no problem
If this continues again in the Fall I will be upset.  I thought I had the Ventilation problem licked but apparently not.  More reading!


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Water on the T-Cover

The Bees flew today and I wanted to get a glimpse at whether the bees were taking the Tea/Syrup.  After work I went down and lifted off the t-covers.  Mary had a few bees up in the HTF and the level hadn't changed much. 

The t-cover on Myrina surprised me.  As I lifted it off several ounces of water ran on to the ground like a faucet had been turned on.  Startled i turned it over to examine it.  The underside was saturated.  Fortunately the cover is waxed but nothing is waterproof.  No swelling of the wood but a green & black mildew were acutely present. 

Another problem is the condensation dripping into the HTF is infecting the tea/syrup with the mildew/mold.  A couple of mold spots the size of quarters were floating on the surface.  This poor hive is loaded with the rotten mildew above & below (recall the last post).

The HTF's and tea/syrup went in the hives last Friday.  So all of this happened since then.  Mary was fine.  Her t-cover is homemade and the top piece of wood is 3/4" plywood.  Myrina's t-cover is purchased and it's top board is only 1/4" fleck board.  Big differences in insulation value.  Both HTF's are jacketed by wood shims with 3 - 1.25" holes in them for ventilation, and it's been very windy.  I can't believe there isn't enough ventilation.

Both populations are near the same and the queens are sisters so I dont thinks it's behavior.  We are in the initial Spring Flow with lots of Maple nectar coming in to cure.  I'm not sure why this is happening.

I wiped off the excess water on the inside of the t-cover.  It was too late in the day to do much.  All i did was place tin foil over the HTF shims (Vent Box) and put the t-cover back on.  There will still be condensation but this will keep it off the wood.  We are expecting a bunch of rain tomorrow night.  Hopefully I figure things out tomorrow and get it done before the rain starts.

I don't think any water is getting on the bees from under the HTF.  I believe all the condensation is above it.  Also i noticed only a few bees taking the the tea/syrup in Myrina.  Yesterday was to cold for the bees to fly.  I figured they might be taking the tea/syrup instead.  Today was a Fly Day but not a warm one at 47°F.  Thought they may still be interested in the tea/syrup.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Inspection 2/18/11

Mary & Myrina
Partly Sunny
Slight breeze

The first inspection of 2011.  The colonies have looked good all Winter.  Now was time to see first hand.  Though there were some clouds out and a slight breeze at 75°F today would be good enough.

I started by opening up Mary.  The bees had again gnawed on the insulation near the single vent hole in the Vent Box.  They had not chewed anywhere else though.  So that's an improvement over regular Styrofoam.  I still want to try the foil backed fiber sheets next year.  There was also some very minor bee poop on the top of the Inner Cover; probably from December.  As of yet i have no plans to treat with Fumagilin this Spring.  I'd like not to, so unless there are signs of Nosema i won't.

Under the IC was the pollen patty placed there in January.  The bees were working on it but nearly all of it was still there.  A previous post mentions the bees were bringing in pollen.  I expected the bees to eat more of the pollen patties before now.  They just don't seem to like it much.  I took it out since they'll not be needing it any more.  

The bee are not yet on top of the frames in the top box.  They're in them but with plenty of store left above and around them.  Looking down the cluster is on 7 of the frames to the left (east) side.

DHB2 - still some room left to go

10 - Full honey
 9 - Full honey
 8 - Full honey
 7 - Full honey
 6 - Full honey
 5 - 1/2 honey, new pollen, in cluster
 4 - 1/2 honey, new pollen, in cluster
 3 - 1/2 honey, new pollen, in cluster
 2 - 1/2 honey, new pollen, in cluster
 1 - 1/2 honey, new pollen, in cluster
DHB1 - this is where most of the bees are
10 - Full honey
 9 - Full honey
 8 - 4/5 honey
 7 - 1/2 honey
 6 - 1/5 honey
 5 - 1/4 brood, new pollen, in cluster
 4 - 1/4 brood, new pollen, in cluster
 3 - 2/3 brood, new pollen, in cluster, QUEEN
 2 - 1/4 honey
 1 - Full honey

New incoming Nectar & some Pollen
I'd like to find out where the yellow pollen is coming from.  The Silver maple pollen has a dull green color.  Whatever it is there must be a lot of it.  I suspect a Pussy Willow but I've not located it yet.  I have 5 of my own but they're seedlings so not in bloom.  The Nectar is likely from the Maple though.

Beautiful Early Brood frame
Last year I didn't see brood until March 20th.  So this year is quite early.  It has been warm and the bees have been flying since the 11th of Feb.  Still this is a great sight to see in.  The guy who sold me these queens last year told me they would brood up early and to watch out for swarming.  So i'll be getting the nucs ready soon.

Queen Mary herself on frame #3
There's that hard working queen.  Marked with 2010 blue.  It's an easy color to pick out.  This year is white which i hope will still be easy to see.  I might, like some, skip yellow and use a purple when it's time.

Then Myrina
Her bees were almost on top of the frames in the top box.  Not entirely but close.  They've almost gone through all their stores.  Here too the bees did not consume much of the Pollen patty.  It too was thrown away.  I was going to buy a case of these things to feed to the bees this Spring.  I'm glad i hadn't done it yet.  I don't think i'll bother with them next year either.  I started feeding syrup today as well.  With that & pollen & nectar coming into the hive they will be good going forward.

Bees not covering the top & useless pollen patty
10 - Honey, not fully drawn
 9 - Full honey
 8 - 4/5 honey
 7 - Full honey
 6 - Full honey, old & new pollen
 5 - 1/4 Brood, new pollen, in cluster
 4 - 1/4 Brood, new pollen, in cluster
 3 - 1/4 Brood, new pollen, in cluster
 2 - 3/5 honey, new pollen, in cluster
 1 - 4/5 honey, new pollen, in cluster

DHB1 - Lots of brood on the old frames

All fresh Pollen
10 - Empty, mildew
 9 - 1/5 honey, mildew
 8 - 1/3 honey
 7 - 1/2 honey
 6 - 1/2 honey, new pollen, in cluster
 5 - Mostly empty, not fully drawn
 4 - Mostly empty, new pollen, in cluster
 3 - Mostly empty, new pollen, in cluster
 2 - Undrawn
 1 - (oops, didn't record)

Myrina's bottom box

Myrina's bottom bottom box is having a mildew problem.  The right corner (west side) has a coating of the dark greenish stuff over the whole side.  Frames 10 & 9 are also affected.  The wood bars and a little on the wax comb too.  The box is from 2008 and has been fully waxed by the bees but the mildew's on the comb too.  I think the source of the mildew is the unpainted piece of luan board under the screened bottom board.  The moisture of the Winter hive settling on it each day may have started the process.  I think it then spread upwards from there.  I don't plan on opening the SBB until the nightly lows are in the 60°'s.  I'll replace the sheet with a painted one soon.

Mildew, box & comb
Top boxes are a common place for a queen to start laying in Spring but all the brood is in the oldest frames in the hive.  The current brood frames are the only remaining equipment from the old farmers apiary.  The comb is dark and the frames are rough and chipped.  I wonder if such old comb is desired by the queen for laying eggs?  I'll need to read up on it.

Feeding time again
After the inspection I added the hive top feeders to each hive.  Then filled them with a gallon each of the 1:1 syrup/tea I've made.  It looks like a good start to the year. 


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bee Tea

With Spring comes early feeding with 1:1 sugar syrup.  Last year i first read about bee tea.  Essentially a brewed/steeped tea made from anything good for bees.  To promote health mainly.  One can either add it to the syrup or sweeten it with a little sugar and feed it separately from the syrup.  Many use essential oils in the tea.  I'm not a fan of essential oils, however.  The Tea is a way i can add nutrition to the sugar syrup without blasting the hive away with lemon grass oil or the like.  Lets face it sugar syrup is like feeding your kids nothing but soda pop.  The bees love the sugar but I'd like them to get more out of it.

As far as I'm concerned the ingredients for this recipe should change depending on what sources of nectar are naturally available.  This way the tea reflects what the bees are looking for.  I assume Maples bloom in Spring because they have what bees need the most in Spring. (Evolved over millions & millions of years)  It may be a leap for some but it who am i to second guess nature.
Therefore at this time the tea is made of whatever blooms first in this area:  Willow, Maple, Elm, Cherry, Pear, Plum, Sassafras, & Red Bud.  I also added two primary flow sources: Yellow Poplar & Basswood, but any combination will do.  This week the recipe is Maple, Poplar, & Basswood.  Next week will be Willow, Elm, Red Bud, & Poplar.  I'm very leery of giving a tea made from Sassafras to the bees since it is a known psychoactive.  A sprig of Thyme and 2 tbs of Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar are also added per gallon.  These can help with Varroa & Nosema plus the ACV keeps the syrup from spoiling.

Unsure of all this an experiment was in order.  I made a syrup/tea and a non-syrup/tea out of Yellow Poplar and set it out for the bees.  The bees hit the syrup as one would expect.  Alright, so I know they will take it, that's good.  They also did a good job on the non-syrup/tea.  They about hit it as hard.  So it looks like this might work.  Now to make some tea...

The procedure:
First i collect wood rounds from the target woody plants with a chainsaw.  Disks of a ½" in thickness are good.  I cut them from saplings so there is no heartwood present.  Heartwood is where a tree places it's metabolic wastes.  Small saplings will not have accumulated enough yet.

2 Rounds of each species per gallon.  Maple & Poplar

Second i remove the bark.  The inner wood, called xylem, transports liquids and material up into a tree.  The nectar that is found in a tree flower has gotten there via this tissue.  Bark, called phloem, transports nutrients down to the roots.  Since bees feed from flowers not roots I'll go with the xylem.

Use Caution cutting green wood with a ban saw

Then the debarked rounds get cut up into small bits to increase surface area.

All 4 rounds

There are only 2 Basswoods that I know of around here and neither one am i willing to harm.  Fortunately the local health food store has a great selection of 'Frontier' herbs which include dried Basswood flowers.  A half ounce cost $0.35.  Plus they have lots of other things I'll be adding at some point.  So I divided it and put each half in 1 gallon.  After all I'm feeding 2 colonies so I'll need 2 gallons.

Not fresh but they still had a fragrance

The last ingredient this week was the Thyme.  My Wife grows it on the back deck so what i have is freshly picked.  I took what i thought might equal a drop or two of essential oil.

The tea smells like sausage???

Once the ingredients are ready i put the water in the pot.  To make a total gallon of 1:1 syrup i start with 2qts & 15oz. of water.  The water is then heated to between 150°F - 165°F.  (This is the steeping range used for grains when brewing beer; which i do.  It is important to not exceed 170°F because tannins begin to leech into the water at that point and above.)  Once the water is above 150°F I toss in all the ingredients.  Then reduce the heat enough to keep the water in the temperature range.  Steep for 40 minutes.  Stir little or not at all.

Near 170°F i took the pot off the burner to cool it down some

After 40 minutes remove from heat and strain.  I first ladle out the big chunks then strain the rest through a paper towel.

Strained Tea

Then i measure the tea back into the rinsed pot.  Some water will have evaporated during the steep.  Replace that water to get back to the original amount.  Now place back on heat and bring to a near boil.  Remove from heat and add the 6 lbs. of sugar and stir.  The tea/syrup will be clear again in a few minutes.  After which I add 2 tablespoons of Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar to each gallon.  Stir, let cool and give to bees.

My plan is to give the bees a gallon of syrup each week,  When they've finished it I'll give then a strait tea with no sugar for the rest of the week.  I'll post the results, hopefully good ones, soon.


First Pollen Coming into Hives

Today was almost warm at 69°F.  The bees were bringing in Pollen for the first time.  The neighbors Silver maple is beginning to bloom.  Which means the bees are bringing in nectar too.  The Skunk Cabbage in the back looks like it's blooming as well.  Last year the same tree bloomed on the 10th of March.  So it looks like we're almost a month ahead of last year.  Hopefully the pattern will continue for the rest of the season.  So we may be practicing swarm control early this year.  To that end I plan to pull brood frames to make nuc's and maybe make some slatted bottom racks.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Modified Hive Top Feeders

Since October of 2009 I've been using Hive Top Feeders in the hives.  I think they're great.  They hold a little over a gallon, they're internal, and the bees can't get out of them when i add syrup.  The few down sides are they are hard to lift off the hives if full and the bees only access is on the sides which is difficult in cold weather.  Which aren't big deals to me.  The one problem i don't enjoy is the constant propolising of the vents by the bees

Sealed Vents

Once sealed there is not enough of an air exchange in the hive to release moisture which then becomes condensation.  Not good if there is too much in Winter.

Really the bees didn't begin doing this till this past Fall.  Yet each week i had to scrape the propolis off all the HTF vents on all the hives.  It made the chore of refilling the HTF's take forever.  After the end of last Fall i looked into HTF's online.  I found where others had used the #8 mesh to close off the feeders instead of the plastic dividers my HTF's had.

#8 mesh is the same mesh used in Screened Bottom Boards.  I've never seen a bee propolis up one of those.  So i figure it should work well on my feeders.  It was easy to do.  Just pull off the plastic divider, trace it's outline on a sheet of mesh then cut out with tin shears.  The top bend is made by rolling the mesh against the plastic divider.  I used 3 - #14 x 1 inch sheet metal screws.  They do not make a tight fit but it's snug enough.

Old Plastic & New Mesh Dividers

Another good thing about the mesh is it will add foot holds for the bees.  The plastic dividers are smooth and the occasional bee would drown.  The mesh will seem like ladders to the bees so fewer bees should die.  The mesh is pliable so I'll need to watch how i handle & store them in the off season.  Overall these should make the HTF's even better.

The first two mesh dividers worked perfectly.  In 2011 two more were made that didn't fit well and let bees escape into the HTF.  All four of these used a design that was flat and stopped at the edge.  To fix the escaping bee issue new mesh was formed like a bucket that folded back at the edges.  This blocks any gaps that may occur when cutting to size.  Plus the mesh overlaps on ALL sides.

This flat design led to bees trapped in the HTF
- - -
This bucket design keeps the bees were they belong


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Plans for 2011

The apiary will be expanding this year.  I have reserved 2 Packages from a local guy who drives down to Hardeman Apiary each year; they're in Mt. Vernon, GA.  At $70.00 bucks a crack i'm paying as much as i did last year for Duchess.  Which is good considering recent bee pricing.  If not i will at least get one package.

This, however, is not through the bee club, the Piedmont Beekeepers Association.  They are pushing for as many of us as possible to make Nucs from our own hives.  Mainly to sell to the beginners class students and then to whoever needs bees locally, before or after next winter.  Since the AHB has been found in GA the club opinion is to stop getting bees from down there.  Which is fine by me but i'd like to have more than two hives before i start making nucs.

I will be making Nucs this year though.  I don't know how many i'll make total but i plan to make at least 2.  Good conditions may allow for more.  I'll try to keep some extra boxes on hand for either nucs or swarms.   The last club meeting was on making Nucs.  Plus they covered 'Palmerization' which is turning an unproductive hive into all nucs.  Which i could have done last year to both Mary & Myrina.  Might have been carrying 6 to 10 nucs right through this winter if a had.  Then i would have had a replacement queen to put in Duchess in November instead of combining her into Mary.  Wish i had known that trick.

I hope to rear my own queens as well.  The February club meeting will address queen making.  I will need to requeen both Mary & Myrina again plus the two packages.  The Nucs will need queens also.  I don't look at beekeeping as a source of revenue but i would like to be able to meet my own needs.  Selling nucs can pay for a good bit of equipment.  I still want six hives at the house, plus a few more at a local farmers house.

This year is also when i will start the trek towards more natural beekeeping.  The goal is to have a yard filled with survivor bees.  Not this year but within maybe five years.  I have seen so many of them in trees and abandon buildings lately.  I know of three wild colonies nearby, plus Myrina was one originally; though i requeened her due to temperament. They all survive each winter and have been in their hives for years.  I just wish the hives were easier to get to.  One is a cut-out a mile and a half through the woods.  Not a hike i relish carrying a box of angry bees on.  The other two are just as difficult to get at.

These goals can be modified.  If i only get one package i can make additional nucs instead.  Though the big focus will be expansion of the bee yard i still hope to get a good batch of honey.  Both current colonies are strong and doing well this winter.  Neither has reached the top frames of it's hive yet.  When they do i have twenty honey filled frames in storage to give them; all from Duchess.  Plus i can give them sugar too.  Though i may begin feeding the bees in late February with syrup.

Mary's population is very large due to the combination.  I'll watch her closely for swarming.  I may be able to make a nuc or two from her without affecting her ability to produce honey.

More bees & lots of honey to all of you...