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Pollen

I’m used to seeing varying colors of honey based on what’s in bloom at any given time, but I’ve never been struck before at how beautiful the different shades of pollen on a single frame can be.

Pollen
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Nasty Thirst

Despite having a relatively small backyard, having bees has rarely been a problem. This past few weeks, though, it’s become increasingly difficult to spend an afternoon out back without getting harrassed by the girls.

I’ve always had Italian bees up until this year, when I got my first hive of Carniolans, and so I was worried that the Carnies were simply more aggressive. On a recent trip up to the Wallingford Farmer’s Market, I chatted with Karen Bean of Brookfield Farm about it, though, and she suggested that they might just be thirsty. It has been unusually hot these past few weeks, and we cleared out a bunch of old pots that had been collecting water for years and that the bees had probably been using as water source.

Karen suggested putting garbage can lid with some pea gravel in it in the yard and filling with water. The pear gravel is to account for the fact that bees aren’t so hot at swimming, so they need something solid to take off and land from.

I’m giving it a shot and will let you know how it turns out.

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Case of the Missing Eggs

I’m still having trouble getting my second hive to take. As previously described, back in April (Queens Aplenty and Supercedure) I installed two hives. One did great, the other barely had any brood, just four queen cells. I decided to let the hive replace their defective queen themselves through supercedure, and hoped to see brood after the new queen had had a chance to emerge and mate (about 24 days from the time she was laid, which would have been in mid-April).

However, when I went in in mid-May, there were still no eggs being laid. To beef up the hive, I swapped over some frames of brood from the stronger hive, including, I thought, some frames of unemerged eggs (on the theory that if, for some reason, I hadn’t gotten a good queen, the bees would make one out of my eggs).

I’ve been in once since then and then again today, and I still am not sure I have a good laying queen. There was maturing brood, but I’m pretty sure it’s just the brood I carried over from the strong hive: there are only 2 – 3 frames of them, and they’re all fairly advanced. No eggs at all that I could find.

I decided to give transplanting frames of eggs over and from the strong hive and letting the weak hive create their own queen one more try, but, amazingly, I couldn’t find any eggs in the strong hive either! There’s definitely a good, strong queen in there, but I swear I went through all 18 frames in the two brood chambers and found each one either full of developing larvae, capped cells or honey / pollen, but not a single egg that I could see. Now, I know, they’re tiny and easy to miss, but I must have been in there for an hour, carrying each frame out into the sun to get a good gander at it, and I’ll be darned if I couldn’t find a single one.

At this point, I’m fighting the inclination to throw up my hands and give up on the weak hive. My plan at this point is to do some poking to see if I can find a mail-order queen (which is probably what I should have done a month ago) and see if she can save the day.

On the bright side, the strong hive of Carniolans is going like gangbusters. The first honey super is pretty close to full and the second, that I put on last weekend, is filling up nicely (but still less than 1/4 full, I’d say, very little capping so far).

Also, my light sculpture is making slow progress. Last year, I strung some battery-powered LED christmas lights into an empty frame, in the hopes that the bees would build comb around it, creating an organic sculpture (Sculpture Kick-Off). I got the frame into the hives too late, however (they stop building new comb by July). This year, I included the frame in the first honey super I put on about a month ago, and they’re making slow, but meaningful progress filling it out:

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Pollen advice

IMG_8671This afternoon took me up to the the first Wallingford Farmer’s Market of 2009. It’s small as farmer’s markets go, probably two dozen booths all told, but all local farmers selling their produce, which is a blessing to have the opportunity to walk to.

While there, I chatted up Karen Bean of Brookfield Farm, a farm with apiary up in the foothills of Mt. Baker. I mentioned the problems I had had with my Italian queen and the steps I’d taken to address them (allowing supercedure, swapping hive positions, swapping some brood frames) and she agreed they were good steps, but also recommended that I take special care to swap over frames that are full of pollen and, if possible place them facing the brood frames, to reduce the amount of work the bees had to do to feed their youngin’s (pollen is fed to the larva as they develop, and is often found packed in close with brood). She suggested I might try pollen patties as well, but that outside my “lazy beeekeeper regime”.

She also absolutely decried Italian bees for this region. Noting they were from southern Italy, where it is considerably warmer, year round, then the Pacific Northwest, she felt they spent too much time eating and not enough time storing. The “ants” to the Italian “grasshoppers” were the Russians (her favs) and the Carnies (my hive). Things are colder up in the foothills of Mt. Baker then in sunny Seattle (heh), but still good advice, from the sounds of it.

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Bee clothed

No, not a mis-spelling, just a stupid pun. My friend Jen* just sent me a link to this article about people who take the whole “beard of bees” thing do another level: Crazy People Who Clothe Themselves In Bees For Hoots! (follow the link for more pics).

I had always understood that a “beard of bees” was achieved by hanging a queen in a queen cage around your neck: the bees will flock around her (and you). Sounds like these guys have to take it to another level to get full coverage: spray on bee pheremone.

Still, I don’t think I’d want to taste the resulting honey.

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Supercedure

Thanks all for the advice on what do with my “bad queen” hive (Queens aplenty). The consensus seemed to be that my best course of action would be to replace the queen as quickly as possible. David Neel of Whidbees, who I bought my colonies from, agreed and offered to provide a replacement queen free of charge. Unfortunately, a combination of distance and laziness (on my part) preventing this from happening, so I had to choose from the menu of secondary options.

There are two problems with simply letting the bees replace the old queen with a new one:

  • The new queen will be a hybrid of whatever is in the area, instead of a true bread Italian
  • The time it will take the new queen to grow, emerge, mate and start laying could set the hive back critically. By the time she’s ready to go, the population of the hive may be decreased through normal attrition to the point where it collapses.

I’m willing to live with the first issue, as I’m not really clear on what the advantage of a bred queen are from a hybrid. My understanding is that all the bees we have hereabouts are either bred, anyway, or first / second generation feral. There just aren’t large populations of honey bees growing generation on generation in the wild. If they could survive, it would imply there was a breed out there that was resistant to all the nasties that plague the domesticated hives.

I knew I had to address the second issue, though, so I tried a combination of tactics:

  1. I moved three frames of brood from the strong Carniolan hive to the weak Italian hive to provide some reinforcements while the new queen gets ready.
  2. I swapped the placement of the two hives at around 3 pm on a warm day, so that some portion of the population of the strong hive would return to the weak hive and move in, taking it as their new home. (The reverse would happen, as well, but to a lesser extent because there are fewer of them to begin with).
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Note how the the weak hive (on the right) is already showing more activity than the previously stronger hive, even just shortly after we finished the move?

As of the next day, the previously weak hive was showing considerably more vigor and activity, so I believe the position swapping maneuver worked. It remains to be seen whether it will be enough.

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