Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bees in My Britches

Queen bee survived the night in her cage and then I installed her in the hive at The Spring Gardens yesterday. All in all things went smoothly with a couple of small bumps on the way. Following the instructions of the bee supplier, the first order of business was to find and then destroy any queen cells that these workers had made in an effort to make themselves a new queen. When I installed the bees in this hive - 5 days prior - there weren't any queen cells at all, so it would be interesting to see how many there were - if any.

I had to go though each frame and look closely - if I missed any queen cells, there is a good chance that the bees would kill the queen that I was about to re-introduce to them. I could have just let the bees raise their own, new queen, but the hive would have lost a lot of population and time in that process. Well, there were plenty of queen cells - the bees had been busy. I found at least a dozen.

Here are some examples of what a queen cell looks like - the big droopy cell in the middle is a capped queen cell (just a reminder - ya gotta enlarge these shots - click on them - very cool!) -

A few more queen cells - there are 3 in this photo -

The one here is an uncapped queen cell - it is not as far along in its development as the capped cells. Look closely in the cup and you can see the larvae in the cell - when it gets to a certain stage of development, the bees will cap the cell and the queen will start to change into a pupa -

Exploded view - after I opened the queen cell. The white liquid surrounding the larvae is "bee milk". Also in this photo, you can see worker larvae (towards the bottom right corner) and directly above that, the little pea-shaped capped cell is a drone brood cell (drones are much bigger than workers, so their cells are bigger too) -

One more view (this was one of the most developed queen larvae) -

The bees were very calm in general - which is pretty amazing given what I was doing to their hive. I was in the hive for a good 20 minutes. There were a lot of bees flying around me because I had to brush them off the frames in order to find all of the queen cells.

So, I'm going about my business when, at one point I felt a tickling sensation on my chest - I thought, hmm kinda feels like a bee in there (I was wearing 2 long sleeved shirts and my veil). I remember thinking to myself "Stay calm" and somehow I did. I walked a few feet from the hive and pulled my shirt up - there she was, a bee crawling around on my hairy chest! That kind of got my adrenaline up a little!! But, not as high as it would go a few minutes later...

After shooing the bee out of my shirt, I went back to work. About 5 minutes later, I felt another tickling - this time, on my upper thigh - way too close to my crotch!! I thought I was just beeing paranoid after the first incident - but I was not about to take my chances on this one. So once again, I stepped away from the hive, dropped trou, and lo and behold - there was a bee crawling around on my skivvies!! Yikes!! I quickly flicked her off, checked for friends, then closed up my pants!! Now my heart was pumping pretty good! I didn't really believe it when I heard that bees like to crawl up pants - but now, call me a Believer!

Somehow I managed to finish what I needed to do - which was to destroy the queen cells and then install the new queen cage. The bees in the hive will release the queen over the course of a few days by eating the candy filling and opening a hole in the queen cage. Amazingly, I got no stings (praise the lord!). I got in my car, pushed in the clutch and my leg was shaking from being so amped up!!

But, really, I am having fun!!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Queen Update

As I was finishing writing my last post, Teresa called me to tell me that the queen bee had arrived and was in our mailbox. I made Teresa open the sealed cardboard box that the queen was in - Teresa loved that! The queen is packed in a queen cage with some "attendants" - 4 out of 6 of these bees were dead - but the queen was fine. I got home too late to install her into the hive, but I will do it first thing tomorrow morning - hopefully she survives the night.

Here she is in her little cage (the pile at the bottom is dead bees - the white stuff at the top is "candy" for food during transport - when I install her in the hive, the bees in the hive will eat through this candy to open a hole which will help release the queen from this cage)...

Tough to get good shots of her in this cage, but here you can see her elongated, pointy abdomen -

That's her on the left...

Hopefully she makes it through the night. Then tomorrow I will reunite her with her hive.

The Waiting...Parts 2 and 3

The second delivery of bees finally arrived on Saturday June 13th. After a few last minute preparations, I loaded the car with everything and called my helper/documentarian David (see pic below). We went over to The Spring Gardens to get the bees set-up in their new home.

This is what the "nuc" (short for nucleus hive) looked like when it arrived.

Prying it open - you can see there are 5 frames inside - a few frames of honey and a few of brood.

Here they are all tucked in to the new hive...

After examining each frame twice and looking for the queen, we were unsuccessful in finding her. I just assumed she was in there and I couldn't find her, but...

Immediately after returning home, I see an email message from the bee supplier -

"John is not sure whether or not he put a queen in your nuc. So I have sent one to you priority mail this morning. You should have her Mon or Tues. Please let me know how the bees look upon arrival and if you have a queen. The one we sent is yours."


When I was looking for the queen, I assumed she was roaming free with the other bees. But, in order to protect her during shipment, they typically put her in one of the little queen cages (like they do for package bees) - and there definitely was not one in the nuc. So they did forget to pack her!

So now, more waiting - for the queen to arrive! The bees will be OK without a queen for a little while - but they will begin the process of making a new queen. This means that when the original queen does come, I will have to seek out and destroy any "queen cells" that the bees have made on the comb - otherwise, they will kill the original queen when I re-introduce her.

Anyway, the hive sits on top of an 8 foot high steel shipping container and it is surrounded by a grove of bamboo. A very cool setting and out of the way of the main garden. My only concern is that the spot will be too cool temperature-wise for the bees, we shall see.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Hive is Growing

I have done a few quick inspections to see how things are progressing in the hive. And things seem to be going well. Progress is a little slower than I expected, but it is probably more about my impatience than anything else. It is hard to resist the temptation to open the hive every day - but it's really not a good idea to bug them that much.

That being said, I did need to check to see how the bees were coming along in drawing out the honeycomb. The rule of thumb is, when the first box is 80% full of drawn comb, it is time to add another super/box to the hive so that they can continue to grow.

So I opened up the hive and saw that they had almost drawn out 8 full frames of comb - close enough to add a new super. I looked for the queen but was unable to find her this time, though I saw evidence (lots of larvae) that she was doing her job. When putting on a new super, some beekeepers recommend taking two frames of brood from the original box, and moving it up to the new box in order to entice the queen to start laying eggs in the new super. So this is what I did - took two frames full of brood and put them in the new super, then replaced the brood frames that I took from the original super with two new empty frames for the bees to work on.

The bees were very mellow during this inspection, they didn't bother me at all. No stings. Here's some video - complete with family narration and participation!

A week or so later, I wanted to check the hive again because, well, for no good reason other than I just had to see what was going on. The bees had other ideas! As soon as I opened the hive, I was dive-bombed by a kamikaze worker bee. She stung me on my forearm! After dealing with the sting, I had a chance to take a quick look to see how they were doing in the new super. They were drawing out comb nicely - here is a cool shot of them working on new comb - this is called "festooning" (what a great word!) - they cling together and make a ladder of sorts as they excrete wax from their wax glands.

Here is a close-up view...

But overall, the ladies were very cranky and they were buzzing all around my head and veil. As I was looking at one of the frames, lo and behold, the queen walks right in front of my eyes. I wasn't even looking for her but there she was. This might explain why the bees were cranky and defensive, because the queen was right there where I was looking. It also could have been because, once a bee stings someone (or something) pheromones are released that alert the other bees that there is trouble nearby. So having just been sting, the alarm had been sounded.

After spotting the queen, I just closed up the hive, deciding that it was better just to leave them alone that day. Besides, there was no good reason for me to tear apart their home any more than I already had.

Update on second hive...
I have had a really tough time getting in touch with the people who I ordered my nuc from - they had not returned any of my emails. I finally heard from them this week - they said that they should be shipping the nuc later this week - but I have heard that before from them, so I'm not too confident. We'll see - the plan is still to keep them at the community garden.