Open House

05/25/2011

 
Spring is here.  Waiting through the winter, spring is always so inspirational.  Green grass, rain showers, and sunshine!  The promise of lazy warm summer days ahead.  Of course, then there is the reality.....  Spring in northern Idaho hits fast and hard.  Everything goes at once and it does so with rain.  Long, day after day of gray, wet days.  Then the grass is suddenly a foot long, weeds pop up every where and it's too wet to do anything :-)  I've been eying the weather report for a week now.  A short, blissful morning of sun has been forecast for Wednesday.  I have been wanting to get into the hive for a while and now, my chance!  I carved out a few hours from work this morning and recruited Kara to help.  Great volunteer and photographer!  Thank you Kara!

Oh, and just in case you're wondering, the sun didn't last ... we're now under a winter storm warning :-P . 
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We started off by peeking in the window to see where the active comb building has stopped.  Then I gingerly start prying out the bars.  The bees do not like gaps in the hive and they plug them with propolis, a bee glue of sorts collected from tree resins.  The bars are attached with this.  I picked up a nice hand crafted tool for prying up the bars from Backyard Hives in Boulder.  I try to work slowly, even though I am excited.  The bees were very calm, more than one would expect seeing that their home is being broken open.  A few guard bees angrily buzz out, but I simply stop and wait and they calm down.

I open only a little at a time, pulling out a bar, inspecting it, then replacing it sliding it towards me.  This way I can move through the hive like a filing cabinet and also close it up quickly if the ladies get out of hand.  They did not, however, so we continued.

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The first bar we check out has a small comb on it.  This is new and  was on the next bar over from the small comb I showed earlier.  That comb is now much bigger, but not yet full size.

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About three bars in we got to the first full sized comb.  As you can see, the girls were busy here.  The capped cells (lighter color) are worker brood pupae.  Where the bees are is probably uncapped cells with larvae that they are feeding.  Both sides of the comb looked similar to this.

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Further in, another full comb.  This one has puffier capped cells that look like pencil erasers.  These are drone cells for the males bees.  These arise when the queen lays an unfertilized egg.  It is normal to produce these and says they are planning ahead to when drones may be required.

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This is a mixed brood comb, with both worker and drone cells.  There are several uncapped cells too.  The combs serve many purposes, from rearing to storage to physical support.

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The little grub like critters in these uncapped cells are larvae, fairly well developed.  They will eventually pupate and the workers will cover or cap their cells.

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There were also some pollen storage cells, the peanut buttery stuff shown here.  These were mostly towards the tops of the bars.  I did not see a lot of nectar storage (eventual honey), but this is not unexpected given we haven't had a lot of flowering yet.

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And then there was the queen.  I was glad to find her (Kara actually saw her first).  She is much larger and black.  She was marked before the package shipped, which is the white dot on her back.  This helps in spotting her in the mass of bees.  She appeared to be healthy and, given the amount of brood present, she's been busy laying eggs!

All hail the Queen!

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Finally, towards the beginning of the combs, we found the queen cage.  I never got the chance to remove it and so they built around it.  Not really a problem.  Some advocate cutting it out, but I left it in.  It should not cause any problems.

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Oh, and there was a spectator gallery too.  Griz and Meadow didn't want to be left out and really wanted in the bee yard.  They were good though and just watched patiently.

Now we just continue watching.  The apple trees are about to bust out in bloom and other flowering plants are ready to go too.  This will probably be one of the last big winter storms we get, so I am hopeful the bees will have plenty to work on soon.

 
 
The other day, when I was spying on the hive through the window, I noticed how warm the cluster of bees was through the glass.  Bees gather together to keep warm and actively heat the hive and brood comb when it is cool out (they cool it too when it is hot).  They need to keep the temperature "just so" for the larvae and pupae to develop.  This morning I went out to replace the feeder and took my infrared thermometer with me.  I usually use this to monitor the wood burning oven, but it comes in handy elsewhere too :-)
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This was shooting the temp through the glass at the edge of the bee cluster, but there was quite a difference.  The first measurement is on the other side of the follower board next to the feeder, where there were no bees.  The second was on the bee cluster itself.  It is probably hotter still deeper in the bee cluster, but even with this we can see how warm they get.  The outside temperature was about 32*F at the time.  The bees heat up by vibrating their flight muscles in the thorax (which is where most of that sugar is going!).  I also noticed the other day that Christy at Gold Star Honeybees had linked to a great video on "heater bees" where researchers had actually used infrared cameras to capture the process.  Check out the video.

Bee-wise, not a lot of change here.  We have had another bout of colder weather - down to freezing.  This has limited the bees activity and I noticed they have started hitting the feeder again (gotta stay warm).  Today should be warmer and sunny so they should be getting out.  As for the temperature, the bees should be able to handle it, but I am anxious about the trees (plum, apple and pear) as they are just about to break out in bloom.  It is not unusual to have the crop freeze out at blossom and I'd really like to have those available for the Apis clan.

 
 
A nice picture here of the little comb that was there earlier.  It has grown quite a bit to about 5 inches across.  They will continue expanding this heart shaped wax fin until it fills a cross section of the hive.
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They "know" just how to do this without any directions!  Young bees produce wax between the segments on their abdomens which they mold using their mandibles to shape into comb.  A long process that takes many bees a short time.

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I've also noticed that the last jar of syrup I fed them is only half eaten.  I'm hoping that is a sign that they've had their fill of sugar and are getting enough nectar naturally.
 

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05/12/2011

 
Back from our trip.  The bees were hungry and went through two quarts of syrup, but they were well taken care of.  Beth's parents took good care of them and even gave them some tulips to try out.
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There's lots of bees in through the window.... and comb!  Finally got a peek at the construction inside (the bit of yellow showing here).

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Here's a closeup.  These look like new bees to me.  Their wings are in good shape, they are nice and shiny, and the fuzzy backs are still fuzzy.

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The building continues.  Here's a look in the window.  They have started a new comb about the size of a thumbnail.  I've gone ahead and opened the hive up by moving the follower board all the way to the end.  The bars on the end are spaced a little further apart also since I'm hoping they will be filled with honey and honey comb is wider than brood comb.

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The main combs are almost to the bottom now.  They are spaced apart just enough for the bees to squeeze in between and there about 5 to 6 good sized ones. 



 
 
Well, maybe happy pupation day.  It's been about three weeks since the hive went on-line.  Worker bees take about 21 days to fully emerge from their cells.  They start as an egg, then eventually pupate, like a moth or butterfly, and then finally hatch out as a fully formed bee.  And they go straight to work cleaning out their cell so another egg can be laid.  Since I've had a lot of questions on "bees", here is a good WikiPedia link on bee life.  The new worker will go through many jobs before finishing up as a forager.  But at three weeks, we should have some new bees starting.  Perhaps a bit later, though, since we've had cold weather delay things.

I've also had some questions on the hives.  Unlike the "traditional" box type hives (called Langstroth hives), these are Top Bar hives, or more specifically, Horizontal Top Bar (HTB) hives.  They are popular in Africa due to their simplicity and inexpensive construction.  Again, WikiPedia has some good info - Top Bar.  In the US, they are becoming a common choice.  I decided on the design because I could easily make it and, unlike box hives, I can manage it without lifting heavy boxes full of bees and honey.  TB hives are also supposed to be better for the bees as you disturb them less when checking in on them.  My particular design comes from Christy Hemenway of Gold Star Honeybees, a company Christy started to promote Top Bar Hives.  Her design, and the fact she works in a similar northern climate (Bath, Maine) looked good to me, so I ordered the plans.  Thanks Christy!  Do check out her site and videos.  They were a lot of help and encouragement for me :-) .

As for the bees, they are hanging in there for more cool rainy weather.  They have been draining about a quart of syrup a day!  Yesterday, I fired up the wood oven for the first time since installing the bees.
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I had been holding off on that as I didn't want to disturb the bees with smoke before they had settled in.  The oven is not close to the hives, but the smoke can blow that way on occasion.  Yesterday was not a problem, though as it was blowing the other direction. 

Things should pick up this week.  We will be in Portland to get a visit with Jess at one of her meetings, but the weather here is supposed to peak out in the 70's.  I'm sure the bees will be hopping!  I've noticed several patches of trillium and other wild flowers blooming down the road, so I hope they'll find them.  Plenty of dandelions anyway as I can't cut the lawn with all the rain we've had :-)

Think Bees!


 
 
Back from my trip.  The bees have been busy.  Beth had to feed them for me twice while I was gone.
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I took some pictures this morning and there is a lot of pollen moving in.  I noticed three types: Light yellow, orange, and a darker brown.  Not sure about the last one or the yellow, but I'm pretty sure the orange is dandelion.  They are pretty abundant in the yard right now.

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Here one of the girls loaded up on a dandelion.  They will pack as much pollen on their legs as they can hold, which is quite a lot.  Pollen will provide them with a protein source, while nectar is an energy source.

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Once she is loaded up, it's off to the hive where she'll hand off the cargo to younger bees.  The bees here are the oldest in the hive, having worked their way up through bee hierarchy to the final, and most risky, life stage: foraging.   After two to three weeks, the wings will start to give out and she'll pass on, hopefully to be replaced by another up-and-coming sister.

So, for now, the hive is busy doing what it should.  I'm hoping they will slow down on the sugar syrup soon, which will indicate there is enough natural food around for them to sustain themselves.  I'll need to crack open the actual hive structure soon, too, to see what exactly they are up to and to make sure they are healthy, But that will be another day .....