Swarm Queen

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Yesterday’s inspection of the yellow hive (the swarm I caught from the previous week) was productive. While showing some friends, Kari and Kelly, what it’s like to open up a beehive, Kari immediately spotted the queen. She was a golden yellow with faint black stripes, and her abdomen was very large – she was absolutely beautiful as she waltzed across the freshly pulled comb her workers had produced for her all week.

Because the opportunity cropped up, I decided to mark the queen. This year’s marker color is green, and although this particular queen is actually very easy to spot amongst the other bees (or at least right now she is), I fully intend to keep track of whether she winters-over with the hive this coming winter or if the bees decide to replace her at some point throughout the year.  The green mark I put on her back will be my indication of either of the two scenarios occur – if she over-winters, then I should see the green on her back next year; if she gets replaced, then when I do my inspections I will notice a queen without a mark. Additionally, if this hive decides to swarm again, and IF I’m not lucky enough to catch them, at least maybe somebody will be able to see that it is a queen from 2014.

With all the excitement of finding the swarm queen, I was also pleased that 8 out of 10 frames of the hive had been pulled already. That’s a quick timeframe, but, then again, swarms usually pull wax very quickly – the bees come well-equipped with the tools to build their new home when they decide to swarm. On the second frame I took out of the hive, not only were there eggs, but there were larvae! I added the second story box to the hive to give them more room even though they had not yet filled 80% of the frames yet (there are just so many bees in there, I didn’t want them to feel crowded – again!) and then closed up the hive.

So – Woohoo! My queen is getting right to work and this hive is off to a great start. Whatta good girl!

 

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Diamonds are a girl’s best friend….

By Andrew Potter - www.andrewpotterphoto.com

Errrr, they really are to “this girl” when it’s actually a swarm of bees in the shape of a diamond…make that TWO diamonds to be exact!

Yes, my bees swarmed. Last sunday. It was a beautiful day, the first beautiful day after a week of cold, damp, and stormy weather. It was my survivor hive.

The day started out with me and Andrew heading down to Eastern Market for Flower Day to pick up some bee-friendly flowers in the morning – if you’re not from the Detroit area just imagine the largest farmer’s market, about 200,000 people, and lots and lots of flowers. Surprisingly, we got in and out of Flower Day pretty quickly and were able to take home some Asters and Verbena for the bees.

This was also to be the day that Meghan would come over to help me split my booming hive, help me with my varroa mite problem, and potentially re-queen my new packaged-bee hive that I picked up from Bob Hollis on Mother’s Day. So, I was busy. Cleaning the house and doing little odds and ends throughout the day, expecting Meghan around 5 or 6:00.

Around 4:30, I’m walking around the backyard picking up doggie-doo so Meghan doesn’t step in it and then I hear it. I hear a low hum to my left, almost a whisper. Just slowly turning my head, I realize that all these scout bees are whizzing past my head to and from the fence. That’s when I see one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen in my entire life…a diamond of honey bees.

Words cannot describe how I felt at that moment, but I can try: Shocked, amazed, adrenaline, OMG!, hypnotized, where’s-Meghan-?-I-HAVE-TO-CALL-MEGHAN-RIGHT-NOW, wow-look-at-them-all, peacful, one-with-nature, are-they-all-really-holding-hands-like-that?, jeez-that’s-a-lot-of-bees-are-there-any-left-in-my-hive, I-wonder-if-there-is-another-diamond-on-the-other-side-of-the-fence?, hell-yeah-these-bees-ROCK, how-long-have-they-been-sitting-here?, OMG-probably-since-early-morning!, OMG-I-can’t-believe-my-fortune-that-they-landed-in-my-yard-AND-that-they-are-still-here, OMG-where’s-Meghan!!!

So Andrew and I started snipping away at the vines to give a bit of space around the swarm and in prep for collecting them. Meanwhile, I had already texted Meghan and found out she was still tied up with class and wouldn’t be able to come until 6:30. I stayed glued to the swarm, making sure they wouldn’t take off and watching in amazement at the behavior of the bees. Here are two videos of the behavior of the swarm as it sat on my fence.

Here’s the one I posted on facebook, if you’ve already seen, skip it – Iyeiyeiyeiye my voice sounds dumb:P


This one is of the waggle dance:

Once Meghan arrived, we developed a clear plan of how we would capture my swarm so I could continue to keep my bees. Below are a whole bunch of gorgeous photos Andrew took of the event which show kind of a step-by-step of what we did, but this is it in a nutshell:

By Andrew Potterwww.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potterwww.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potterwww.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potterwww.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potterwww.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potterwww.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potterwww.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potterwww.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potterwww.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potterwww.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potterwww.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

By Andrew Potter www.andrewpotterphoto.com

Swarm-catching

We took the hive box that I had already prepped for my split and put a frame of comb and food inside, and then held it up to the fence underneath the swarm with the inner cover over the top of the hive with a gap for the bees to get through (making it dark in there makes them feel more warmly invited). And that’s when things got even more exciting. The bees actually started walking down into the box on their own! Meghan was even funny about it and told them to do it beforehand. She knew they would, though, because the aroma of the frame from the old hive was welcoming them in.

The whole process took a while, so we started brushing them in with a turkey feather (much gentler than a bee brush which they easily get tangled in the bristles), and we started to smoke them down at the top of the diamond since those bees had no idea what was going on down below.

Then after most of them had gone in the hive (and, oh man, did I build arm muscles holding that box as it got heavier and heavier) and there were just a few stragglers on the fence, Meghan said she wouldn’t be surprised if there were more bees on the back of the fence. So up she went! And sure enough, there was another diamond shape of bees on the other side of almost equal size! She began to smoke them on that side and they started to come through the spaces in between the fence and down into their new home as I pushed them in with the turkey feather.

Meghan said that there might even be two queens in this swarm, and we actually saw one queen as she went down into the box. She had been hiding directly in the center of the diamond shape.

Once most of the bees were in their new hive, we set it on the ground to allow the stragglers to find their way. The ones inside already set-up shop with their butts up in the air and fanning their pheromones, basically saying, “down here, this is the new home we’ve been looking for.” We had a good laugh at how easy they must all have thought finding their new home to be, like, “see, you just wait long enough and the home comes to YOU!”

Next up, we had to inspect my pink hive, the survivor hive which is where the swarm came out of. We weren’t expecting all that many bees since so many had been on the fence. Boy, were we wrong. It was EXPLODING with bees. Each hive body was completely full, each frame was littered with bees…and best yet, there was tons of capped brood meaning I was likely going to have another swarm result sometime in the not-too-distant future.

As we inspected the state of the pink hive, we had expected to see swarm cells (the little peanut-shaped things that queens hatch out of…but nothing prepared me for how many we would find. I so obviously did not do a good job of searching for swarm cells because there were close to 17 of them…not kidding, I lost count after 12.

So, new plan. We looked through much of the hive and decided on frames to make a nuc out of (which is a small starter hive with 5 frames) which included a frame of swarm cells as well as nurse bees and pollen and nectar. This hive will raise a queen with my survivor’s genetics.

We also found the queen in my new package bees (I’ll call this hive “fire hive” or orange hive). We captured the queen, marked her with a green marker (this year is green queens), and put that in another nuc we were making up for Meghan to take home. It’s a good queen too as it was specially bred in Georgia, but I gave her that queen because I’m really only interested in raising queens with these crazy survivor genes right now.

So then that left my orange fire hive queenless. What to do, what to do – oh! Let’s just take another frame from pink hive with swarm cells on it and give it to fire hive! And that’s what we did. So now, fire hive is raising their own queen, pink hive is raising their own queen if one doesn’t already exist from hatching out of one of the billions of swarm cells, and the little nuc box is raising their own queen. That’s a lot of risk for something to go wrong, but I couldn’t be more excited! And, the bees in fire hive are from the Georgia package of bees, which will be taking care of the new queen once she hatches, and then once the new queen in that hive is busy making new bees and those Georgian bees die off after a few weeks, I’ll have an entirely new hive of precisely my own local bees’ genetics – which is my entire goal in beekeeping! To produce amazing local bees for Michigan! I know this is still the start of my journey, and anything can and will happen, but I am extremely excited and optimistic at these turn of events.

In summary, I have three and a half hives now and Meghan has the other half. Two and a half of my hives are raising queens from the survivor hive. Next steps:

1. The hive that I captured the swarm with has a queen already, so in one week’s time from last Sunday, I will check for eggs to ensure my queen is laying.

2. In two week’s time from last Sunday, I will check my pink hive and my orange hive for a laying queen.

3. If no queen is present, I will pull from my nuc (which is going to be my insurance hive), and recombine or I’ll add a frame of brood. This will help prevent from laying-workers and a downfall of a queenless hive.

4. In two week’s time from last Sunday, I will check my nuc for space constraints and manage accordingly.

YaAYYYYYYYYYY! Isn’t this FUN?!

Deformed Wings

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I’ve found 3 young bees and 2 drones with deformed wings in the past week. One of the drones was so badly affected his body was misshapen as well. Varroa mites go for the drones first because they are bigger and easier to live on their bodies and in drone brood, but the fact that I’m seeing young bees getting kicked out of the hive with shriveled wings (pictured above) suggests I have a large Varroa mite problem at this point.

Varroa mites are a very common problem for beekeepers. Many treat with Miteaway strips (formic acid) and/or some use other methods such as a powdered sugar treatment or interrupting the brood cycle with some hive management. This is my first experience with these mites and I do have some miteaway strips which came recommended by my bee class instructors as being highly effective; however, there is evidence that Varroa mites can become resistant after a couple of years of using this treatment. The strips must also be used in 50 to 80 degree temperatures, and we’ve had a couple 79 degree days already. I need to decide quickly what my course of action is going to be, if I intend to split this hive, and before the temperatures are consistently above 80 degrees.

Which leads me back to my goal and the whole reason I got into beekeeping to begin with. Honey bees are in trouble in so many ways and I really want to try and have a positive impact on them. To me, it is important for my bees to be treated as naturally as possible and to be as genetically strong as possible to fight through all the ailments that are out to get them. So now, my question.

Do I treat them this first time with Miteaway strips since I know I have a big problem right now, nip it in the butt for this year, and then learn and perform the other more natural treatments for next year? Or do I dive into these more natural treatments now with the chance that they aren’t successful on my large mite problem and risk losing these bees that worked so hard to live and survived the harshest winter we have seen in a long while? I don’t know…but I’ll let you all know what I end up doing.

Aside from the mite problem, on this beautiful Mother’s Day, I’m about to become the proud new owner of another hive! My package of bees is arriving today some time between 3pm and 10pm. If it arrives so late, I will probably install them tomorrow after I get off of work.

More photos of my new hives coming soon!!

 

Disturbed Larvae

Today, I decided to check in on the honey super I added to my hive two weeks ago, to see how the progress was going with the comb-building on my medium plastic cell frames. Just taking a quick peek through the hole in the inner cover it appeared the tops of the center frames had been built out and made me want to do a deeper inspection. So, we got suited up and began poking around the honey super.

Everything seemed to be really stuck together but there wasn’t much comb built on the outside frames after prying one up and peeking down. The bees even immediately linked limbs together connecting the space between where I pulled out one frame, which was really cool to watch a “bee ladder” get built so quickly out of several bees linking front legs to back legs like acrobats in mid-air. Trying to scoot 2-3 frames over in the space I made seemed impossibly stuck, so I started at doing one frame at a time which wasn’t working well either. Then, I don’t know how we ended up doing this but we just pulled the center frame up without taking any precautions.

Now, I know better than this, this is exactly what not to do. You never want to force frames to move, it can cause severe damage, but that’s what we did …and that’s what ended up happening. Pulling up that center frame all looked ok on the one side, but then we realized with horror that on the other side we had disturbed a bunch of larvae – completely tore it apart! You could see lots of larvae that had been standing straight up in their cells and lots that were still curled – all were a bright and pretty white, and fat and healthy-looking. The frame was dripping with bee food which leaked from the larvae cells. It looked like mostly drone larvae, but still, I couldn’t help but feel extremely disappointed to have been so careless. And what if the queen had been near that area and we had crushed her??? Arrrgh! But, you’ve got to learn from your mistakes….

In observation, it was interesting that the drone comb had been built in a single strip up in-between two frames, from the bottom to the center, and the surrounding area of foundation was completely vacant of comb. Also interestingly, worker bees had instantly fled to the broken larvae cells and began attending to them.

We carefully replaced the frames back into their places, the problem-frame was a bit tough to place back down as it had pulled and broken more comb between my boxes. Before closing up shop, just briefly tipped my second hive body up to inspect for swarm cells again. With how many workers were on the frames of the honey super, and how exploding-with-bees my hive seems, I’ve been on swarm alert. Still no swarm cells present between my two hive bodies. Another all-clear…for now.

Ban on Michigan’s small farm animals

Can this really be happening? A ban on small farm animals in Michigan?

It’s disgraceful. I’ve been proud to be a Michigander, but this is a giant step backward for the state and its urban and suburban farming communities. I’m ashamed the decision was even considered. To think of the possibility of having to give up my bees, my chickens, saddens me, and the fact that whole farms might have to find new homes for all their animals and lose their livelihoods – it grief-strickens me.

And why? For what? I’m frightened at the notion of only Big Farm options from which to get my food. This decision must be challenged.

Here’s a link to a petition, if you haven’t already seen this.

Please help protect small farms in Michigan!

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/protect-small-farms-in.fb42?source=s.fb&r_by=10471009

An Impostor

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On the last really warm day we had, I was out by the hive just observing the bees that were coming and going. There were a whole bunch of them just kind of congested at the entrance and hovering around the front of the hive waiting for their turn to go in. And then I noticed something in the flight pattern of one of them, it just stood out to me right away – an impostor bee! It looked similar in coloring to my honey bees, but the stripes were all wrong and the way it flew was much more like a house fly.

Luckily, Andrew was able to catch it for me – he’s so good at stuff like that – and I was able to google it to find out what it was. I could be wrong, it wouldn’t be the first time, but I think this is a Drone Fly (Eristalis tenax). And go ahead, I dare you to look up images of the larva..they’re called rat-tailed maggots!

When I first saw this suspicious fellow, I was a little concerned because I know that there are honey bee impostors out there that can cause a lot of trouble for a hive. This Drone Fly, from what I’ve read about it, doesn’t appear to be that kind of pest…but I do wonder what its presence around my hive means.