Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Very Windy Day, And Small Cell Comb

Today was very windy.  I was taking stuff out to the yard so I could make some space in the shop, and perhaps add the benefit of possible swarm traps.  So, add five hives to the empty stands, and you'll start to see an idea of how I want the yard to look toward the end of the summer. 

You'll notice the double wide hive to the far right.  I'm trying a new configuration on that one with less ventilation and the bottom permanently attached.  I'm also trying to do upper entrances almost exclusively due to skunk problems.

Now the small cell.

Dee Lusby and her husband Ed were the primary apologists for small cell foundation in the modern age.  Bees left to their own devices tend to make comb of widely varying cell sizes and about the average for brood comb is 4.9mm in diameter.  However, most commercially available foundation is available in the 5.2mm to 5.5mm range or so.  So the Lusby's made their own foundation mill.  Similar mills as well as a variety of small cell foundation are now available from many beekeeping supply companies.

The argument is that in combination with a few other factors, housing the bees on 'small cell' comb gives them the upper hand in disease control.  I apologize in advance for the sideways pictures.  They were taken with the same iPhone as the one at the top, but just won't align right.

 The above photo shows 4.9mm comb drawn from small cell foundation.  This is the brood comb I use.

And here is comb drawn from larger crimp wired foundation.  I don't know its actual origin, this comb came from a hive that was given to me six or seven years ago.  It is old and dark and is good and strong for extracting honey.

There have been some actual scientific studies showing that small cell alone will not save bees from varroa mites.  However, Dee said that small cell was only about a third of the puzzle, another third being genetics, and the last third was the beekeeping method.  I have been successfully [depending on your point of view] keeping bees with her methods for eight years.  I have never lost all my bees at any one time.  Most especially, I have never used chemicals to treat the bees.  I can't really use the term 'organic' anymore because now that it's codified into law, the term is pretty much worthless.  But, the facts are, my bees are completely treatment free, and my honey is raw and unfiltered.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Hive on the Brink.

Above is another recent view of the yard.  I'm taking a lot of pictures, because I would like to show a progression from winter to summer.

To the left is my most active hive, and I have been using nurse bees from it to fortify the hive to the right.  The hive to the was doing as well as the others, with a good brood pattern, but suffered extremely heavy losses to skunk predation.  It was to the point that they were so cold, they couldn't break cluster even on flying days.  I have them a frame of brood, but they couldn't keep it warm.  So I gave that up and started giving them nurse bees instead.  Since then, they relocated the broodnest, established a cluster, and the queen has started laying again.  The first eggs should have hatched yesterday or the day before.  I predict they will need more nurse bees to maintain their population before they reach a sustainable minimum.  But it's really fun as a beekeeper to pull a hive back from the brink without any chemicals whatsoever.  But of course, they were not on the brink because of disease, it was a skunk.

The hive to the right is also more typical of my new standard format.  There will be little to no bottom entrance.  Instead, I have constructed what I'm referring to as 10 frame nucs with a bottom permanently attached and a hole with a disc entry on it.  I would have pictures, but the discs are out of stock at Kelley and I haven't gotten them yet.  Rule of Thumb: Don't expect to get anything in any sort of good time this time of year from a bee supply house.  Everybody has stuff out of stock, even my favorite, Mann Lake Ltd.  Anyway, the bottoms of my hives will be a 10 frame nuc, bottom permanently attached, disc entry, with the main entrance at the top as you see on the right.  I have a number of those upper entrances, and I can use them normal side up like is shown for times when I need an entrance reducer, or the other side up for use as a shade, awning, or fool-proof snow blocker in winter.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Grass is Greener

The grass is greener.
Here's a picture from last evening I think.  I have since changed the configuration of the 3x hive to the right, it now has a top entrance to help prevent the skunk from getting it again.  It very nearly died.  I added some nurse bees from the foremost hive and the queen is laying again.  Good signs.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Plans for increase.

 This is what the yard looks like (a week ago).

 Last year, the increase went well.  I went from two hives that survived the winter to 8 hives by mid-summer.  That's a fourfold increase.

I will attempt to do the same this year.

 Here's an idea for an open feeder that can't kill bees.  It's a hivetop feeder with a lid and a bottom board.

I'm counting on four hives surviving, one is kind of weak, I'm not sure how they'll do, so in engineering fashion, I won't count on them.  I have made up three swarm bait hives, and hope to catch a swarm or two, or more, who knows, it could be a good year, there could be nothing.

I have four queens coming from Zia Queenbee.  Barring unforeseen difficulties, they will be the next four.  I'll start them with several frames of brood each from the other hives which should be going full speed or better by then.  I also have about 40 frames of good drawn small cell comb to give them a good start.

 A new box/bottom design.  Will include a disc entrance.  Bottom permanently attached.  Skunk proof.

After that, or before that, depending on how it goes, I will induce a swarm in the best hive, then harvest the queen cells from that hive and start perhaps 8 new hives with those using again a couple of frames of brood for each.  I just said 8 because 8+8=16.  16 is the goal.  I might not get 8 good queens from that hive. 

If you have any ideas, comments are open.