June bees

It was high time I checked on my bees, so I kitted up and lit the smoker today. I hadn’t checked on Lady Grey since installing three frames of brood 3-4 weeks ago; and I’d just installed a brand-new package in a third colony 2 weeks ago. I would describe myself as a fairly “hands off” type beekeeper, but I needed to know if these colonies needed assistance.

The new colony seems to be in good shape. The bees have drawn out several frames and filled some cells with honey already; they were so docile there wasn’t a single guard flier bothering me during my whole examination.

The queen has a very good lay pattern. See the chubby larvae in the center of the frame? The whole frame was filled with eggs from there on out. There were at least three frames similar to this one. None of the brood was capped yet, as it’s still too soon. Now I just need to decide whether to slap a super on this colony, as the queen seems to be a prolific layer and may actually run out of space.

And I need to choose a name now too. I can’t decide between Chai and Ceylon. Opinions?

Darjeeling, my first swarm capture hive, is doing great! It’s so refreshing to see something working just as Nature intended, without any intervention on my part. Look at this great lay pattern!

Unfortunately there was not as much honey activity as I would have liked to have seen. The honey super was only about 1/4 filled with honeycomb. Of course there are more honey frames on either side of the deep (brood) boxes, but I’m nervous about taking those frames because that’s not really surplus honey. (As far as I understand it, which is very little.) If I took that honey, I’d have to feed them all winter, which is maybe not the point?

On to Lady Grey. My first colony, my perennially-problem-ridden hive.

Backstory: This colony has been through so many queens (drone layers, poorly mated queens, dead queens) that it’s always been on the brink of extinction. Then this Spring it swarmed repeatedly and almost killed itself through population exhaustion til I found out to switch the boxes. In a further effort to stop the swarming I smooshed all the queen cells I could find, not realizing that the colony had no queen at all (I still think they’re mad at me for that. I can tell by the buzzing). Once I figured out they were queenless again, I consolidated another hive with this one in the hopes their queen would take over, and then she died, as well.

So in a last-ditch effort to save my jinxed colony, several weeks ago my superhero bee friend came in with three frames of uncapped brood in the hope that they would draw their own queen cell from those new eggs and requeen themselves. When I opened them up 3 weeks ago, there were queen cells made. But if a healthy queen hatched, would she abandon ship like the other two swarms, or stick around? Would she be a good layer?

Well, Lady Grey is pulling through!

Look at that lay pattern! Finally, a good laying queen! Looks like this colony finally has a shot of making it on its own. What a relief.

And Lady Grey had another delightful surprise for me today too (maybe to make up for all the trouble she’s been in the past?):

Honey!!! An entire deep box full of frame after frame of beautiful, richly colored, capped honey! This frame (a top-bar frame actually) is one of the end frames, so the middle frames were even more thickly packed. These frames were heavy!

What this means is that we might actually get a honey harvest this year! And not from Darjeeling like we’d thought, but from Lady Grey! I had given up on her since with the queen problems I figured her worker population was not up to any kind of honey production. Looks like I was wrong – that box must have weighed at least 60 pounds! I’m going to check with my beekeeper friend before I get my hopes up too much higher, but… !

Honey!!!

6 Responses to “June bees”

  1. Sam Says:

    Gratz on the suspect harvest :) Is that a foundation-less frame?

  2. diana Says:

    Hi Sam! Yup, I’m doing a combination of top-bar and foundation. My deeps each have 4-6 foundation frames in the center, with top-bar towards the outside so they can draw drone comb or whatever they need to there. My supers are all foundationless; I had wanted to make honey harvest easier but now I’m wondering if I didn’t just make more work for the bees and reduce my honey harvest. :/ Still, I haven’t had any problems with disease (knock on wood!) so I think I’ll stick with what I’m doing. :)

    Mama: oh there’s so much information, too much to explain here. Get thee a good book! Long story short: the bees made the honeycomb that fills all the frames – open cells. The larvae are fat little white grubs curled up in the open cells – click to enlarge the second or third picture to see them better. When they’re mature enough they get covered (“capped”) which is the flat, covered part of the comb that looks kind of like a pancake. It’s a good pattern when there are very few empty cells in there. The queen lays in a spiral from the middle out, so you’re looking for a broad expanse of capped brood surrounded by a band of larvae, surrounded by a band of eggs. Usually there’s some honey up towards the corners too. Queen cells are completely different and look like someone stuck an acorn randomly onto the frame.

  3. heidi Says:

    I am so glad things are looking up.
    But, phrases such as “as you can see” are lost on me as I have no idea what I am looking at. The “honey” gold color I can see. But what color is the naked frame and how do I distinguish “laying pattern” by color?
    And what is a good laying pattern–middle out? line by line? or just all filled
    (color please). Also how do you tell larvae vs queen eggs, etc.?
    Do the larvae look like bees (color and all) but without wings?
    Lecture please.

  4. Diane Says:

    Let me see if I get this right:

    You have frames with foundations (plasticell or something like that?) in the middle of the deeps and just frames (foundationless) in the supers, right? But I don’t get the top bars on the outer parts of the deeps. I, in my beekeeping newbieness, assumed that top bar frames had to go in special top bar hives and, therefore, couldn’t be mixed into regular hives.

    We are using plasticell frames for now but, I think, we’ll go foundationless on the supers. I’d never considered that you could mix & match different types of frames like that in the same hives. Duh.

    I have so much to learn!

  5. diana Says:

    Hey Diane – don’t berate yourself, this is just something I came up with on my own – an experiment. :) I read that bees need different size cells for different types of production. Commercial foundation limits them to worker brood, which sounds like a good idea til you find out that they then build drone comb everywhere else – between boxes, etc. It’s a genetic imperative, after all. So since worker brood is always in the center of the hive, that’s where I put my foundation frames. Then I give them a few top-bar frames (same frames, without foundation, wood strip removed, turned sideways, attached and painted with melted beeswax) on the outsides. So far, I’ve had no problems at all with drone comb anywhere else but on the top-bar frames. I still don’t know about doing all-top bar in a box though, as they do seem to take longer to draw it out and they tend to ignore the boxes with all top-bar that I’ve given them (it could certainly be that they’re just ignoring my supers because as new/small colonies they’re still working on the brood boxes, not because they’re top-bar necessarily). Also a friend told me that I have to choose between wax production OR honey production; if the bees have to make new comb from scratch every time apparently it lowers the honey harvest – by how much I don’t know. I’m just repeating what I’ve been told. :) Next year I might do one super with half and half, and one super with all top-bar, and see if the harvest is significantly different.

  6. Angie Says:

    I have a TBH that is currently sitting empty. I don’t want to order bees from out of state so am hopeful to get either a rescue hive or that I’ll be adopted. I too see beekeeping as a hands off process. Let the bees do what they know to do! Love the pictures!

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