A Bee-utiful Season

  • By Elly Maxwell
  • 18 May, 2017

May 18, 2017

It’s starting to look like a bee-utiful season! Unfortunately, the outlook doesn't seem so good for the Whiting Forest bees as neither of our sister hives showed any activity in early spring. One was still alive, but with a cluster less than the size of a softball I wasn’t very optimistic. I wasn’t very diligent this winter with feeding the bees with the added complication of Whiting Forest being a construction zone, the bees were left to live on their honey stores alone.
We set out this week to clean the hives and prepare the equipment for installing nucs we ordered to arrive next week. To my surprise, the small surviving hive is working hard! After inspection, we found a laying queen with frame after frame of fresh eggs. She also has 2 frames of capped brood and a fleet of working bees bringing back pollen baskets full in every shade from white through orange!
I made the decision to knock it down to a single story and give them some sugar solution to help them get going. It was a good time to treat the bees for American Foul Brood, a bacterial disease that is important to preventatively treat. We also added a couple of mite strips to kill any varroa mites that are plaguing our colony! This spring time, before the honey supers are on, is the appropriate time to apply treatments.

Dow Gardens' Bee Blog

By Elly Maxwell 25 Aug, 2017

Viva La Pollination! Today we are celebrating national pollinator week, although 2 months late due to rain and flooding on our original date, with a pollinator fair. We have student collections, a craft, information on native pollinators, honey tasting, face painting, wind pollination, a photo booth, hummingbird information, and a drone petting zoo!

This morning I went out to the hive to evaluate their progress and collect some drones for the fair. I was a touch worried that I wouldn’t find any drones, as this late in the season none are needed with mating flights with the queen. Of the three hives, one still had a good number of drones so I was able to capture three dozen! The drones were a hit! It is wonderful to education the public that only female bees sting. Therefore the males, called drones, are harmless and can be petted and handled without risk of sting. Some of our visitors approached with caution!

Additionally, I took the opportunity to add more supers to the hives. Although it is late in the year and we expect honey flow to be over or wrapping up, there is an awful lot of goldenrod coming into bloom. I made the decision to put supers on the hives and see if we could get any more harvest from them! Check the photograph, the white supers are the new additions. Yes! All three hives were out of room and ready for new honey storage space.

By Elly Maxwell 18 Aug, 2017
The bees are buzzing along! Each of our three hives have expanded well. This morning, a volunteer and I visited the hive to determine if they have enough space to continue collecting and storing honey into the fall. We’re expecting goldenrod, fall aster, and other fall blooms to carry us a few money weeks into honey collecting!

Both hives with supers have all the available space filled! We added the 1 remaining super that Dow Gardens owns, but are in need of more room! Today we ordered another super for each hive, and as soon as they arrive we will put them on giving the bees more space.

By Elly Maxwell 25 Jul, 2017

Guest blogger here! Today a Dow Gardens intern, Sara, observed and assisted with the hive work, and is sharing with you the process from her viewpoint.

Today we sampled our hives for Varroa mites. We scooped up 100 ml of bees (about 300 adults) from each hive using a cup we made ourselves and put them in a glass jar. Then we shook them up with some powdered sugar. The sugar coats the surface of the honeybees, so the mites can’t stick to them and they fall off. We poured out the sugar through a mesh lid (to keep the bees in) and dissolved it with water so we could see the mites. We didn’t find any today, which means our control measures earlier in the year worked! If we had seen some, we would have been able to divide the total number by three to see how many mites/100 bees were in each hive.

So why did we sample for Varroa mites anyway? Varroa destructor is a species of parasitic mite that reproduces in honeybee colonies. When the mites attach, they spread the Deformed Wing Virus to their bee hosts, which can eventually lead to the death of a whole hive. If we know how many mites we have in our hives, then we can breed queens from hives that aren’t as infested, use less pesticide when we don’t need it, and ultimately help our bee colonies!

We also verified the success of the hives and see that all three are moving into the new stories we provided two weeks ago. We see them working in the supers, and could feel the weight of newly collected honey as we accessed the brood boxes to sample for mites. The bees are working their new stories well, as we saw newly built wax, as shown in the photo. New wax is very white, and as it ages it turns darker in color.

By Elly Maxwell 19 Jul, 2017

Summer has been speeding by and the bees are busy! We have been monitoring them weekly and providing a second story and supers as needed. Our strongest hive has 2 supers on it. Our goal is to raise strong local bees that will survive a Michigan winter.  Our goal is not to harvest as much honey as possible, but rather make splits and encourage the colonies that will have the strongest genes. Ultimately, we like the bees for pollination on our grounds.

This week I had a guest beekeeper visiting from a neighboring non-profit organization. Andrea Foster from Little Forks Conservancy visited and helped us work out a system for sampling varroa mites. Remember, we treated all our hives this spring with Hoppguard II, and therefore we hope to see minimal mite population in any of the hives!

We are using this (pdf) method, as outlined by a lab at the University of Minnesota.   

Andrea and I have a system down! We had one limiting factor, we used the wrong screen size in hardware cloth and the bees fell through the screen as we shook off the powdered sugar. Easy to fix!

I showed Andrea some basics of beekeeping. We looked at brood: eggs, larvae of all ages, capped brood and emerging workers. We dissected a few drone cells, and found a varroa mite in one by happenstance! The bees are busy, filling their cells with honey. We did see one queen today too! The hives seems to be growing well and were very active today!

Next week the interns and I will officially sample the hives and determine the varroa mite populations! Stay tuned!

By Elly Maxwell 12 Jun, 2017
 This morning we fed all hives their third and final round of medicine for American Foul Brood. The bees are doing great! In fact, the two hives with working queens were ready for a second story today. The third hive, the one we requeened last week, is catching up. The queen is definitely out of her cage as we saw her on a frame of freshly laid eggs today! We observed very young larvae, 1-2 days old, so in three weeks we will have a new wave of workers.

Worker bees were busy this morning bringing in pollen by the basketful. The black locust are in bloom right now and they’re a terrific early-summer nectar plant. Hopefully we will have honey supers on in a couple weeks!

By Elly Maxwell 09 Jun, 2017

On Monday, we looked to see if the queen had been released from her cage. Not yet! They did have the sugar chewed down to within 1/8 inch plug remaining, so I trust them to get her out within a day or two. So we did a second round of medication preventatively for American Foul Brood. We also confirmed the bees in all three hives have enough room. They are still in one-story with room for expansion.

I have good success by not giving the bees more room than they need. We will add a second story after the first is full. We don’t add honey supers until the second story is full. Expansion of the hive happens on pace with the population of bees growing.

Fortunately, the two hives with laying queens are growing quickly! We see larvae from freshly hatched eggs at all live stages through capped brood. The eggs we see today will be adult bees in 3 weeks, so population will explode in the upcoming weeks and the queen

I also like to feed the bees early in the season. A rule of thumb that I like is that I feed the bees sugar solution until they fill out the first story. After the bees are strong enough to fill that, I have hope they will take off and fill space exponentially! So today we are replenishing the sugar supply.

By Elly Maxwell 02 Jun, 2017

The overwintered hive didn’t start out strong, but boy that queen is an egg-laying miracle! I still have them in one-story, but they’re almost ready to expanded spaces.

The nuc we installed with the laying queen is also very strong! We watched worker after worker fly in with pollen baskets filled! The bees are working hard. We didn’t see the queen today, however we did see freshly laid eggs in addition to brood of all ages.

The second nuc, the weaker one that we could not confirm a queen on Tuesday, is still not showing signs of a laying queen. There is definitely not any eggs or brood. Fortunately, I sent a message to our nuc supplier yesterday around 4:00 and this morning at 7:50 the post office informed me there was a queen bee waiting for me on Rodd St.! That’s quick service.

We did install a new queen, as shown in the photograph. She’s inside a cage currently as she is not bonded with this new group of workers. The technique is to add the cage to the hive where the existing workers can get used to her smells. Meanwhile, they work to chew on the candy plug in her queen cage. By the time the candy plug opens, they are accepting of her and welcome her to rule! I’ll verify early next week she makes it out of the hive and will confirm egglaying too.

Additionally, we set up all three hives with a quart jar of sugar solution. Early on, it’s beneficial to feed the bees to help them get a jump start. We are choosing to feed our overwintered hive as well, because it was so small.  I make the sugar solution using a 5-pound bag of sugar and 1 gallon of water. This makes enough to fill 5 quart jars with solution. I also use a commercially prepared honey bee health product that smells of lemongrass and spearmint. Typically, I like to feed the hives until they fill one story and are ready for a second.

By Elly Maxwell 30 May, 2017
  

Last Thursday started as an early morning, I left the gardens at 5:00 and drove to the beeyard to pick up our 2017 nucs. Yes, this is a little late to be getting bees for installation, so many great flowering nectar plants are done. But we like our supplier, are always happy with the quality, and can acknowledge that this is a slow year and a slow start to bees too is the downside.

Our nucs had a long ride from Deckerville in the early morning, so we chose to place them near their future home and let them settle before installing them into the sister hives.

Tuesday morning we set to work inspecting and installing the nucs. It is important to confirm with newly purchased bees that there is a laying queen. The first box we opened was hopping! They were bursting at the seams with adult bees and the frames were chocked full of brood of all ages- from tiny eggs up to capped larvae. The queen here is very productive and this hive is well on its way to a productive season.

Unfortunately, as we opened the second nuc we could tell immediately there weren’t as many worker bees. It didn’t take us long to acknowledge we didn’t have any brood of any age and no eggs either. We’ll give it a day or two and check again, but we anticipate contacting the supplier and requesting a replacement queen!

In addition to installation, we also medicated the bees today. New to Dow Gardens management, we added mite strips to both the newly installed bees and the overwintered hive. We also use an antibiotic to help control American Foul Brood. The risk of American Foul Brood is that an infected colony has the potential to contaminate all the equipment and honey. The necessary action after finding American Foul Brood is to burn everything, including harvested honey.  We surely want to prevent American Foul Brood!

ast Thursday started as an early morning, I left the gardens at 5:00 and drove to the beeyard to pick up our 2017 nucs. Yes, this is a little late to be getting bees for installation, so many great flowering nectar plants are done. But we like our supplier, are always happy with the quality, and can acknowledge that this is a slow year and a slow start to bees too is the downside.

Our nucs had a long ride from Deckerville in the early morning, so we chose to place them near their future home and let them settle before installing them into the sister hives. Tuesday morning we set to work inspecting and installing the nucs. It is important to confirm with newly purchased bees that there is a laying queen. The first box we opened was hopping! They were bursting at the seams with adult bees and the frames were chocked full of brood of all ages- from tiny eggs up to capped larvae. The queen here is very productive and this hive is well on its way to a productive season.

Unfortunately, as we opened the second nuc we could tell immediately there weren’t as many worker bees. It didn’t take us long to acknowledge we didn’t have any brood of any age and no eggs either. We’ll give it a day or two and check again, but we anticipate contacting the supplier and requesting a replacement queen!

In addition to installation, we also medicated the bees today. New to Dow Gardens management, we added mite strips to both the newly installed bees and the overwintered hive. We also use an antibiotic to help control American Foul Brood. The risk of American Foul Brood is that an infected colony has the potential to contaminate all the equipment and honey. The necessary action after finding American Foul Brood is to burn everything, including harvested honey.  We surely want to prevent American Foul Brood!

By Elly Maxwell 18 May, 2017
It’s starting to look like a bee-utiful season! Unfortunately, the outlook doesn't seem so good for the Whiting Forest bees as neither of our sister hives showed any activity in early spring. One was still alive, but with a cluster less than the size of a softball I wasn’t very optimistic. I wasn’t very diligent this winter with feeding the bees with the added complication of Whiting Forest being a construction zone, the bees were left to live on their honey stores alone.
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