Tuesday, February 16, 2010

First hive inspection of the year

The cold, rainy weather has, at least temporarily, given way to sunny days following morning fog. Perfect weather, in other words. Morning runs followed by productive days of outdoor work and cool evenings so a fire in our new outdoor fireplace is welcome.

Perfect, as I said. If you're not really interested in bees, you can stop reading now. I'm using this as hive notes as well as general blathering.

This is the weather to finally get into the hives and see what the winter wrought. It takes bees a good 2-3 days to recover fully from an inspection, getting their cracks resealed and generally untwisting their knickers. So it took a few days of nice weather before it dawned on me that I might want to, you know, act like a beekeeper. Yesterday was again mild, with no forecast wet weather any time soon. I put my suit on and fired up the smoker for the first time since October, I think.

One hive, the one on the right in the picture, had been ominously quiet over the last week, and before that I'd noticed how few bees were going in and out. I had also seen the occasional bee with Curly Wing Virus, an indication that there were other problems in the hive. I suspect an aging queen plus a heavy varroa infestation just made the hive dwindle until there wasn't anything going on.

When I opened it, it was like a ghost town. Nobody home. There was some capped honey left both in the super and the top deep hive body, yet there was some evidence of honey-robbing (cappings on honey chewed off jaggedly and empty combs, with nibbled wax underneath) but not extensively. This hive just finally died a week or so ago.

There were scattered capped, unhatched brood - very few, like 10 per comb face. There were dead bees that had died as they hatched, with no nurse bees to feed them. I pulled them out and didn't see any obvious disease (I checked for AFB and foulbrood) or harm; they just hatched when there wasn't a lot going on. But the pattern of brood supports the "weak queen" theory. No worker bee stepped up and began laying either, as there were no drone combs in evidence.

I cleaned up underneath and sealed the hive against further robbing (that's what the sticks in the entrance in the picture are for). I hope the wax moths wait until I catch a swarm for that hive! Then it was time for hive #2.

This hive was textbook early-spring. And it was feisty. The entire time I was in it, they were humming like a 747. I set aside the top super, then the top deep and went through the bottom deep frame by frame.

A good amount of stored honey, and a good amount of open comb. There were even some un-drawn frames (mostly on the north side of the hive, away from the busy side of the entrance). After I went through the entire box, it was clear that there was no brood in it, so I lifted it off, set it aside, cleaned the screen bottom and replaced that. The bees just loved that, and by that time I was sweating pretty heavily in my suit. I lose more weight by sweating when I do this than I do running!

I put the original second box back on the bottom and went through it, frame by frame. There were a good number, perhaps 5, frames of brood, with lovely full patterns of laying. Just a carpet of capped brood. Then there were frames that had a mix of capped brood, and larvae at different stages, plus eggs. I looked carefully on those frames for the queen, but I didn't see her. She's left ample evidence that she's doing a good job, though. The grouchiness of the bees was the only thing I could hold against this queen. They didn't seem to be stinging too much, but it was annoying to be dive-bombed the whole time I was in the hive.

There was a little bit of drone brood, and I inserted a drone trap near the brood nest. I'll check again in two weeks and see if they've used it. I suppose I'm going to have to put the bees on a routine powdered sugar schedule to keep the varroa down, although I don't have enough hives for one dead one to be meaningful.

The honey super was about half full and half capped. I put the super from the other hive on first, then finished with the orginal one. This hive got a lot of reversing. I'm thinking that two weeks should be enough to catch this spring flow in both boxes. Time to extract again!

Like all outdoor activities, though, it will depend on the weather too. But it feels good to have made a start. I hope to get to the hive I supervise at a friend's house this week also. It would be nice to see a lively group there.


Jeff Vandiver said...

I really enjoyed this informative post, as I know absolutely nothing about beekeeping - but would love to have a hive of my own.Thanks!

Ribbit said...

More bee posts.
More bee posts.
More bee posts.

I'm just enthralled. More pictures too, to show what you're talking about with the terminology.

I'm sorry about the bad hive. It just means you can get a good healthy one going again.

Unknown said...

I too enjoyed this post. I love learning new things.

Christina said...

This is all entirely new to me, and I enjoyed reading about your understanding of bee healthy and bee sociology.

Lisa said...

You're in Alameda, yes? My friend Taylor is working on splitting her Alameda colony, so that I can start beekeeping in East Oakland. My partner and I recently bought our first house, so I'm finally able to indulge all my garden fantasies.



Kristin said...

Hey, how come I can't twitter or share this post on face book from your post page? I mean do you mind if I twitter it? It is really well-written and a pleasure to read.

Jan said...

Very informative and I look forward to the next update on your bees. We did think about keeping a hive or two, but the idea's been put to one side... too much else going on!

Heiko said...

Me too, I'd love a hive or 3. You wouldn't mind coming over my way for some supervising? :-)

Erin said...

Sorry about Hive #1, hopefully you will get a swarm of bees soon for it. Love the bee posts, it's something I took a class on last year, and would love to get into on a small scale for sustainability and to help the local population of bees someday. Keep on bee-posting!!

kitsapFG said...

I find beekeeping fascinating. Sorry you lost the one hive, but hopefully you will get it recolonized and thriving again soon.

Susan said...

I'm pretty sure one of our hives will be empty. I think only raiders are going in there. I'm going to look for all the things you describe: dead newly hatched bees that didn't get fed, ragged holes in the honeycomb. Thanks for this really interesting post.

Mr. H. said...

I also love your bee posts and learn a lot. We keep talking about tryig it ourselves...someday soon I hope.

Stefaneener said...

Eg, you'd be a terrific beek, no doubt.

Ribbit, your wish is my command.

GrafixMuse, hi and thanks.

Christina, the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know.

Lisa and Robb, I know Taylor! She lives near me. Congratulations on your new house and your new hive.

Kristin, I have it set up to post to Facebook, but I'm twitter-ignorant. Do whatever you want with it!

Jan, you are busy. The bees take about 2 hours every 2 weeks; not too much. Then harvesting.

Heiko, you know our itinerary isn't set yet!

Erin, it is a lot of fun. You'd enjoy it, I think.

kitsapFG, I am looking forward to beeing at full strength, hee hee.

Susan, there's an article somewhere about 12 things to look at with a dead hive. You could find it.

Mr. H., I have no idea that you're going to end up keeping bees. It's almost inevitable, I think.

patricia said...

Here's a question for you, my knowledgeable beekeeping friend: Do queens lay all winter here in No. Cal? I checked my hive out on a warm day in early January, and all seemed well except no brood. I assumed it was just because it was winter.

Should there still have been some brood there? I'm pretty sure I saw the queen.

Guess I should check again, if the weather holds.

Esperanza said...

This was great information. Question- my hive has been without a sugar water feeder for a couple of months but I know there is a good store of honey in the hive. Is their own source of honey enough food for them? I also see them foraging actively on warm days. They seem strong.