Saturday, December 10, 2011

Building hives and More Inspections

I recently ordered an Oshlun stack dado blade.
What you're looking at is 124 (+/-) teeth of fury!  I'm going to use it to cut frame rests and rabbets for hive boxes as well as use it to cut dadoes for dividers in queen castles and nucs.  This is a pretty good quality dado blade and makes good quality stuff.  The cutters have 44 teeth and the chippers have six teeth each.  This makes for a very heavy set and the motor takes about five whole seconds to spin it up.  But it works fantastically, and I'm going to use it a lot as I'm building my new legion of medium boxes.

Here you can see my design for a 4x5 nuc, that's four five frame nucs in one box.  The last thing to add is the dividers.
I did a test run with the dado blade and made some ends for a 6 frame nuc.  All I need to do is cut the sides and make a bottom and lid and it will be ready to go.  Now that I think about it, it would make a perfect example for my first six frame medium nuc, possibly to overwinter.

Finally, here is evidence that given the opportunity, bees will size the entrance how they want it.
This is a hive in my outyard where the bees reduced the entrance even further than I had reduced it.  As you can see, they still didn't close it all the way off.  For context, this hive has a 1 1/2" round entrance near the bottom.

Another hive on this pallet seems to me to be burning too brightly.  By that I mean they are too big and using their stores too fast.  I hope they can slow it down and last the winter.  On the other hand, they are a bit mean, and with that in mind, I doubt I would breed from them.

Friday, December 9, 2011

First Deadout of Winter

Here's today's yard.
 Sad news, today I discovered my first deadout of the winter.  I've gotten better at knowing a deadout without even looking inside.  Bees will be coming and going, but they will be acting more like robbers and in this case, they will be trying to use the lower entrance which this hive never took to.  Around here, dead hives not uncommon for this time of the year, but the reason varies.  Let's look at some of the signs.  What's left of the hive (all the uncapped honey) is located in the back middle of this picture.  I figure any hive able to be out flying through the winter can have all the honey they can carry home.  The hives headed by the queens I ordered from Zia seem do be flying just fine in 45 degree temperatures.

The first thing I found was this in the second box from the bottom.
At first, I thought the hive was queenless because the queen wasn't in this cluster.  There was a hive beetle though.  There was also plenty of honey around the cluster, though it was uncapped.

As I began to take the hive apart and take stock, I found this right at the top of the hive right under the sugar.  Like the lower cluster, they were surrounded by uncapped honey and you can see in this picture just how close it was.  They also had a very healthy supply of pollen.

There the queen is.  She looks like a standard Italian if not just a little dark complected.  This hive was a swarm I caught last spring, and I saw old used queen cells in the hive so I assume this is not the queen that swarmed with the hive.

I also took a good hard look at the bottom board.  That's one of the most important things to look at.  There were about half a dozen beetles and about two dozen mites.  Neither of these things is likely the source of the demise of this hive.  There were dead bees, but not enough to form a solid layer across the bottom.

The primary issue with this hive seems to me to be a divided cluster.  But the question must be asked as to why their population is so low.  I checked my records and this hive was designated SW-NWA-0000-0004 meaning that it was a swarm from around here with unknown parentage.  This hive mysteriously showed up clustered under my comb melting vat last year.  It made it through last year well enough, but had a tough start this spring taking heavy damage from skunk predation.  This apparently triggered a supersedure this spring.  Later on, the hive was healthy enough to harvest three frames of honey from to supply some new nucs.  This hive did show some minor signs of dysentery this spring, but every thing cleared up.  By fall inspection time, they were just about the least provisioned of any of the hives and I put a top feeder on.  They did not take much syrup, and I found what they did take (it was dyed) on one of the combs.  Most of what they had was real honey.

I did my best, but this hive was never a performer.  Perhaps in the future, a hive like this will be placed in a nuc or combined with another hive so that it won't be taking up valuable equipment.  However, at this point, I have plenty of equipment so it's not really an issue.  They ended up being comb babysitters more than anything.  So far, survivors are 10 of 11.  Let's hope there will be very few more deadouts.  It's another big splitting year next year.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Mating Nucs

Here's today's photo, taken just a few minutes ago.

 Today, I'm here to talk to you about mating nucs, specifically of the 'queen castle' variety.

A queen castle is a type of nuc which contains only two or three standard frames.  It's purpose is to provide the function of the mating nuc while eliminating the need for an extra type of frame.  Some nuc designs use half size frames or tiny little topbars.  The question is what to do with these things at the end of the year, or how to get the bees to build on them in the beginning.  With standard sized frames, queen castles eliminate this difficulty.

Its prime use as a mating nuc is generally set up like this.  Standard methods are used to rear queens to the ripe cell stage.  Then, a frame of brood and bees and a frame of stores are placed in the queen castle with the ripe cell.  Later, the nucs are checked to see how the queen is coming along and if she's laying eggs and ready to be sold.  She can be removed and replaced with another cell repeatedly throughout the productive season.  I've been told that the 4x2 versions offer limited space to squeeze the cell in.  But according to my measurements, the three frame version offers a full 5/8" of space with normal frames.  Using narrow endbar frames offers an extra 3/8" on top of that.

Another benefit is for swarm control.  For instance, you go out to do a standard springtime inspection one day and you find a hive that is near to swarming with queen cells on four separate frames.  This presents a fantastic opportunity to get some free bees.  Take the queen and a couple frames and start a nuc with her off to the side.  Then take three of the frames with adhering bees and place each of them in the queen castle in separate compartments.  Add a frame of honey and pollen and an empty frame of comb or foundation.  Close the thing up and wait a couple weeks and you have new nucs.  You have the original queen in her nuc, one queen in the original hive, and three queens in the queen castle.  You can then use these queens to requeen other hives or use the nucs to start new hives.  You can also cut cells out and profit even more by using the method above.

Typical queen castles available at beekeeping supply establishments are the deep 4x2 and the medium 3x3.  These two designs allow just about the same amount of comb space.  Below you can see the design I came up with which in all probability is identical to the one Brushy Mountain offers.  It features a standard sized box which can be used as such during the rest of the year, and three nucs divided by pieces of 1/4" luan plywood.
Here's the detail of the end piece.  The side pieces are simply cut with no special dadoes or rabbets.  The end piece is cut by two 1/4" dadoes and two 3/4" rabbets on the ends.  The frame rest is the standard 3/8" by 5/8" cutout.  All cuts are 3/8" deep from the broad side.

This is the design, but I'm going to be using it a little differently.  I designed it as a medium even though I have all deeps at this point.  But as you know, I'm making the switch to mediums.  I'll build these as deeps and then at some point, I'll begin cutting them down to medium size.  It's a simple three inch difference.  The other part is that I'll make them about 1/4" taller than standard and attach the bottom board semi-permanently in the same way my 10 frame nucs are.

One thing I saw on the Bushkill Farms version was a big circular screened over vent at the upper side of the nuc to draw robbers while the actual entrance is small and located away in the bottom corner.

I'll be building these over Christmas Break, and using them next year to efficiently boost my populations.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Traits for Selecting Breeder Colonies

I found a very insightful post on and decided to repost it here.  The author is a guy who uses the handle Fusion_Power and whose name is Darrel Jones. He says its genesis was Brother Adam.  I thank them both, though Brother Adam is no longer with us.

If you're breeding your own queens (and you should be) it's helpful to know what you're looking for.  Breeding for production is good, but production alone do not bees make.  Read this and use it to help select the best colonies to breed from, then replace hives with unacceptable performance with those new queens.  This is by no means and exhaustive list, nor is it in any order.  Typically, bees are bred for the top three traits, disease resistance, honey production, and gentleness, usually in that order, but not always.  I let winter handle the first one, and generally bees that aren't very disease resistant don't produce well.  So my focus is honey production and gentleness.  Anyway, enjoy.

Traits for Selecting Breeder Colonies

This is not an exhaustive list and its a bit dated. I'm posting it at a request on the chat forum. There is a LOT more that should be in this.

Over the course of several years, I have wished for but never seen a good list of the various traits that can be influenced by a bee breeding program. Following is a list I have compiled of some of the traits of importance to beekeepers. Keep in mind that this is a list of genetically influenced traits, with some comparison of races of bees, not a list of management procedures.


Colony strength affects productivity because of the high level of correlation between hive strength and honey production. Egg laying rate, egg viability rate, brood care, brood development time, life span, and several other factors affect colony strength.

A prolific Italian queen can lay about 2,000 viable eggs per day during peak brood rearing. Rates of up to 5,000 eggs per day have been reported for African queens. After watching a colony build up from just a handful of bees in the winter to occupy seven or eight deep brood chambers in the spring, one begins to appreciate just how many eggs are being laid.

Egg viability
is affected by inbreeding because of parthenogenesis and the concentration of genetic defects. Only 15 variants of the sex allele have been identified to date. Since a queen mates with 17 drones on the average, at least one or two of them will have identical sex alleles with the queen. When an egg has identical sex alleles, the result is a diploid drone egg that the bees normally destroy shortly after hatching. Genetic code defects cause otherwise normal eggs to be non-viable. This is especially detectable in drone eggs because they contain only one set of chromosomes. Genetic selection must control inbreeding so the egg viability rate does not become abnormally low.

Brood care includes feeding and climate control in the brood nest. Most strains of bees used commercially today show good brood care characteristics. Worker brood development takes 21 days from egg laying to adult. For comparison, African bees take about 19 days. The shorter brood cycle helps explain their rapid colony buildup.

The average worker lives about 35 days during summer. If the average life span were increased to 45 days, colony strength would rise by 20 to 30 percent. Several colonies have been found with above average life spans, but very little work has been done to select long-lived bees.

Disease resistance to brood diseases has been found for the following; American foulbrood, European foulbrood, Sacbrood, and Chalkbrood. There are several other brood diseases caused by viral, bacterial, and fungal agents, but none have as much effect as the first four. Resistance seems to center around hive cleanliness and brood nutrition with emphasis on hygienic behavior which is a tendency to uncap and remove diseased brood. Carniolans have a high average level of resistance to brood diseases and African bees show a similar capacity. Italians show resistance to varying degrees and respond readily to genetic selection.

Nosema, Paralysis, and Septicema are the primary diseases of adult bees. Nosema is especially bad because it affects wintering colonies causing serious damage in Canada and most of the northern United States. Factors affecting resistance include the total number of bees in the colony and the size of the hindgut of individual bees. Italians on average tend to be slightly susceptible to nosema and resistant to paralysis and septicema. Brother Adam indicates that he has found no obvious resistance to nosema except possibly in the Egyptian bee (Apis Mellifera lamarckii). Caucasians tend to be very susceptible to nosema though selected strains exhibit some resistance. Several researchers have noted that the eastern honeybee (Apis Cerana) seems to be almost immune to nosema. Regrettably, Apis Cerana and Apis Mellifera cannot crossbreed.

A moderate level of infestation with tracheal mites results in poor wintering ability. If more than about 30 percent of the workers are infested going into winter, the colony will probably die. Resistance appears to be based on behavioral and anatomical differences. Bees with the highest level of resistance currently are from England where bee populations were decimated in the early 1920's. As the highly susceptible bees were killed, only the resistant colonies survived. The net result is that bees of English origin have a high level of genetic tolerance to tracheal mites. The typical pattern seen when a colony dies from tracheal mites is a colony with a handful of dead bees and almost all the honey stored for wintering still in the hive. What happened to the huge cluster of bees that went into winter? They flew out and died when the temperature was above about 40 degrees. It is heartbreaking to see a huge cluster on the ground in front of a hive with bees crawling slowly away, wings disjointed. After losing most of the adult bees, the few remaining start rearing brood in a desperate attempt to survive. Then comes severe cold weather and the bees won't move from the brood to food located only inches away. The result is a handful of starved bees covering a small patch of brood with a hive still nearly full of honey.

Varroa mites are from Asia where colonies of Apis cerana were the original hosts. Varroa will kill an infested colony within a few years. Only African bees (Apis Mellifera Scutellata) show a high level of resistance. This resistance comes from a shorter brood development time and from actively seeking and killing the mites in a form of grooming behavior. Varroa causes newly emerged bees to be physically smaller than normal and to have short, abnormal wings. Other symptoms include excessive fall swarming, and brood that does not emerge from the cells.

Tropilaelaps Clarae is an external mite that also originated in Asia where they are hosted by Apis dorsata. Though not currently in the United States, we will probably have to deal with them eventually though only in the southern states. Resistance will probably be the same as for Varroa, though this has not yet been tested.

Wax moths can destroy the combs in a weak colony in a short time. Italians tend to be highly resistant because they maintain very strong colonies and aggressively clean the hive interior. They sting and remove wax moth larvae.

Parasitic insects
such as hornets, wasps, and members of closely related genera such as spiders actively prey on honeybees by waiting near the hive entrance and grabbing a bee on its way in or out of the hive. Most colonies that aggressively guard and defend the hive will be resistant, but tend to sting beekeepers more often. African bees have developed a unique behavior of flying straight into the hive entrance instead of landing outside and walking in. This reduces their exposure to predators waiting at the entrance. While animals such as frogs, birds, skunks, and bears prey on honeybees, the only resistance bees show is based on strong hive defensive behavior. Guard bees and soldier bees tend to sting more than younger house bees. Guard bees normally stand near the hive entrance and challenge intruders. Soldier bees forage part of the time, then wait in the hive for the unwary intruder - whether man or beast. There is a large variation in the percentage of soldier bees in different colonies and there is some correlation between the percentage of soldier bees and the amount of honey produced. The more often a bee flies outside to forage, the more honey gathered. Regular bee selection has tended to increase the percentage and quantity of active foragers in commercially available strains of bees.

Foraging behavior shows up most in the amount of honey a colony gathers. In some colonies, the bees rush in with a load of nectar, unload, and then rush back out for another load. The bees in other colonies could best be described as lazy. They gather nectar, then return to the hive and lounge around for a while eventually getting around to another foraging trip. A good selection program can rapidly affect this level of genetic variation. African bees forage earlier in the morning, later in the evening, and more aggressively than European types.

Swarming is the natural means of reproduction for honeybees. Crowding is a primary cause of swarming and some colonies show more tolerance to crowding than others. Swarming is also influenced to a great degree by the climate and nectar flow characteristics. In general, areas having a long warm period in early spring with intermittent nectar flows and rainy periods that confine the bees to the hive will have the most intense swarming. By contrast, those areas having a long and cool buildup period and a sudden, intense nectar flow will experience swarming to a lesser degree. Regardless of location, swarming is one of the unique activities of bees that must be controlled to produce honey. According to Brother Adam, Greek bees (Apis Mellifera Cecropia) show the least inclination to swarm.

Winter hardiness
is required in all areas of the United States and Canada but is of less importance in the southern United States. Carniolans show a good wintering ability as also does the intermissa race group. Brother Adam reports that Anatolian and cyprian bees show the best winter hardiness which is surprising because of their mediterranean origin. Italians have a less developed wintering ability which has prevented them from being imported into areas that experience extremes of cold in winter. Bees of the intermissa race group range up to the Arctic Circle which indicates that crossbreeding and selection with these hardy bees could dramatically improve wintering ability.

Body size and anatomical structure varies among different race groups. Currently, the largest bee is from the Rif Mountains of Morocco (Apis Mellifera major nova). Some of the African races tend to be the smallest. Tongue length, leg length, abdominal size, wing size, and virtually all anatomical features show some variation.

Tongue length and wing size have a significant effect on the honey crop. Antennae structure affects the sense of smell and touch and possibly other senses that we do not fully understand. This affects the bee's sense of orientation in finding the right hive, and affects foraging behavior because the bee can smell nectar at a greater distance. Drone antennae are much more sensitive than worker antennae. Most other anatomical features are of little importance because they do not significantly influence the honey crop.

The time of brood development is genetically determined with races such as carniolans having an abrupt spring buildup and caucasians having a long slow summer buildup. This is of importance because a strain that reaches peak development at the beginning of the major nectar flow gathers the most honey.

Thrift is the tendency to raise brood at the right time to gather honey and to slow down or stop brood rearing when there is no nectar flow. Most parts of the United States experience a major spring nectar flow followed later by a fall flow. This requires a corresponding spring peak of brood rearing and another peak in the fall. Italians show a tendency to such a development cycle but are unthrifty because they continue to raise large amounts of brood through the summer between flows. Bees adapt rapidly to an area when selection is used, or adapt more slowly when natural selection occurs. By one estimate, about 50 to 100 years of living and surviving in a given area results in an adapted strain. Maximum thrift is obtained when bees are genetically adapted to the local nectar flow conditions.

Honey arrangement and type of honey collected vary considerably with Italians tending to collect light colored honey and to store it above and out of the brood nest. In one instance, I had a colony of Italians beside a colony of german descent. The Italians gathered three shallow supers of beautiful golden honey while the germans gathered two supers of dark bad tasting honey. Carniolans also tend to collect lighter colored honey.

Some races of bees hoard pollen more aggressively. This is of importance where bees are used for pollination. The previously mentioned german bees collected and stored twice as much pollen as the Italians. They crowded the brood nest with pollen and stored pollen in every super of honey rendering it unfit for use as chunk comb honey. If pollination were of primary importance, then these bees would have been excellent. This trait can be selected for fairly rapidly by simply measuring the amount of pollen collected by a colony relative to the amount of brood in the colony and comparing with other similar colonies.

Comb and capping structure vary considerably. Size and length and cell angle from horizontal all vary by race and by strain. Cappings range in color from gray to white and in shape from flat to ridged to domed. Italian cappings are generally flat and white with raised ridges over the surface of the comb. Brother Adam's buckfast bees build white slightly dome shaped cells which improves the appearance of comb and chunk comb honey. White cappings are a result of an air gap between the cell cap and the honey in the cell. Dark cappings result when there is no air gap. Brood cappings and drone cell cappings for most races are dome shaped although there is considerable variation on this point. Some members of the intermissa race group add propolis to the wax used for cappings. This gives a dirty gray capping which ruins comb honey.

Calmness is the ability to stay fast on a comb during examination without nervous motion. Carniolans tend to be very calm with Italians less so. German black bees tend to be very nervous and jittery. I have opened hives that no amount of smoke would calm and I have opened others so calm that smoke was not even needed. Selection work for good temper shows conclusively that bees can be gentle and outstandingly productive. Note that the buckfast strain currently available in the United States is more aggressive than the strain Brother Adam was propagating 30 years ago. This appears to be the result of a greater focus on breeding for productivity and disease resistance.

Propolis collection and use varies considerably with Caucasians being heavy users and Egyptian bees using none. The average Italian or carniolan colony collects much more propolis than beekeepers would like. There is some conjecture that propolis collection may be connected to wintering ability. One of the greatest improvements we could make in bees today would be to reduce the amount of propolis collected. Unfortunately, very few selection programs have emphasized this much-needed trait.

Brace and bridge comb is built between combs and causes headaches for beekeepers because moveable combs become almost unmovable. This can be especially messy during spring inspection when brood combs have to be scraped and pried out of position. There is enough variation in this tendency that selection results in significant reduction in these structures. Brother Adam records that cyprian bees build very little bridge and brace comb.

Bee color varies from very light yellow to orange to brown to black. Bee hair color ranges from white to gray to yellow to black. Bees that are selected with color being a major emphasis invariably lose characteristics of greater importance such as honey gathering ability. A strain descended from Italians and known as golden Italians was developed several years ago but never achieved commercial importance because they didn't produce enough honey and didn't winter well. I have a much greater preference for productive bees than for pretty bees.

This list is by no means complete. According to one reference, the honeybee genome contains over 30,000 genes and each gene could have innumerable variations. Almost all the items I have listed are controlled by large numbers of genes. Bees adapt genetically to an area over a period of years based on survival of the fittest. The amount of genetic variation in honeybees shows that nature is a very harsh taskmaster. There is no absolute best bee, just a better adapted bee.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Feeding Sugar

Here is the latest picture of the home yard.
 Not the clearest, but you can see that many of the trees have lost their leaves, but the cherry in front of the yard has just started.  Got the hole filled where I dug out the rock in the back as well.

As I've mentioned a few times, we had a really wet spring, and a really dry hot summer leading to there being very little stored honey in the hives and necessitating taking action and feeding them.  I fed through the fall with 3:2 sugar syrup and now that they're not longer taking syrup, I'm feeding with granulated sugar.  Granulated sugar has some goods and some bads.  The goods are that the bees can take it even when it's cold, it doesn't cause robbing, and it helps absorb moisture in the hive.  The bads are that the bees don't always take it and they might just clean it out like any other refuse.

The shims that I use (which I lovingly refer to as 'Parker Shims') make a good space to pile sugar on top of a paper towel.  To the left in the picture below, there is a frame feeder and it is full up with sugar as well. We'll see how this turns out.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Skep Beekeeping in the Heathland, Lower Saxony

Any beekeeper simply must watch these videos.  They present a fantastic view of how beekeeping was done in skeps.  Surely it did not start out this well managed, like today's beekeeping, this video demonstrates the result of centuries of beekeeping and management based on tradition and innovation.

See for yourself how this type of beekeeping shaped our current understanding of beekeeping.  See how things are done more or less the same, and completely different.  Notice how many more products of the hive this operation produces than just honey.

It thought it was interesting that they use wax essentially as a savings account as it's really the only product that can be stored indefinitely without diminishing in quality.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Natural Cell Size

If you've read the blog for a while, you'll know that I was trying foundationless frames this year.  If you want to get caught up, go ahead and go back and read.  I'll wait.


Okay, you're back.

Well, I only have one comb to show you, because it just so happens that the hive it was in happened to die a few weeks ago.  No worries, this hive was a split from the hive the frame was previously in (still alive and well) and the frame certainly had nothing to do with it.

Here, you can see the frame and you can compare it to what it looked like soon after it was begun.
It's not too bad, though not perfect.  It had several queens made on it over the course of the year so that also makes it a little holey.

So, how did it turn out?  I measured the cell size on the frame in a number of places and different directions.  Here are the results:

Here's a 4.9mm section.

Here's a 5.1mm section.

Here's a 5.2mm section.

As you can see, there is natural variability.  However, the natural cell size is certainly on average below the smallest standard sized foundation available at 5.2mm.

In the future, I'm switching wholesale to plastic frames and foundationless frames, but until then I still have quite a bit of foundation to run through.

How to Use Nucs.

Here's my most recent yard pic:

I recently watched this excellent video on keeping nucs as part of one's operation.  It's long so that means if I'm recommending it, it's really good.  This is just part one, there's also a part two.

Mike Palmer 4/2011 The Sustainable Apiary Part 1 of 2 from PWRBA (Prince William Regional B on Vimeo.

The idea is that keeping nucs, even as many as you have regular hives gives you all sorts of flexibility and sustainability in your bee yard especially if you are raising your own queens.  At this point in history, any serious beekeeper should.  As Michael explains, queens and packages are becoming more and more unreliable.

Among other reasons, nucs offer the ability for quick requeening, quick hive replacement, quick increase, the ability to use a nuc as a 'bee bomb' to boost a hive's production, the ability to raise and test queens before devoting much equipment to them, the ability to draw out new combs rapidly without suffering honey production, and as a consistent product to sell.

I currently have the equivalent of 10 nucs that I will be attempting to put into circulation this next spring.  After this disastrous summer we've just had, the idea of selling nucs primarily appeals to me as such a thing can be done even with zero honey production in a calendar year.  The really big thing that I learned was not to make nucs from your big productive hives, but to make nucs from mediocre healthy hives, but make queens from your big productive hives.  Thus far, I have been splitting queens the old Emergency Queen way but this next year, I'm going to be grafting.  If that fails, I'll try the Nicot system or Jenter. 

I could go through and explain the whole system to you but it would take hours to type and read and you can watch the whole video yourself.  So please go watch the video.  You'll find it well worth your time.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Long Hard Summer and New Developments

Here's the most recent photo...

Business has been good.  I just sold my first two nucs last Saturday.  A gentleman drove up from Texas to purchase some late season nucs.

As you may be able to see in the picture, the grass is green again but it hasn't rained in two weeks.  Here's about the worst it got.

Here, I recorded temperatures of 114.8F and went from June until August without significant rainfall.

Fortunately, the temperatures are far more reasonable than they have often been throughout this warm season.  Since I last posted, I have set up my second outyard at a local organic free range chicken farm.

This pallet is on the bank of a small pond which is often dry.  I put extra bricks on top in case the local goats decide they want to play king of the hill.  With that many bricks, it's quite stable. 

In preparation for the move to mediums, I have been buying equipment that will fit.  As you should know by now, Mann Lake sells 4.95mm (PF-120) plastic frames which look something like this:

You can also see one of the medium division board feeders I bought and am currently using even though they're being used in deep hive body equipment.  In fact, two hives have two each due to the fact that I sold those two nucs.  And one could go even further if one wished.

Here are four feeders in a box just for fun.  That would total about five gallons of syrup if you really wanted to pound it down.  However, the drowning of bees could very well be quite significant.

I also purchased a little batch of Walter Kelley's foundationless medium frames.  As is my custom, I trimmed the end bars to 1 1/4" and as you can see, eleven fit in a box.  The box they are in is a former deep box which I trimmed down after the lower part rotted.  There are five more that I have marked for this same modification.  I did notice that the space between the topbars is pretty small, but I think it's still large enough for small cell bees to fit through, especially after the endbars have been propolized a bit.  In the future, I think I may trim the topbars a little bit so as to maintain a larger beespace.

Here you can see the beveled edge of the Kelley frame.  I was expecting more of a sharper edge, but we'll see how this works.  I have heard good things.
I am going to have to make a financial decision on which direction to go.  These frames are priced a little bit lower than Mann Lake's medium frames (which are standard types, not foundationless).  On the other hand, Mann Lake's frames are clearly superior in quality.  Mann Lake will be getting my business for the PF-120's which I plan to offer at a ratio of about 2:1 to foundationless frames.  Kelley also offers cheaper boxes as well, but I am not sure which direction to go on that either.  But that still may be in the future.  I still have to cycle through all my large cell equipment and systematically sell it as nucs.  10 frames down, 600 to go.

Going into fall, situations surely could be better.  I harvested no honey and many of the hives, in fact all the new ones, are either very low on stores or have none at all.  I am usually against feeding artificial feeds, but in this case, even if I had all the honey I ever produced, it might not be enough to get these hives through.  So I have to feed.  The heavy splitting I did earlier in the season allowed an increase in hives but a massive decrease in honey.  Such are Arkansas' seasons.  I am considering the fact that in the long run, it may be far more profitable to produce nucs rather than honey.  We shall see.  Until then, I need to get these bees through the winter.  Lately, every week I have been taking two and now three five gallon buckets filled with four gallons of 3:2 sugar syrup to the yards.  That's $15 a bucket.  No bueno.  Soon, I'll fill the feeders up with granulated sugar as the bees will stop taking syrup.  Then, it will be up to them.  Gotta keep a little survivorship in there.

Don't forget to check in at from time to time as I continue to add content there as well.  Suggestions are always welcome.  Visit where I am the moderator of the Treatment-Free Beekeeping section of the forum as well.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

New Website!

I haven't been posting anything for the past week or so because I have been hard at work building my new website.  Writing multiple 5-7 page articles, formatting and editing them in HTML, and then uploading and fine-tuning them takes a lot of time.

Here it is: 

This blog is still linked there, and they are meant to be a pair.  The blog is for updates and new information, the website is more for long term book-like information and to sell stuff.

Right now, the bees aren't doing much.  I've downsized the home yard as I came to realize just how many too many bees I had here at home.  I've already moved four out and am getting ready to move another four as soon as the arrangements can be made.  I'm going to limit the home yard to about 9 plus a few nucs.  This seems to be a particularly dry year, though we got 0.11" rain yesterday, it doesn't make much difference.  You can see how dry the grass is in the picture above.  It's kind of amazing if you scroll down and see the pictures of how green it was a few short months ago.  I haven't had to mow but three or four times this whole year.

I just went for a walk and discovered about the only thing of any substance blooming right now.

The bull thistles are out and the black swallowtails with their long proboscises are well suited for them.  See if you can count the butterflies.  I saw some bees on there too, but they have to work a little harder.

Please leave comments, I enjoy constructive feedback and questions.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My First Outyard

Yesterday, I moved my first hives away from the home yard.  Here's what the yard looked like mid-move.

I started by designing and building a pallet to hold my hives.  I used the design of my bottom boards and my ten frame deep nucs as a center piece.

The result is a very sturdy and strong pallet of which two fit in the back of my pickup.

And here's the result in the field. 

The hives went to my church's farm, called "The Farm" which provides food to subscription holders and those subscriptions also pay for food for the economically disadvantaged.  So, I'm essentially treating it like a free pollination job.

I've discovered that the flat dark green paint I used to paint those boxes makes the hives way too hot, so I've begun switching them out.  While this is probably only a problem this time of year when it has been over 105 just about every day at my home for the past two weeks, I don't want to put the bees at a big disadvantage.

To Do:  Need to repaint the green hives. 

Thinking about making a slow switch to medium boxes.  I have 68 deeps which is the equivalent of approximately 100 mediums.  If I start selling nucs, it will be easy to sell anything away, and replace deeps with mediums in the process.  I don't need to get rid of the boxes, they can be trimmed, but it is a little harder to trim the frames, especially those with good comb still in them.  I think it can be done pretty well in a progressive fashion, as I sell 5-frame nucs.  All I need to do is sell two nucs, trim one box, buy eleven new frames.  Eventually I'll have nothing but mediums left.  But that means I'll have to sell about 130 nucs.  Could take a few years.

Also, learning about how to do combs.  As I now trim all new end bars to 1 1/4", I can fit eleven frames to a box.  So I do that for three deeps or five mediums, then above that place nine frames to a box for honey storage.  I'm also probably going to switch to Michael Bush's frame system where he uses mostly PF-120's and the rest foundationless.  The only difference is, I trim the endbars, which was his idea, but with is volume he hasn't taken the time to do it on all the plastic frames.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Worst Robbing I've Ever Heard Of

My biggest, most prolific hive, which is the mother to about four or five others got robbed the other week.  I'm not sure why.  I have never seen robbing on this scale.  I have never seen a strong hive get robbed.

Every drop of honey was robbed from this hive, I don't know how much, I hadn't checked this hive in a few weeks, but there was probably plenty.  After the robbing was done, after the bees gave up and left, I dismantled the hive, removing the top three boxes and placed a frame of honey in to avoid starvation.  The population of the hive had been reduced drastically.  There was a pile of dead bees in front of it more than an inch thick.

One of the changes I'm making due to this occurrence is to begin to place bees in outyards.  I'm developing a custom pallet in order to have four hive units that can be moved to other places.  The first one I have lined up is my church's farm where they need a little pollination.  It's also where I hope to sell nucs retail style in the future.  I'm going to try to limit my home yard to ten hives.  If all works well, perhaps I can move beyond sixteen total hives in the future.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Visit to Bush Farms

This past week, (the last week of June 2011) I went to visit the Michael Bush, a beekeeper of some renown among the online beekeeping forums.  If you read my blog here, you’ve seen me quote him and link to his website on quite a number of occasions.

It was an excellent opportunity to see how another beekeeper works and to experience the methods he has written about first hand.  I thought I’d explore them and discuss some pros and cons for an up close view of his methods.  Like many beekeepers familiar with Mr. Bush’s work, I was one who had read his website, viewed his pictures, and pondered his results, but had never seen them in person.  Now having seen them in person, I can more accurately decide which of his ideas to try and to weigh the options in a more enlightened fashion.

First, I’d like to discuss Mike’s use of eight frame mediums almost exclusively for all his normal hives.  His standard configuration is eight frames of PF-120 (Mann Lake Ltd.) and a single frame of Perma-comb.  This results in a box in which there is no space for the frames to move around and everything fits near perfectly.  Also with the PF-120’s are foundationless frames but they’re not quite as numerous.

The first thing that struck me about this method is the way the hive is setup in units.  In my hives with ten frame deeps, a frame is a unit.  In Mike’s hives, a box is a unit.  Therefore, his walkaway splitting technique is to make two bottom boards empty and deal the boxes from a hive back and forth on those two bottom boards.  So each hive now consists of every other box from the original hive.  To make up the size, he places a few empties on the bottom, or sometimes on the top.  With this method, one doesn’t look at the individual frames, nor does one need to.  I had to have a look just for funsies, but it wasn’t necessary.  I doubt splitting has ever been faster.

The PF-120’s contribute fantastically to Mr. Bush’s method.  His method requires far less work than the standard beekeeping method.  There is no frame wiring or foundation installing.  If a hive has died and sat around for years getting full of wax moths, all you need to do is pull the frame out, and peel off the layer of webs.  It’s almost exactly like removing the lint from the lint trap in your clothes dryer.  The foundationless frames are just as easy.  The Perma-comb frames need almost no care at all.  Put it back together, and the box-unit is good to go.

Mike also has a couple of top bar hives of which one was in operation when I was there.  It has a beautiful and prolific Carniolan queen heading it up, and the hive was beautiful.  Here’s a picture of me finding the queen.
 And here she is.

Mr. Bush has also experimented with just about every other standard and nonstandard equipment style there is and he has plenty of scraps of old hives and equipment to prove it.  I saw a Dadant-deep style hive in person for the first time, as well as such others as 12 frame deeps, observation hives, several types of pollen traps, long hives of 40 frames or more, nucs from 2-10 frames, and everything I’ve ever read about on his website.

So, after trying Mike’s 8 frame deep system, I have a few criticisms from my perspective.  Firstly, an 8 frame hive must be stacked especially tall for higher honey production.  Mike can’t do this, nor can I due to high winds, especially for him.  But his focus is not honey production, it’s queen production, so it works very well.  I do like the way a box is a unit that doesn’t need to be messed with, but I prefer the ten frame style for the stacking ability.  Also, since the frames are packed in pretty tight, it’s hard to pull them out without rolling a bunch of bees.  Again, this works well for him but not for me.
One other downside is the cost.  Medium boxes and frames cost only slightly less than deeps, and the same goes for 8 frame.  All the same cuts need to be made on each piece of woodenware and only slightly less wood is used, so there is no cost benefit, and in fact, the reverse is most often true.  For a certain amount of money, you get more square inches of comb with a ten frame deep hive than pretty much any other configuration.  
I am considering eventually making the switch to ten frame mediums.  I like them because they are lighter, and because splits can be made without concern for where the queen is.  Mike was even so gracious as to let me borrow some ten frame plastic mediums and frames to try out.  Someone gave them to him to evaluate, but since he doesn’t use ten frame equipment, he hasn’t yet.  So, I’m going to try them out and build some wooden ones and see how it works.  If I like them better, I’ll switch.  I don’t enjoy lifting or carrying deeps full of honey, and my extractor only holds 9 deeps but 18 mediums.  Also, I have a sneaking suspicion that mediums extract much better than deeps and blow out less.  I also think they’ll have fewer problems with foundation buckling.

Overall, his system is perfect for what he’s doing.  The rapidity with which his out yards can be processed is amazing.  The heaviest boxes don’t require straining to move.  Splitting is straightforward and speedy.  When I convert, it will be far easier to convert from deeps to mediums than it will be to convert from 10 frame to 8 frame.  Furthermore, I really think ten frame is what is right for me, and that’s what each beekeeper needs to decide for themselves.  What is right for you?  Spend the time doing the research and figure out exactly what you want and need.  My advice for all is to never get your bees in the same year you decide to become a beekeeper.  I think I need a separate post for ‘how to start beekeeping.’  Maybe soon.

Aside from the boxes and frames, the most important thing Mike is doing is keeping bees treatment free.  His bees are treated with nothing, absolutely nothing.  He is the most visible and vocal proponent of treatment free beekeeping, and he has shown for years that it works and even works on a large scale.

For those of you that have been asking for Mike to write a book, never fear.
 It will soon be here.  He’s spent a lot of time organizing what he’s written online into book form.  You can still find the vast majority of it online though, and he’s happy to tell you that.  But, there’s nothing like having something solid in your hands to read.  I was helping him proofread it this week, and it is quite good.  Look for it in hardback soon and in a three part ‘beginner, intermediate, advanced’ paperback edition as well.

Mike was kind enough to host me and another beekeeper this week.  He put up a tipi for us to stay in.  I enjoyed it.  Here he is putting it up.
Here is the finished product.
It was a great opportunity to see Mike’s operation, as limited as it is in scope at this time.  Next year, he’s going to be ramping up into full time queen production.  His queens are expensive, but I’d say they’re well worth it and I plan to be proving it with my wallet.  Next year, I’m planning on going back and learning his queen rearing techniques.  Thanks again Mike! 

Oh, one last thing.  The area around Mike's place is beautiful.  I mean, other than the corn and soy beans.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Wastefulness of the Natural Way of Queen Production

Here's the most recent photo of the yard.

I've been splitting like mad lately.  At last note, there were 12, now there are 17.  I recieved my four new queens with which I made four new hives.  There have been several near disasters with them, primarily owing to severe robbing problems.  One hive was being robbed in terrific fashion, so bad that I took the four frames of brood and queen and put them in a nuc box with a frame of capped honey and took them away.  The robbers then took after the next hive in the row which seemed to be holding its own.  I removed its feeder and the problem seemed to abate.  A third one, I opened to see if the queen had been released, and sure enough she had, just in time to fly away.  It was about five minutes before I found her balled at the entrance of a nearby hive.  It is yet to be seen if she will survive but I hope so.  If she was injured, she'll be replaced, hopefully at the very least with one of her daughters and not one of the daughters of the donor hives with which this hive was made.

Lessons learned:  Don't feed queenless hives.  Keep entrances very small on new splits.  Don't muck about with newly released queens. 

Now, about the title. 

In emergency situations, such as a lost queen or a walkaway split, the hive will feed appropriate aged larvae royal jelly and make a dozen or so into queens.  As Michael Bush rightly states, for all this expenditure of energy and nearly a month of no new eggs, the only result is a single queen as the rest get killed off.  While this is beneficial in a way to the bees in the sense of natural selection, it is very inefficient to us humans who want bees to make lots of bees and be out working making lots of honey.  This year, I have made about seven walk away splits.  That results in about seventy queens, 63 of which reach adulthood only to be immediately killed.  If I could have sold them, it would have netted somewhere in the range of nearly $2000.  What a waste.  Here's the evidence.

These are five dead virgin queens I found near the entrances of hives consisting of walkaway splits or recent supercedures.  This goes to show how inefficient it is to produce queens or new hives in this manner.  It also shows that I could have had the black queen that I've been wanting.

The solution is one of my primary goals for this next year which is to try producing queens in the more standard method of grafting.  With grafting, from a single queenless hive, you could get dozens of virgin queens to be mated in mating nucs to replace ailing queens or to add new stock.  Most rejections happen before the larva gets fed much and if you want to control the natural selection aspect of it, you can by deciding how many queen cells go into a nuc.

Here's what a freshly hatched virgin queen looks like.

In fact, this one is most likely the winner who killed one of the ones above.  You can see her fuzz is still wet, and her exoskeleton still has a milky tone to it.  She was very fresh, there were still untouched queen cells in the hive.  This is the queen that will replace the beat up swarm queen I posted about earlier.

On a final note, I don't think this location can or should support more hives than this.  During this time of year especially, there is little rain and few flowers.  Brooding is limited, and there isn't much storing of honey or building of comb going on.  Robbing can be a problem if a hive is weakened in some way.  It may well be a good time to make splits.  All splits have been successful (except those being fed who also got robbed) in the last month or so.

Unfortunately, due to all this splitting, there won't be any honey this year.  It's going to be enough of a trial to make sure all hives are provisioned for winter.  This could get interesting.  Then again, maybe everything will work out.  Always look on the bright side of life.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Then there were 12

Latest picture of the yard.

As you notice, there are now 12 hives.  Interesting fact, one hive has now been split into 5, and would have been seven if all the queens had been successfully hatched and mated.

Here's a picture I took a few weeks ago of the best kind of frame beside the honey kind.  This frame is wall to wall capped brood.  If you can get three deeps like this, and a good honey flow coming up, you have a winning situation.  This year, instead of turning this into honey, I'm turning it into more bees.  On my way to 16, I have split 5 into ten and added two swarms which makes 12.  Just waiting for my four queens to come, and then I should have my goal of 16 for the year.

Another goal reached, now all of my frames of worker comb are currently in a hive and being protected from wax moths.  Next goal is 16 hives and six deeps of honey comb on for protection, otherwise, I'll have to melt it.  Not a bad option, but not the best either.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Old Queen

Click on picture to enlarge.

Just caught this swarm a few days ago.  The queen's wings are quite tattered.  How old do you think she could be?  With wings like that, surely she has swarmed before.  The record is said to be nine years, but that was a queen with clipped wings.

Most of the swarms I catch around here seem to be very very small, likely less than a pound in most cases.  It leads me to hypothesize that there is a couple of small feral hives in small tree hollows in the area.  They are so small that an overflowing hive still produces a swarm that is this small.  It also leads me to hypothesize that the swarms I am catching are not being produced by my hives as my smallest hive being composed of a single deep would produce a swarm still much larger than this.  These last two swarms only covered approximately a single deep frame.

As you can see, this hive is composed of workers of a light complexion with well defined dark bands on their abdomens.  The other swarm is composed of workers with about 30% being dark complected like carniolans.  This is interesting to me because I'm still on the hunt for black queens.  None of my nine queens are black as of the current time.

Not all swarms draw small cell foundation well, this one is doing better than most which leads me to believe at least second generation away from a kept hive. 

Unfortunately for this queen, her days are surely numbered.  A supercedure cell already prepares her replacement.