It’s hard to believe it has been 2 years since my last post, but having a child certainly takes up a huge amount of your time.
While I haven’t been posting, I am still very active in the Austin beekeeping community and we have our 6th Annual Beekeeping Seminar approaching in January.
You can register at the following URL: https://aabaseminar2017.eventbrite.com
This is a daylong seminar offering 6 different educational presentations running
concurrently in each time slot throughout the day. This will provide many beginning and advanced subjects to choose from. A separate beginner track has been formatted covering a variety of startup topics for soon to be or very new beekeepers.
Afternoon sessions will include many different presentations including:
• Honey Bee Management 1 and 2
• Honey Bee Biology and Behavior
• Top Bar Management 1 and 2
• Varroa Management
• Brood Disease Control
• Swarm Capture Techniques
• Raising Queens
• Learn Honey Extraction Techniques
• Harvest Economics
• Beneficial Bee Flowers
• Texas Ag Exemption
• Ask an Expert
• Queen Finding and Requeening
• Honey Bee Reproductive Biology
• Colony Supersedure and Management
• Making Splits
• Nutrition Management
• Spring Management
• Products of the Hive
• Equipment Building Workshops
• Increasing Hive Productivity
• Mead Making
• Professor Juliana Rangel- Posada Entomology Texas A&M
• Mark Dykes- Chief Texas Apiary Inspector
• Mary Reed- Texas Apiary Inspector
• Mark Hedley- Vice President Texas Beekeepers Assoc.
• Chris Doggett- President of the WCABA
• Tanya Phillips – Owner Bee Friendly Austin
• Elizabeth Walsh-Entomology Texas A&M
• Jay Poindexter-Owner of Poindexter Family Apiary
• Karl Acuri- Austin Area Beekeepers Assoc. (Co-organizer)
• Cameron Crane-Area Director Texas Beekeepers Assoc.
• Becky Bender-TX Master Naturalist
• Brandon Fehrenkamp- Owner of Austin Bees (formerly Eastside Honey Co.)
• Lance Wilson- Certified Master Beekeeper GMBP
• Chuck Reburn-Owner Bee Friendly Austin
• James and Chari Elam-Owners of Bluebonnet Beekeeping Supplies.
• Joe Bader- President of the Fredericksburg Beekeepers Assoc.
• Dennis Herbert-President of the Bell-Coryell Beekeepers Assoc.
• Dodie Stillman-Texas Master Beekeeper candidate
It’s been a week since our beekeeping seminar at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower center, and I finally have some time to write about it. We sold out our 250 seats we had available and had a waiting list of yearly 100 people wanting to get in. There is clearly an interest for this type of information so we have already started looking for a venue to accommodate at least 400 people for next time.
All in all, it went very smoothly and our feedback was very positive. The Beekeeping 101 class was packed. Here is Lily explaining the difference between Langstroth and Top Bar Hives.
Our more advanced class was also very well attended. Here is Lance explaining a method of combining two weak hives into one using the newspaper method.
One of the best speakers we had was Dr. Juliana Rangel who is the Assistant Professor of Apiculture in the Department of Entomology at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX. Her research program focuses on the biological and environmental factors that influence the reproductive quality of honey bee queens and drones.
I was fortunate enough to attend both her lectures, and learned a great deal. While I’ve always suspected that the new generation of pesticides are contributing to declining bee health, her research is showing that even sub-lethal exposure to pesticides is causing fertility issues in both the queens and the drones.
I’m very happy how everything turned out. We had a great group of volunteers from the Austin Area Beekeepers Association to keep things running smoothly, and got lucky with some beautiful weather in the middle of January. I’m looking forward to next year, and I count myself lucky to be part of such a great organization.
While I haven’t been posting updates on a regular basis, I’m still very active in the Austin Urban Beekeeping Meetup Group. We had an excellent Beekeeping 101 class in January with over 100 people in attendance, and we just had our February meeting this past Monday where we discussed swarm prevention and capturing swarms.
Our Meetup members also requested we start a monthly “What should I be doing now?” column so that new beekeepers have a sense of what they should be seeing or doing with their hives. I ran through this in the meeting, but thought I would also start posting it to my blog as well. So here goes:
- Check honey stores in your hive. A healthy hive has started to ramp up brood production in preparation for Spring, and this is a dangerous time when your colony can starve. We’ve had a crazy winter in Central Texas, and we can’t rule out another prolonged cold snap. If stores are low, you can feed a 1:1 mixture to keep your hive alive until the nectar flow really gets going.
- Observe the entrance to hive. Red Buds and Dogwoods are starting to bloom and you should notice bees bringing pollen back to the hive.
- Swarm Prevention. There are lots of techniques to prevent swarming, but now is the time to put those in practice. Once a colony decides to swarm, it is often too late to stop it. At this point, techniques to make the colony think it has already swarmed can be used, but these usually involved splitting your hive which may not be ideal or practical for some people.
- Get signed up for swarm e-mail lists. Swarm season is right around the corner so if you are interested in picking up some free bees, get signed up on a swarm mailing list and have your equipment for capture said swarm in your vehicle.
I’m now officially a beekeeper without any bees. It is amazing what can happen to hive in less than a month. I finally thought I got my remaining hive straightened out with a new queen producing gentle bees, and the hive seemed well on its way storing honey for the lean late summer months we have in Austin.
I went from a hive filled with frames that look like this:
To a hive of frame after frame of empty comb:
The interesting thing is there were still many frames of honey in the hive. As I initially approached the hive, and my stomach sank at the sight of little to no activity at the entrance, my first thought was a I had yet another hive get robbed. However, there were at least twelve frames of capped honey still just sitting there. Granted the pests were starting to move in, but the honey was basically untouched. So it didn’t get robbed.
I went through all the frames to see if the queen was around, and I didn’t see her. If she was in there, she certainly was laying. I would say there were a little more than the numbers of bees you would get in a package scattered throughout the hive. I was greeted with this fun sight when I finally got all the way down to the screened bottom board.
I squished as many as I could to prevent them from flying off and finding another hive to invade. I also found and squished a few wax moths during my inspection as well.
I consolidated all the bees down to one super with 6 drawn frames of comb and 2 of capped honey. I’m debating whether to try and put a queen in there to see if I can save it, or get a fellow beekeeper to give me a few frames of capped brood to see if I can jump start it.
As for what got the better of this colony, I don’t have a clue. It certainly wasn’t robbed, and I didn’t see any evidence of disease in the frames. The hive was also pretty clean with no dead bees on the bottom board. Perhaps a population boom of varroa mites?
On a happier note, Flat Stanley should be arriving soon to the Isle of Wight before heading off to the south of France and then Australia. I wish him well on his journeys and hopes he finds healthy and productive hives in his travels.
While the temps are finally hitting the high 90’s, we’ve received well timed rain showers that have kept Austin mostly green and in bloom.
Tending to our plot at Sunshine Community Gardens, we noticed bees everywhere. We let our mint go to flower, and the bees really seem to favor it.
We also let our fennel flower in the hopes of attracting butterflies that use it as a larval food source. No signs of any butterflies yet, but the bees are working it.
The purple coneflowers this year have really been spectacular.
One of our neighbor plots have huge plants of oregano that flowered.
In August, I’m sure Austin will be brown and dry, but with our rather chilly spring this year, I’m glad to see so much in bloom which will hopefully allow bees everywhere to get their hives strong.
In late April, I attempted to requeen my two remaining hives. It didn’t go so well, and I ended up with a queen stung once in the thorax. Without any other option, I ended up putting this queen in my most aggressive hive and just hoped for the best. We’ve been referring to this stung queen as Frankenqueen ever since.
Now over a month later, this hive is completely different. When I removed the outer cover, it was nice not to be immediately hit with a whiff of the banana smelling alarm pheromone. There were a large number of small hive beetles that were asking to be crushed.
The top super was all drawn out wax that was slowly being filled up with honey.
Going deeper into the hive, it was a combination of honey and frames with brood, eggs, and larvae.
The entire inspection the bees were completely chill. So much so, Brenna was taking pictures without a suit and wasn’t even getting buzzed. With the complete requeening failure of my other hive, it was nice to have one that was successful. Since I didn’t see her, I can’t be 100% sure Frankenqueen is in there, but I can’t imagine the hive going from super aggressive to this sweet, if they had requeened themselves with existing genetics. Regardless, I’ll take it, and it was a welcome pleasure to inspect a hive that is healthy and calm.
Thomas D. Seeley did a number of experiments to determine how a swarm chooses a site and came to the conclusion that bees prefer a nest entrance that is rather small, faces south, is high off the ground, and opens into the bottom of the nest cavity. His excellent book, Honeybee Democracy, goes into great detail on how he came to these conclusions, and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the decision making processes in a hive.
With all that being said, sometimes a swarm will choose a location that goes against those basic tenets. I give you Exhibit A:
This hive is underground in one of the large green boxes that contain the water cutoff valves for either a sprinkler system or the water line entering your home.
I was initially sent this photo of a bunch of bees on the ground that was causing some concern.
Fallen leaves were completely covering the entrance, and I had to remove a rather thick layer of leaves to reveal what is shown in the video. I did not try and remove the cover as it most likely was lined with comb, and my intention of this first visit was to properly assess the situation. Luckily, the bees were not aggressive even after raking away the leaves and dirt covering the entrance. I had one or two guard bees give me a buzz but other than that, they were rather nonplussed with the whole situation.
My next step is to reach out to some fellow beekeepers to see who would be interested in removing this hive. I personally don’t do bee removals as I really don’t have the special equipment or apiary space to relocate these feral hives. I’ve seen hives in some interesting places, but this is the first time I’ve personally witnessed a hive located underground. I’ll hopefully be posting an update soon on the successful removal of this hive.
After two requeening attempts, the hive I moved from Sunshine Gardens is officially no more. I arrived last Saturday to a flurry of activity at the entrance. As I moved closer, I found a large number of dead bees on the landing board which is never a good sign. Upon opening the hive, it was clear that this already weak hive had been robbed. The only bees remaining were removing what little there was left of the honey and pollen and flying off.
It is always a terrible feeling to lose a colony, but I tried my best to save it, and sometimes that just isn’t good enough. I still have one remaining hive so I’ll be able to concentrate my efforts on making this one a successful as possible.
In my last post, I was attempting to requeen both my hives. I had to wait a week to go back and check due to a freak cold front that blew into Austin the day after I installed the new queens. I found one queen dead still in her cage. This was the hive that had gone queenless (or so I thought) after being moved from Sunshine Community Gardens. The other hive had an empty queen cage. We will have to wait and see if this hive’s aggressiveness level goes down in the coming weeks meaning they accepted the new queen, and she is producing more gentle bees.
In one last ditch effort to save the other hive, I order another queen and installed her last Saturday. I went back last night to check on her release progress and found her still in her cage, but at least she was still alive. Since it had been 48 hours, I was debating about releasing her myself when this unmarked queen pops up from the side of the hive, runs across one of the tops of a frame, and then goes back down into the hive. It happened so fast I thought I had imagined it at first.
This pretty much sums up my reaction.
So somehow this hive that hasn’t produced any eggs or capped brood in a month now has a queen. I’m thinking either the hive swarmed and the new queen was poorly mated and has been here the entire time or the hive was just a victim up a usurpation swarm. Of course, this mystery queen ran all the way back down to the bottom of the hive so it took me a while to find her, but I also confirmed if this was a new queen from usurpation, she hadn’t started laying eggs yet.
I ended up removing this queen once I found her and leaving the new queen in her cage for at least another day or two. I also put some honey over the candy to encourage the remaining workers to come free this new queen. I also removed one medium super to give the remaining bees a smaller area to defend as their numbers are dwindling. I feel I’m at the tipping point with this hive, and if this new queen isn’t released this week and starts laying, it won’t have the numbers to come back. I’m already seeing way more SHB’s than I would like and a few wax moths to boot.
I hope to post again with some good news on this hive.
On Friday, my two Italian queens arrived in the mail. They are hard to see through the cage, but here they are.
I installed them Friday after work, and it was certainly a learning experience. I attempted to do a quick release into the hive that has been queenless for several weeks. I’ve heard from other beekeepers that you can put the cage on top of an open super and the hive will come investigate. Supposedly, if you can easily shake those bees off the cage, and you don’t see them trying to bite through the mesh to get to the queen, the hive is pretty much ready to accept the queen right away.
It didn’t really work out that way at all…
After I watched the bees investigate the cage and even observed a worker feed the queen through the mesh, I thought this hive would have no issues welcoming a new queen into their home. I removed the mesh and the nearby workers immediately tried to ball and kill her. Luckily, I was able to quickly intervene and get the queen back into the cage and re-attach to the mesh, but not before she got stung once in the thorax. I ended up installing the other queen into this hive.
We observed the stung queen for 15 minutes and she didn’t really seem that worse for the wear after her ordeal. I went ahead and stuck her into the other hive and will just hope for the best. In hindsight, getting the queen into they hive and laying a few days earlier is not worth the risk of her getting balled and killed. I’ll check back later this week and will keep my fingers crossed that both hives accept their new queen.