Friday, June 9, 2017

Looking Into It

With the advice of a professional beekeeper, we grabbed our tools and went back to look into what was going on with the fourth hive. Literally, we needed to look inside that queen cup. Again, here is what it looked like from the outside (larger cell at the bottom of the frame) and now what we found it looks like inside:

If there had been a larva inside, we would have had to take some action to prevent a swarm. There was nothing inside, so we don't need to do anything immediately. We will be watching this queen and her brood pattern, to see if she is healthy enough, though. I suspect we will need to replace her but will not jump to that conclusion just yet. We saw her again - can you find her in the photo below?

Beekeeping keeps us on our toes and we really appreciate the community and support we find to help us do the best job we can. We will check this and the other hives soon and look forward to the next update.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

What It Comes Down To

We were able to go out for a lovely evening inspection of our hives last night. The sun was setting, the breeze was blowing, and there was green everywhere.

My husband opened our four hives, one by one, so we could check on the progress of our colonies. At this point in the season, we are checking a bunch of items inside each hive. Three of these many items are the brood/queen, space for growing colony, and irregularities.

During each inspection, we look for eggs and covered brood. Now that some time has gone by since our queens have started laying, we are also looking for characteristics of the brood pattern, emerging and working bees and the queens themselves, if possible.

Here is an example of a nice brood pattern:

This is from our second hive, which is the strongest out of all them at this point. This queen is doing an amazing job! We know this because there aren't very many open spaces here. Each cell holds a developing larva that will soon be hatching as a brand new bee. You can see some larvae that will soon be capped to finish their development (they lool like a white curled up letter "c").  You can also see a bit of capped honey as well as nectar and pollen in the space immediately around the brood. The nurse bees keep supplies handy when taking care of eggs and larvae.

We were excited about this brood pattern and even more excited when my husband found the queen. What a beauty!

(She has a long body, short wings, and a bald spot on the black part of her back.)

I'd like to touch on how we look to see if the bees need more space, which means that we would add another box full of frames to the top of the hive. When we open the hive, we look down into the frames and look four how much of the space between the frames is taken up by bees. When these spaces are about 70% full, we had another super.

The following photo is from the first hive.

There are nine spaces between frames and box edges, and these bees are filling up about four. This is just under half full, so we are not adding another box yet. Our first, third, and fourth hives are all at about this same level of progress.

During inspections, we are also watching bee behavior, but we can tell when we ourselves are starting to be watched.

One last item for today is that we check each hive for irregularities. We do not like to see erratic brood patterns, swarm cells, strange behavior or bee pests.

Here is an example of something irregular from our fourth hive. Take a look at the brood pattern below as well as the cell at the bottom of the frame.

There are many more open spaces and the larger cell that I mentioned is called a queen cup. I got some great advice from a professional beekeeper and we will need to investigate this a bit today to see what we need to do. I'll have make an update on that next time. It comes down to this: our main goals are to have a strong, queenright hive but still avoid a swarm.

On a sidenote, our kids were playing nearby, so we called them over and they were very happy to see a queen at work. See if you can find her in this photo:

There is so much to look for during an inspection, and this hardly touches on bee behavior and what to look for. I should also mention that each time we open the hives, we are checking how the bees are using the comb to store nectar, pollen and honey. We are constantly observing behavior and how things have changed since we inspected last. We watch for how bees are responding to changes and think a lot about what next steps might be.

As we consider our next steps, I will leave this colorful pollen shot and a photo of us, so you can see the faces behind the beekeeping veils and camera.