Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Checking the Bees

You long time followers may remember that I had to feed the bees last fall and through out the winter since last summer we lacked sufficient blossoms in part due to droves of grasshoppers who ate everything in sight. At first I fed sugar water from the outside of the hives as the temperatures dropped...

Then knowing that wouldn't work when the temperatures dropped down low, I ordered for the first time feeders for the inside of the hives. These black tubs substitute for frames in the hive which would have honey. Inside the tubs I poured thick sugar water that eventually crystallized. I put in one for each hive and refilled them before December hit and the below zero F temperatures.

Since there was still plenty of sugar water when I topped them off the second time I figured 1 sugar feeding frame would do. The sticks are for the bees to walk along and helps so they don't drown in the sugar water. This spring when the temperatures rose, be it that they rose very very slowly, I began to feed outside the hives again. The grand daughters came and it stayed cold with snow being a frequent visitor so the inside feeders remained. Today, I took a peek at them and went through the hives looking for brood. This feeder still had plenty of sugar. It was the weaker hive in the fall, meaning less bees. When spring cleaning began in the hives, the stronger hive soon had a large pile of dead bees at its entrance leading me to know that there had been starvation as a probable cause.

Yup, I knew I'd blown it. Sure enough when I looked inside the sugar feeder was empty. See those bees with their behinds sticking out. That is a sign that the bees starved to death. The perils of learning. Unfortunately, if you keep stock, bees, etc. you are going to make mistakes that costs lives. The hive luckily did not die out and is recovering as the queen is producing brood.
The once weak hive is doing great. The queen is busy laying eggs and when she gets rolling can lay up to 1900 eggs a day. Sorry the picture isn't bigger but peer into the open cells. See the white? That is larvae. The bees you see busy are female workers called Nurse Bees. They feed the eggs and larvae 1300 times a day on average a mixture of honey, pollen, and water and I complain about fixing 3 main meals and snacks each day.
The pollen you see on the bee's legs is put inside cells next to the eggs, larvae, and pupae.
That is the orange cells you see. Bees being efficient they aren't going to store pollen way off yonder if they have to fix that many meals a day. The cells you see closed are pupae that will hatch in 8 to 10 days. As the number of bees grow in the hive and hence the capacity for caring for the young and hauling in food for them and the working population then the number of eggs a queen will lay per day increases. Otherwise, she is just laying eggs destined to die. In fact it is the increase in pollen that stimulates her to lay eggs. That's why when I saw lots of pollen being hauled in last week I knew the queen would be busy.
It is amazing watching a queen lay eggs as she tucks her behind into a cell and bloop out comes an egg just that quick. Off to another cell she goes to repeat the process. With thousands of bees in a hive ,how do I know who's the queen? Well, her body is longer than a sterile worker. Or you can cheat and have the breeder mark the queen with a dot of paint. We did that for years. Quite handy when your hive is really full of bees and their climbing all over one another. With these hives it isn't a problem because they never became that populated last summer and hence they aren't that many bees now. As for the guys, well, I didn't see any as most are killed when winter hits. The girls get tired of feeding the lazy bums and either quit serving their meals so they starve to death or rip their wings off and dump them outside the hive. Cruel maybe, but the guys are perfectly capable of doing some work, but don't. A little tom foolery with a new queen is about all their good for and she then is fertile for a good 3 to 4 years and they just need a few around just in case the queen is lost. Those they produce come spring. I really can't blame the girls as they work really hard preparing for winter to just give the honey away to some lazy good for nothings. Yes, the Little Red Hen and I have much the same attitude.
See these larger sealed cells at the bottom of the picture? They will be drones since larger cells means larger bees. That is why I've got to order some new brood chamber frames as the old ones I have are a bit cluttered and will produce smaller worker bees. Not as big a bee as the drone but nice beefy girls that can do the hard labor. Maybe that's why the ole gal is laying in the pretty new honey frames just above the brood chamber. Yup, one of many many things I've to add to my To Do list. Typically the queen will lay her brood in the center of the frames in a circle. Is she laying in a normal pattern is one of the things you look for when you check out how the queen is doing? This and how many eggs is she laying for the number of bees in the hive. Lazy queens get replaced by particular bee keepers. You don't disturb the queen but rarely. Only if the sounds from hive are a angry disgruntled buzz that means the queen died, or you suspect that she isn't doing her job. The risk of checking you out too often is that you destroy the area some every time you go in and the bees are busy cleaning up your mess and not getting their other work done. Also you run the risk of killing the queen by smoothing her as you move things around, a bad bad move; no queen, no hive.

So as sad as it was to see that I nearly starved to death one of the hives, it was also fascinating. No, the hives are not ready to leave home yet and travel to alfalfa pastures. That means ornery bee that kept buzzing angrily in my ear when I went to feed them sugar water better change his attitude. I wasn't veiled up anymore and I just about squished him. Our grand daughters like to sit with me out in front of the hives just five feet from the entrance and watch the bees flying in and out. Mister groucho bee had better change his attitude.

If you missed me and what was once regular blogging, I hope to be back up to speed the end of next week. That's the plan anyway as my full-time babysitting will become part-time. Oh how I have missed my projects and blogging about them but know that even though I haven't posted I haven't sat on my toosh either. Okay, that wasn't exactly true as the 16 month old has her two eye teeth coming in and just wants to be held and the middle grand daughter has some serious emotional issues which require lengthy rocking chair time. It's a really sad story but what I want to say is I become a Grandma, not a nearly full time Mom again next week when our daughter and her three little ones move into an apartment. Though the grand daughters will spend many hours here, I will have some time of my own also. So beware, all those things I wanted to say and didn't have time to; yeah, here they come.

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