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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Preparing to Attack

After getting my response from Phil Craft, the Kentucky State Apiarist about my Varroa problem, I have formulated my plan of attack against the little mites that would, if left alone, be a death sentence to my hive(s).

Phil suggested that I conduct a 'stick board' test to count the mites.  I'll use Apigaurd, a chemical treatment that is safe for the bees and humans.  This will knock out some of the mites and allow me to count the dead ones to give a rough estimate of the level of infestation.

After that, my plan of attack is as follows;

First, I'll be installing a screened bottom board to help keep mites that are groomed off the bees from crawling back up into the hive.  The mites fall down through a screen and cannot physically crawl back into the brood chamber where the bees live.  

Second, based on the test results and mite count, I will either dust them with powdered sugar (this encourages grooming and the loosening of mites), or I'll go ahead with a full chemical treatment.

Third, I'll continue to test and count mites to monitor levels.

After about four days of research, I've realized that mites are a factor that most beekeepers have to deal with.  Levels can be controlled through various chemical and mechanical methods.  It seems that the key is early detection and monitoring.  So far, I feel a little ahead of the curve and feel like I caught it early enough.

I can't stress enough the importance of having good resources to lean on.  Thank you Phil for your prompt response (even on a holiday).

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Varroa Update

This evening, my sons and I got out the microscope their nana had given them (thanks nana).  We poked around in several of the chunks of burr comb containing larvae and confirmed the Varroa mite infestation.  Here are a few pictures that I sent to Phil Craft, the Kentucky State Apiarist asking for his advice.

Varroa Destructor

Yesterday, while examining a few of the odd pieces of burr comb, I came across a section that was full of larvae.  Being a little curious I tore the front cover off and out oozed an immature bee.  Along with the bee I spotted a Varroa mite!   As soon as I saw it, I knew exactly what it was and I completely forgot to write about finding it.

Now, here is where I'll begin my research on treating this.  My first thought is that it's not too bad since I'm not taking any honey yet and it's early in the season.  But, I'll have to check on that.

This picture is from the Wikipedia.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Lots to Report

Date: Saturday, May 24, 2008, Time: 1:30pm
Temperature: Mid 70's, 
Weather: Sunny, slight breeze

We just returned back from checking on the hives. It's the first time looking 'under the hood' since installing the second brood box. My oldest son came with me today. He was just too excited that I didn't have a chance to adjust his helmet, oh well. He looks great anyway!

Genesis - This hive was a true buzz of activity. Just look at the picture. Bees were everywhere, flying to and fro. Plenty of activity and the bees were full of pollen upon their return. Very little, if any syrup has been taken. The bees appear to be well fed elsewhere. They had build out about three frames of the second box and started on several other frames in the second box. The first box was about 70% full. Newly hatched bees had left their abodes and were part of the explosive population growth that appears to have taken place.

The only problem with this hive is the burr comb that the bees had built between the middle frames linking box one and box two. It's a sticky, nasty mess, that when I scrape it off, I kill and anger bees. Here are two pictures of what I'm dealing with. There were plenty of larvae, eggs, and evidence of an otherwise strong hive. Adjusted entrance reducer to larger, 4", setting.

Exodus - On the other hand, and in stark contrast to Genesis, the bees in Exodus were barely visible. There were bees flying in and out of the hive, but none hanging around like on Genesis. I should have snapped a picture so you could see the difference. Similarly, the bees had build out the same amount of comb on the second box, and again, had build a fair bit of burr comb between the first and second box frames. The bees had not taken any syrup. Again, plenty of evidence of eggs, larvae, and recently hatched baby bees. One interesting observation in this hive was the 'sawdust' looking powder on the rear (from the entrance) bottom board. I wonder what that is. Pollen? I'll have to read up on that and inquire with some of my beekeeper friends. Adjusted entrance reducer to larger, 4" setting".

I've said from the start that this hive is radically different from Genesis. The bees build comb different and have a different temperament, yet seem to be at the same place as Genesis, despite their outward behavior. I'm really glad that I went with two hives this year, despite being a little more work, it is beneficial to see the differences in the two.

Lessons Learned: Keep removing burr comb, no matter how much of a task it is.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Fill'er Up

Date: Saturday, May 18, 2008
Temperature: Mid 60's
Weather: Sunny, windy
Time: 3:30pm

After the week of cool weather and rain, I decided to stop by the hives and check on the syrup levels. Neither looked like they had really been touched, but I ended up adding one gallon to each hive anyway.

Both hives had good activity. Genesis had some bees hanging out on the outside between the brood chambers. One strange thing, outside of Genesis, there were hundreds of pollen packings dropped on the ground. I'm not sure what's up, but it seems like a waste to me. Perhaps I should invest in a pollen trap next year.

Exodus had a little less activity and I had to pull the entrance reducer back out. It looks like it had been blown in by some wind, creating a larger space for the bees to enter.

Currently Blooming: Black Locust Trees, Honeysuckle, Lavender, Strawberries, Rasberries, and blackberries.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Week 3.5 - Fourth Hive Check

Today I got to visit the hives for the fourth time.

Temperature: Mid 60's
Weather: Sunny, slight wind
Time: 5:30pm

#1 - 'Genesis' - Some minor activity outside the hive . Bees returning to hive with full pollen sacks. No Activity on frames 1,2, 9, 10. Minor activity on frames 3, 7. Capped brood, pollen, and honey on 4,5,6. Frames continue getting heavier. Continued nice larvae and egg development. Did not see the queen (is she really there?). Feeder has not been being fed on. Added one gallon of syrup. Added second brood chamber.

#2 - 'Exodus' - Half the activity of hive # 1 outside upon arrival. After working with 'Genesis' I noticed no activity on the outside of this hive and had a slight moment of panic (CCD?), then realized it was getting late in the day. As compared to 'Genesis' this hive has considerably less activity inside hive. Not so much in numbers, but overall. Bees also seem a little smaller than other hive. After several trips to the hive, I am now convinced of this. No more droppings on hive enterance or on top of frames. Still no activity on frames 1,2, 9,10. Lots of burr comb throughout hive, especially leading up to feeder from top frames, what a mess. Emptied feeder, scraped burr comb out, and added fresh gallon of syrup. Feeder has not been being fed on. Comb being drawn out nicely on 4,5,6. Capping of honey on top and outside edges of hive. Several flying in my face to investigate me, similar to last week. Seemed slightly more aggressive than #1. Added second brood chamber.

I believe that this hive is suffering from something. Either it's due to me originally installing 9 frames or something biological. These bees just seem slower, smaller, more aggressive, and slower builders, except for burr comb.

I did manage to get my smoker going much better with a little newspaper, smaller twigs, and a little patience.

Lessons Learned:
Don't visit the hives late in the day.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Three Weeks of Beekeeping

After three weeks of beekeeping I feel like I’m getting the hang of it. Not that there’s a lot to do, it’s just knowing what to do and when to do it that seems to be the biggest issue for a beginner.

For example, in the first three week period I’ve had to ‘redo’ two things on my hives. The first was reconfiguring the entrance reducer to its proper setting for a new colony. The second was remove the nine frame spacers and change from a nine frame brood chamber to the standard ten frame. The entrance reducer was an easy fix and simple to fix. I don’t think that there were any ill effects from this simple mistake. The second, confusing a nine frame brood box with a nine frame super was the result of me confusing a statement made at the recent beekeeping school I attended. Right off the bat, I noticed that this hive had a lot of burr comb, was more aggressive, and its population seemed to be lower than the ten frame hive. It too was an easy fix, but I think it may have been a little more traumatic to the bees. I had to remove the frames, remove the spacer, and then add back the frames. All the while, bees were flying everywhere, and hopefully, I didn’t smash the queen in the process. I did add the tenth frame and quickly shut up the hive. I believe all will be well.

Another important lesson I’m learning is just how many opinions (as there are in most things) about the ‘right’ way to do things. There are lots of opinions about this and that, but I’ve found that sticking to the mainstream methods for the first year is probably best. Again, the nine vs. ten frame issue comes to mind. Having a plan, before going out to the hives, preparing for what I may find, preparing equipment, and taking care of issues when they arise seems to be the best method.

I’ve also found that having a few other beekeepers as resources is a good idea. I am planning on meeting up with the members of the local beekeeping club in the next few weeks. I talked with the head of the club and her few probing questions made me realize what a valuable resource she will be in the future when I do have questions or problems. I’ve also made it a point to follow a few beekeeping bloggers on the internet. Again, more opinions, but I’m also not limiting myself to the ‘local’ knowledge base either.

In summary, I’m finding out that patience and knowledge go hand-in-hand and when caring for bees and that decisive action, attention to details, and simple observation are key to ‘managing’ hives. It’s a lot easier that I thought and I’m a lot more confident in my abilities to read the signs. I’d recommend that a new beekeeper become familiar with some of the basic techniques of doing this, either by learning from others, or by reading, all the while keeping in mind that there are as many opinions out there are there are beekeepers.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Week Three - 3rd Hive Check

Today I got to visit the hives for the third time.

Temperature: Low 70's
Weather: Sunny, slight wind

#1 - 10 Frame Hive -Lots of activity outside the hive. Bees returning to hive with full pollen sacks (yellow and red). Minor activity on frames 1,2,3,8,9,10. Comb being drawn out nicely on 4,5,6. Frames getting much heavier. Good brood and honey capping. Good brood pattern. Nice larvae and egg development. Did not see the queen. Bees bubbling out of the top of hive. Feeder has been being fed on. Need to add syrup next week.

#2 - 9 Frame Hive (Now 10 frame hive) - Half the activity of hive # 1 outside. Bees returning to hive with full pollen sacks (multi-color). Less activity inside hive. Seemed a little lethargic. Still no activity on frames 1,2,3,8,9,10. Lots of burr comb throughout hive. Comb being drawn out nicely on 4,5,6. Capping of honey on top and outside edges of hive. Several flying in my face to investigate me. Seemed more aggressive than #1. Removed frames, removed 9 space divider, added tenth frame. Feeder has been being fed on. Need to add syrup next week. Similar to last week, attempted sting on gloves.

Lessons Learned
Brood Box - Never use nine frames in brood box.