Monday, April 29, 2019

Catching Up

Good news! Spring always comes again, and in the beginning of March, one of my hives at home swarmed and I was easily able to capture them, put them in a cooler, and zip to the church to install them in the hive! Swarms are quite common in the spring. It's a biological imperative and actually means the bees are doing well. However, the basic idea of a swarm is that about half of the worker bees in addition to the queen leave the hive, after ensuring there is a new queen (or queens) in development within the hive. It's quite an amazing thing to witness, and though there are bees flying frantically all around, they are quite calm. They usually settle somewhere nearby, hopefully within reach, and then send scouts out to find a new place for their colony. To learn more about swarms, you can check out this extremely informative article written by a local Master Beekeeper.

While I was putting the bees in the hive, a most amazing thing occurred - as I was standing there by the pond, an Osprey came out of the sky and dove into the pond, coming up with a fish in her talons! I was astounded. I stood speechless for a moment, then immediately called a local bird store to confirm that this could have actually happened. They said it was, in fact, possible, just not expected in the middle of Chapel Hill! Another reason that the Piedmont Patch project is so important - an oasis has been created in the midst of a great deal of development to house an amazing variety of wildlife.

The swarm was placed on March 11, and I fed them sugar syrup a couple times while nature was catching up and beginning to provide nectar. On March 28 I did a check and the bees were settling in; I saw the queen, but no eggs or brood yet. While walking around the pond, I saw some of the Piedmont Patch plants planted last year that are thriving! Cathy Bollinger helped me identify them as native rushes and Lousiana Irises. When they were planted last year, they were not even in the water. But now, due to the rain, they are, and they love it! So exciting to see the plants coming back for a new year of growth.

On April 16, I went to check on the hive again. My kids went with me, and we decided to multitask and do Stations of the Cross at the same same. It turned into a bit of an adventure! When I opened the hive, there was a lot of activity, The bees were covering about 7 of the 10 frames, there was plenty of larva and brood and a decent amount of honey. I decided it was time to add the second brood box to allow them space to grow. The weather this spring has been wonderful for the bees and plants and they should be able to make plenty of honey for themselves, though no surplus for this year. The bees need enough honey in their two deep brood boxes to sustain them throughout the year, and this is the main time for honey making. There is a smaller honey flow in the fall when the asters bloom, but all the honey bees make in a year comes from a maximum of about 2 months.

As I was closing up the hive, my kids began to yell that two of them were stuck in the mud. All this rain has certainly been good for mud making! My son had both his rain boots stuck and filled with mud and one of my daughters had lost a flip flop about six inches down into the mud, trying to help her brother. There was so much mud. We were all covered! I found that a bee hive tool also serves as a poker and shovel for flip flop mud recovery. Always an adventure!

Up soon - mite checks, and stay tuned for a Pollinator Hotel making day!

Fall Recap

Fall recap, from the absentee blogger! This past fall, after treatment, I got the bees ready for the winter. Their mite numbers were down and they had honey stored. All looked good! However, at some point over the winter the colony died. I went in to check out the hive in the late winter, but there wasn't a clear reason they had died. They had a cluster of bees, still had some stored honey, and the weather had not been overly severe. The sad fact is that is isn't uncommon, but I was still upset to see it. I removed the comb to store at home and cleaned up the hive.

Here are some pictures of the gorgeous flowers that were surrounding the pond. There were so many pollinators on the flowers, our honey bees as well as lots of native pollinators, sometimes side by side! I even snapped a few pictures of a happy Monarch on Crownbeard, a native wildflower, perhaps slurping up nectar before migrating? The Piedmont Patch in all its first year glory!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Time To Treat

Remember our sugar shake assessment? Well, our results showed that there were more mites than acceptable in the hive, so it is time to treat. There are a lots of treatments available for varroa mites.
Some are better than others, and some cannot be used at specific times of the year due to temperature or brood being present. They all have pros and cons, but its important to pick one and use it according to the label, to ensure that the bees can remain healthy. 

On August 2, I raced the distant rumbling storms and went into the hive only to put on their varroa treatment. It started to rain and rained for the rest of the day shortly after I was done, so I got lucky - bees are not fans of rain! Based on the time of year and temperatures, I chose to use Apivar, because it is fine to use when the temperature is hot and steamy! Apivar consists of plastic strips that contain the miticide. The strips are hung in between the frames of the hive and the bees walk over them, get the treatment on themselves, and transfer it from bee to bee. The treatment needs to stay in the hive for 42-56 days. This allows for all the bees to come in contact with it, AND for the brood to hatch and the mites that were hiding in there to come in contact with the treatment too.

Treatment options vary depending on the time of year and what's going on inside the hive. When you get a package of bees, they will arrive from the bee farm with mites, and pick up mites from bumping into other bees from different hives on flowers. As with all parasites, varroa mites are clever, and have found ways to adapt and thrive. As summer winds down and the bee population starts to get lower, the mites are experiencing a population explosion (pictured below in the graph). Though winter seems like it is far in the future, now is the time for beekeepers to start getting their bees healthy and ready to ride out the winter. Choosing not to treat is not fair to the bees or the greater community. As long as the directions on the label are followed, the treatments are safe. The bottom line is that the bees need to be treated so that they can continue to bee healthy, survive the winter, and bee good neighbors!


Monday, August 6, 2018

Sugar Shakin'!

On July 8, I went into the hives and did a sugar shake test. A sugar shake is a manner of sampling the hive to see what level of Varroa mites are present in the hive. 

Varroa mites (varroa destructor) are a tiny parasitic arachnid that are visible to the naked eye, but cleverly hide in bees and under capped brood. They are a huge problem facing honey bee colonies. Varroa was first found in the US in 1987, and has become an enormous problem since. The mites themselves do physical damage to some of the bees, but the bigger problem is that they trigger viruses which exist in the bees, and create a variety of different physical issues such as Deformed Wing Virus (among many others) which can cause an entire colony to collapse. The mite is completely dependent on the honey bee to complete its own life cycle. The question is not whether they are in your hive (they are), it's how many. Which is what this method of mite sampling, the sugar shake, tells you. 

So, I went into the hives to check it out, and took some pictures so you can see the process! After I confirmed that the queen was there and laying and that the bees were doing all the right things and had plenty of honey, I got started.  I set up my supplies: a spray bottle of water and a white surface that I could easily see any mites on, an old cat litter container with a snap on lid, a highly precise peanut butter jar fitted with #8 hardware cloth on the cut out lid and a line to measure the amount of bees, and powdered sugar (the bee's favorite part! Ok, probably the ONLY part of this process they like). 

I found a few frames with capped brood (baby bees who are incubating, and the favorite place to hide for mites), and shook the nurse bees from those frames into the bucket and closed the lid. Once I had gotten the bees I wanted, I closed up the hive. Then, I scooped up the appropriate amount of bees (about 300) into the peanut butter jar and screwed on the lid. Sounds like a harrowing process! Then, the best part - I put a few tablespoons of powdered sugar through the wire lid and SHAKE! I shook the jar for several minutes. This dislodges some of the mites, and encourages the bees to groom one another, further dislodging any parasites. I set them in the shade for a few minutes, then, again SHAKE! I shook the upended jar over the white surface for a good long bit. This shakes out any loosened mites, so we can do a count. 

Pictured below is a close up of an invading mite. All told, I counted 7 mites in this sample. Which isn't great news, but as a newly established colony this year isn't surprising. And knowledge is power! So, next we will see what we're going to do about it. Stay tuned! 

Oh - the second best part - dumping the "ghost bees" back out in front of the hive to get their bearings and head back into the hive. Given that they are covered in sugar,they are VERY popular. This might seem unkind, but it is absolutely necessary. Untreated bees will die, and also continue to spread mites and thus disease in the community. Bee a good neighbor! 

Saturday, August 4, 2018

National Pollinator Week

On June 23, I had the privilege of speaking for National Pollinator Week about the role of pollinators - especially our very own Glory Bees! We gathered in the church and spoke about fun pollination facts, why pollinators are important, the difference between honey bees and a variety of native pollinators, and what people can do to help in their own yards. Then we took a trip out to the hive to meet the bees in person.

They were very cooperative and all was well in the hive. We went through all ten frames in the top box, and there was A LOT of honey. A few brave souls stepped up and held the frame full of honey and were surprised at how heavy it was! Our bees did well socking it away during the honey flow, so they should be well provisioned in the coming months. There were a few frames completely full of honey, and each of the other frames had an arch of honey at the top, with brood (baby bees) under. There was a lot of capped brood (the final stage before a bee emerges), as well as larva. We saw some drone brood and potentially one supersedure cell, which says the colony may feel they need a new queen. We did not see the queen this time, but also did not investigate the bottom hive box.

I will be going into the hive again in the next couple of weeks to check the level of Varroa mites, a parasite that is very detrimental in bee colonies, by doing a sugar shatke. More on that soon!

I will leave you with some our "Fun Facts" we talked about on Saturday.

*If you cut an apple across the middle (from top to bottom) there is a "star" in the middle. If each of the 5 pockets has 2 seeds in it, the apple blossom was completely pollinated by bees!

*A honeybee visits between 50-100 flowers during one collection flight. In order to produce one pound of honey, 2 million flowers must be visited. A hive of bees must fly 55,000 miles to produce one pound of honey. One bee colony can produce 60-100 pounds of honey per year. A single bee only produces about 1/12 - 1/2 of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

New Digs

I checked the bees on May 12, and found that they were filling the bottom hive box and were in need of more space. I added the second deep hive box today, and these two boxes will become their permanent home, housing all their brood, pollen stores, and honey that they will rely on for the year. Speaking of honey, they are hard at work making it! My kids came with me and and were very excited when a piece of comb tore a bit as I was taking it out of the box and they got a tiny taste. It was proclaimed to be better than the honey they tasted at the Farmer's Market earlier that morning!
I remembered my camera this time, and got several pictures of them bringing in pollen in their "baskets". You can clearly see how they have it packed onto their legs. The pollen is stored in their "pantry", cells they have designated until they need to use it to feed their young. They are hard at work!
In these pictures, you can see a full frame; the arch across the top is honey, with a little bit exposed where it tore, below, the areas that look that they are covered in brown paper is the brood, which will hatch out a new generation of bees!

Friday, May 11, 2018

Baby Bees

Apologies, I again forgot my camera for pictures. But amazing things are going on! I checked the hive on 4/29 and in addition to finding the queen, saw that the bees were working on 6 of the 10 frames in their hive box, filling them with nectar that will become honey, as well as lots of brood - eggs that grow to become larva and then get capped over to grow into baby bees! All things are going exactly as they should. I will probably be adding their second hive body in the next few weeks. These two boxes will become their permanent home, and anything additional  (like when they eventually begin to make extra honey) will temporarily be added on top.

How baby bees come to be!