Ah, the troublesome double nuc: time to get rid of it. The two splits (Hive 6 with queen Tatjana and Hive 7 with queen Anna) were growing out of it. The plan: to move H6 – whose entrance was facing west (“backward”) – to the common apiary (3 miles away), and to move H7 into her own 10 frame deep in the same location (home yard; entrance still facing east). But how to move those bees? You can’t just pick them up: there are two colonies in one box. DSCF8321

I went in yesterday evening around 6 pm, when they were all home, planning to transfer the 8 frames into a deep, then to move them. Simple. However, there were too many bees stuck to the sides and bottom of the lower box, which is of course “attached” to the other hive, so you can’t shake those bees off.  I walked away and returned today when the bees were flying. I set the new deep right next to the box so the entrances aligned. I moved over the top four frames, took the top box off and shook the bees off it into the new deep. Then I had this situation:

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Still a lot of bees in the bottom box, but not too bad. I could at least make out if the queen was there (I hadn’t spotted her as I moved the frames) and, relatively assured she wasn’t, smoked those bees and scraped off the burr comb on the side. It ha brood in it so it would entice some nurse bees to stay with it. The foragers were coming in hard and going straight for the new entrance/box. Soon the bees in the nuc box were pouring out the exit and moving over as well. Satisfied, I closed the new deep with the outer cover and put the old outer cover on top of the other nux box (weighing it down with the top nuc box) – a deja-vu configuration.

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Around 7 pm after I saw the nuc box was empty, so I walked over, picked up the deep off the bottom board and set it down inside an upturned inner cover, using it as a tray. It being a warm, humid evening, quite a few bees were stuck to the front of the box, and quite a few bees were left behind on the bottom board. I shook and brushed as many as I could into the deep, quickly closed it with another outer cover. This, I’ve found,  is the best way to contain the bees: there is no hole or gap for the bees inside to escape through.The bees still stuck on the outside of the box, however, as a different matter. I grabbed a sheet, wetted it thoroughly, and threw it over the box, then carried the darn heavy thing into the back of my car (a station wagon). The sheet worked out nicely: no bees bugged me on the 5 minute drive over.

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< Here I am, all geared up. The elastic  of my bee vest is shot, so I put a belt on – it’s not pleasant to have a bee in ones vest or veil! I wear the heavy boots not so much for the bees but for the ticks.

Unfortunately it was already a little too late and darkening. Bees hate it when you go in at night. On top of that, one of my fellow Common Yard beeks had just done a sugar roll on the hive right next to the open spot where I was to place Tatjana. I hadn’t even opened my bees yet or his were spitting at me. But, no turning back. I set up the cinder block hive stand, the bottom board, then lifted the box out of the car, sheet and all, and set it down on the grass. The moment I pulled the deep out of the outer cover tray, the effect was startling. Bees poured out on all sides, and I’ve never heard such a roar – I’ll hear it all night. I kept on, maneuvered the box onto the bottom board. The tray was full of bees and I arranged it in front of the entrance so those could walk in. I tried to see if the queen was on it, but it was too dark already.

I took a few brisk walks around the field to try to shake the five or so bees chasing me, then got into my car and drove home, suit still zipped up, bees buzzing around  me. Didn’t get stung, though!

Tomorrow I will return to retrieve my smoker bucket and sheet – had to abandon those. I won’t inspect for a couple of days. I’ll leave them bee for a bit…

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{Update} Tatjana’s bees look okay, very busy. Here they are in the new field. They need an entrance reducer. It’s robbing time. I’ll give them a super with honey in a few days, when I’ll also check on the queen and install some hive beetle traps.

The move of Hive 7 with Queen Anna went smoothly this morning: I moved the 8 frames over – looking good! – then set the old boxes in front of it so they can crawl in. Easy peasy, that one.

Interested in honeybee virology and mite vectors? This article covers a new study with lots good info.

DSC_3410DSC_3393Today I extracted some massive honey combs. My experiment with foundationless frames went a tad awry, the bees drawing out bulging combs wherever there was space because the next frames was empty.

First it made for some puzzling to get those frames out of the two boxes. After using the bee escape for a night, there were a hundred or so bees left. I had to break open some comb and then had to brush off the bees, who were understandably upset. Extracting required the bread knife to cut away the excess comb. The tactile, visual and aromatic pleasure of cutting through soft, oozing comb is unparalleled. Eleven frames made for 45 lbs of honey.

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Of all my harvests over the years, honey has always been the most successful and most popular crop. The seven remaining hens lay pretty well too, about 4-5 eggs a day. Three of them are now four years old, and in Fall we’ll cull those and get four, maybe six chicks.

My home veg garden however is a disappointment. It is getting too shady to produce much except for lettuce. We may want to remove the two trees that are the main culprits, but I may also just pack up the full sun veggies and bring them to the Transition Wayland plot at the Community Gardens. Two big beds may be opening up there, with incredible soil (alluvial soil with worms the size of small snakes) and full sun (no shade at all). I drive to that neighborhood twice a week anyway to check on the bees, housed in an old field next to the Gardens. My only issue with the Community Garden plot is that I’d have to water with tap water, as there are no buildings and thus no rain water collection there. If I could somehow solve that issue, then the home garden could become a lettuce garden and a nectary for the nucs and splits, and all the other pollinators, as well as a mushroom yard, and a soil fertility operation…

Lots to think about in these last days of Summer.

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It’s been hard in our neck of the woods. We had 0.69 inches of rain this month. Not even one inch. The Department of Environmental Protection has issued a “Severe Drought Warning” for my county. Thunderstorm after thunderstorm has  evaporated, glanced off or split around our area. The Wundermap shows their tragic course all too well: other places get the rain, here we get a drop or two, some damaging, desiccating wind, but no relief. I’m looking at the map now: a massive system is bringing rain in the west, but it will pass just south of us, again.

Our town has instigated a partial watering ban (irrigate between 7 pm and 7 am, every other day), which I suspect will soon become a full ban.  The farm three miles from us, from which we get our CSA box, is postponing further plantings until their irrigation ponds and brooks have been replenished. That means we may not get fall produce from them.

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My gardens, annual and perennial, are hanging on by their fingernails – it sometimes literally looks like that, with the leaves on trees and bushes standing up, showing their paler undersides, like hands reaching up into the sky, begging for a drop (they’re actually orienting their leaves for minimal evaporation and solar exposure). Even though I water every other day, all are thoroughly stuck in a vegetative state. Haricots verts have been harvested (2 lbs of beans smaller than I usually harvest them, but they failed to grow bigger) and this year there will probably not be a second harvest, which is usually more abundant, because they’re not making new flowers. The tomatoes plants which had grown so many large, plump fruits are not ripening them at all. We’ve been stuck at code green for weeks now and the tomatoes are starting to take on that bloodless, necrotic look. The equally thirsty critters, chipmunks and squirrels mostly, have been eating away at the sour fruits. Few flowers appear and they die off without setting fruit, and it’s not for lack of pollination as I shake them all the time, and the bumblebees have been abundant.

The gardener too suffers. I’ve never been good in the heat, and these 95F-100F (in the shade!) days are brutal. I hand water every other day, in the early morning or later evening and it’s about all I can do. And so my poor (or should I say, lucky?) bees have had to do without my constant interference. They beard or “hang out on the porch,” as we say, by the thousands, even at night to relieve the temperature inside the hive. The nectar flow seems to have slowed down considerably.

The chickens are doing quite well, finding shade and clean water. But for the broody one, who insists on sitting on a pile of straw in the hot nest box all day. Her comb isn’t full and dark like the other ones. During the hottest time of day I open the nest box and pour spoonfuls of cool water into her panting beak.  I hope she stops being broody soon. Egg production is down somewhat.

Rain dance, anyone?

DSC_1824_cutoutTurns out Dan of Warm Colors Apiaries sent me two Russian queens, so I didn’t have to choose between replacing Laura (Hive 4) and making another split (Hive 7-to-be). I could do both!

I went into 4 and found Laura where she usually hangs out, in the top box. DH stood at a safe distance and played with his new lens. It’s amazing. Here I am pointing to the queen. Zooming in, you can easily spot her.

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I checked all the frames looking for eggs (very few), another queen (it’s not uncommon for there to be two queens in one colony), and queen cells, of which there were many, full of fat larvae. A sure sign that the bees too didn’t like Laura much. I tore out the queen cells because this colony hasn’t had a laying queen for too long already, picked up Laura, said sorry, and pinched off her head.

I also made a split with five frames of brood, honey, pollen and bees from hives 2 and 3. The weather was chilly (only 65F) and threatening rain, and the bees were all home and not liking it. Still I forged on, since these new queens were being held over with a couple of attendants, a small sponge of water and a dab of honey in a paper bag in my basement.

The splits come to my home bee yard, where I can keep a closer eye on them and baby them a bit more than the big colonies. The lid of the nuc box in which I move bees has warped pretty badly, and despite extra strapping and screws, it turned out that there was plenty of bee space between box and lid. As I was driving (bee jacket and gloves on, but hood down) I looked behind me and saw that twenty bees had escaped and more were following. This is no reason for alarm as long as you keep moving so the bees stick to the rear window. When we pick up packages, there are always stray bees, though perhaps not… thirty of them. Unfortunately I found myself situated behind the oldest lady in the oldest car in the state of Massachusetts, and she paid homage to every red light on the way. Yikes! The woman who was driving behind me certainly was alarmed. She even honked to alert me and I gave her a white gloved thumbs-up. Luckily it’s not too far, and I got home without incident. I went in and squished the ants in the other half of the double nuc, then hived the split.

The next day I queened them: Katharina in Hive 4 and Anna in Hive 7. I taped over the sugar plug of their cages to give them extra time to get accepted, but the bees’ initial reactions looked good. Today I went in again to take the tapes off. The bees will eat through the sugar in a day or two and release their new queens. I will check for eggs in a week or so.

Not to count my chickens before they’ve hatched, but here’s the queen count anyway: three Italians, three Russians, one Sam Comfort Mutt.

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Doing an inspection of “Hive 6” I spotted Tatjana, the Russian Queen I got from Dan Conlon. She was laying eggs. Can you spot her?

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The frayed, light-colored bee below her, off to the left, is a callow bee: just eclosed. The two dark marks on the queen’s back aren’t mites, but pigment markings. Believe me, I checked!

I encountered the problem with the double nucs I mentioned before: bees crawling up the wall of the other top box and having to be brushed or smoked down before I can replace their second box:

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More problems: the other top box still being in place gets in the way of the wedge tool’s function of lifting tightly wedged/glued frames out. Lastly, the other box being unoccupied by bees, it had become home to ants! I am not liking this design one bit. I may move Tatjana and her people into the 5-frame nuc I have available, depending on what I do this weekend. On Saturday another Russian queen is coming my way, also from Dan. I may use her to replace the very slow-to-start or defective superseding queen in Hive 4 (Laura, who is Bianca’s daughter). Or I may split Hive 3 (Beatrice) and put them in the other side of the box and make Hive 7! In that case, how to get the ants out first…

I decided to give the double four-over-four-frame nucs a la Mike Palmer a try and ordered a set from Better Bee. Whether it was their milling or my hammering the boxes together, I don’t know, but the two top boxes don’t fit together well. With some careful placing, they do the job, but they’re not snug.

I took Queen Sam’s split out of her five-frame nuc box and shifted her into one side of the double nuc a few weeks ago. They filled out the bottom and top boxes in no time. A few days ago, I moved another split (for Queen Tatjana, a pure Russian from Dan Conlon’s Warm Colors Apiaries) into the right side and promptly ran into problem number two.  As I was working the bottom box, many bees insisted on sticking to the side of the other nuc’s top box. I had to brush them down quite aggressively, and even then too many to my liking were squashed when I put the second box on. I wouldn‘t have put that second box on, because the new colony still only covered three frames, but with this kind of outfit you can’t of course work with just one box on one, two on the other. If you do, it looks like this:

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And this is exactly what it looked like today.

I moved Sam’s people to the full hive you see on the left: they were more than ready for a lot more space. After inspecting all eight frames, I had not found the unmarked Sam. There she was: on the inside of the bottom box, hiding among a good three hundred bees who had also decided to hang out on the box. If that box hadn’t been attached to the other nuc, I could have easily picked it up and gently shaken them all into their new home. As it was, I was fortunate to have my hadny-dany queen catcher available and after much searching, spotting and losing her again, I grabbed her and moved her over. I had to keep that box open like that so the other bees could make their own way over there as well. (Forget about unplugging their entrance: too many foragers would have flown into the wrong box.) Luckily there was no wind because the contraption wasn’t quite stable. A few hours later, the nuc box was empty and I closed it up:

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It goes to show that one best has two colonies in one double nuc that are more or less on a par, but I think I will only use this setup as a true nuc, that is, one box with four frames each, for increase and mating purposes only. That avoids the problem with the ill-fitting top boxes and the bees climbing up them as you work the lower box.

Both splits so far have been off one hive (Borgia’s hive), and I have one more strong hive that I could split, maybe once, maybe twice. Time is running out, because the bees need the time to build up before winter. So far I have four Italian queens (Borgia, Constanza, Beatrice and Laura, who is the daughter of the superseded Bianca – she is in the house but not yet laying eggs), one Sam Comfort “mutt” (Sam, who is a beauty!), and now the new Russian, Tatiana, whom I’ve only glimpsed through the screen of her cage.

I’m hoping Sam keeps laying the way she is, then I may steal one frame of her young larvae and try my hand at grafting. I have all the tools and some of the know-how ready. I am planning on using the Cloake Board on Queen Constanza’s hive, which at last inspection was the strongest, most populous hive. If it happens, it will be soon, so stay tuned!

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A quick update on Queen Bianca: alas, she is no more, but her daughter, whom I have named Laura, made her appearance and was laying eggs. She looked good enough to kiss!

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For now, a photo reportage of a find today in our front yard (“down there,” we call it), in a spot twenty feet from where the big King Stropharia resides.  I will be traveling for a week, so expect no posts during that time.

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And I am reading this tome, fascinating! Will write a review when I get back – hopefully I will have read all 600+ pages by then. Peter McCoy and his Radical Mycology, it’s the bee’s knees!

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DSCF7592I ordered two mated queens from Anarchy Apiaries which arrived this morning. Another beek in our group needed one for a queenless hive, so I gave one to her. I cleared the weeds out of the “Home Apiary,” made sure the platform is straight and sturdy, and set up a nuc box (“Hive 5”).

Then I headed to the Cow Common Bee Yard and went straight for the bottom box in my suspected swarm-ready hive (Hive 4). Going through, finding no open brood at all, only emptied brood cells back filled with LOTS of honey and still quite a bit of capped brood, as well as ten or more emergency cells (in the bottom box alone!), I am now assuming that the elusive Bianca perished, quite a while ago. The emergency cells, more than ten of them, were still capped and undamaged. I left all of those in situ.

I pulled two frames of uncapped honey and pollen and capped brood an put those, with the bees on them, in my Moving Box. I had to go rob Hive 1 (the sweet Borgia), of one frame of open brood – no eggs, though, and I shook off all the bees. The bees in a new nuc without open brood may abscond, so I needed that extra frame. Hopefully, though that brood aren’t their sisters, they’ll be protective and stay with them.

I closed up the Moving Box and brought it to the Home Apiary, added some empty honeycomb and some foundation frames, and after a couple of hours brought in “Sam,” as I am calling the new queen in honor of the great Sam Comfort, who reared her. I don’t think they liked her very much – yet! – as they were swarming the cage and either licking or biting it. Kissing it? Who knows!

I did consider bringing her back in and waiting a few more hours, or another night, but it was getting late in the day (the hive was already in the shade), and it was threatening to rain, maybe thunder. Also, all day the queen and her five attendants had been buzzing like crazy in their cage. So I pushed the cage into the wax of a frame, rubber banded it to be safe, and left. She should be safe inside the cage. They’ll take a couple of days to eat through the candy plug to get to her, and hopefully that will give them time to get used to her. After all, that’s how it’s done when they make packages.

But I’m thinking I’d better start working on the queen rearing part of this operation!

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{UPDATE 6/13: A quick look a couple of days ago showed no eggs, no queen, but I did not despair and decided to wait a couple more days. I went in today and saw… are those eggs? Yes, they’re eggs and… there she was, the queen, the gorgeous, humongous queen called Sam that I hadn’t really been able to see so well when she was in the cage. Loooooong abdomen extending beyond her wing tips, and the workers around her practically bowing to her as she regally passed. Okay, I may exaggerate. But she is a beauty, and is laying, and I am so happy.}

On Thursday I enjoyed no less than three hours visiting my four hives. The idea was to inspect, do a varroa mite sugar roll and assess if the bees need treatment, check for swarming, and assess which hive(s) I could split.

Hive 1 (Italian Queen: Borgia), was doing well: good population, all types of brood, eggs included. I didn’t see Borgia herself, but there were many fresh eggs, so the hive is queen right. Their mood was good too, so I did a sugar roll. I tilted a crowded brood frame toward myself and rolled the rim of the mason jar down over the backs of the bees. They fell right in, but I had to be fast to keep them in! Still, after two tries I had about half a cup.

about half a cup of bees?
about half a cup of bees?
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all sugared up

Just look at that field! Who wouldn’t want to enjoy three hours in that field?

No mites came off them at all. That made my hard decision about treatment easy. I will keep monitoring. I returned those ladies, all sugared up, to the hive. Only one had perished. The rest went right back in.

Hive 2 (Italian queen: Constanza) was a bit worrying: less people, and I also spotted only a few eggs. Also no Constanza, and I was looking for her. For each hive I was going through frame by frame, recording what I found on my data sheet, so it was taking me a long time. I decided not to do a sugar roll. The brick atop this hive was replaced vertically: a flag.

Hive 3 (Italian queen: Beatrice) was a bit light on population but looked good brood wise. Lots of eggs. I even spotted Beatrice herself, cowering in the corner of a frame, not very queen-like. But the brick went back on, lying down.

DSCF7516Then came hive 4 (Italian queen: Bianca). Even visually, walking into the bee yard, she was clearly the heaviest in population. As I started my visitation of each frame, a suspicion was soon confirmed. These girls were getting ready to swarm! No eggs at all, and no less than six massive, occupied, but as yet uncapped swarm cells.

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Look at those big grubs, swimming in royal jelly.

I cursed a little, because it looked like perhaps I had wrecked the queen cells by moving the frame. If I damaged these to-be-queens, then this hive would be queenless, because there were no more eggs to make a new queen from, and wrecking the swarm cells may not stop them from swarming.

The hunt was on, then for the old queen. It didn’t look like they had swarmed already. They usually only take off when the swarm cells are capped. They also take a lot of honey with them, and this hive was still loaded. So Bianca must still be around. Having spotted her during my last inspection, white dot and all, I had good hopes, so I went through each frame a second time. She wasn’t in the honey super of largely not yet drawn out foundation, above the queen excluder. I couldn’t find her in the second brood nest (the medium with the swarm cells). And I couldn’t find her in the bottom nest box (a deep). The bees by now were rather ornery – who could blame them! I closed up.

DSCF7522 I hope to go back later today, before the rain, for one last effort to find Bianca and put her in a nuc. I’ll monitor the new queen situation closely – luckily I have two mated queens coming, from Sam Comfort’s Anarchy Apiary stock, so if I need one, they’ll be here Tuesday or Wednesday.

I walked across that beautiful field to have a look at the swarm lure one of our other beeks had put there: it was still empty… Bianca had better be home and up for a change of venue today!

{UPDATE} Couldn’t find her. I moved frame by frame into another box: no sign of her. I did find some more swarm/supercedure cells (hard to tell), capped and safe on the side of a bottom box frame, so if they swarmed/are swarming, there will be virgin queens. I also found a nice clutch of eggs of Constanza’s, so Hive 2 is probably fine.

It’s definitely a swarmy season. Here’s one frame in Hive 4’s neighbor, another beek’s nuc: riddled with swarm cells. Those four bottom ones are all full and capped and ready to go.

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