Category: Beekeeping

Time To Build On (Almost No) Budget!!!

by Jorge

One of my hobbies is checking out the clearance rack for construction materials at the local Menards stores. About a week ago I found a good one! Someone evidently did not claim or returned a bundle of 10' thick decking. It's great to have trucks and trailers to take advantage of pallet price opportunities. There were a handful of warped boards from sitting out in the rain, but I'm cutting them down to about 3' anyway for hive pallets. Win at approx 50% cost!!! (You can see the new honey delivery van in the background too!)

The other recent project was putting some scrap steel on pallets to create some cheap rain-proof lids. We especially use them for covering honey boxes after harvest until it is cool enough to put them indoors (to avoid wax moth infestation). I'm not at that point yet, so I included a pic of one of the new pallet lids keeping my nuc boxes free of rain. The steel is leftover from a little roofing project and finishing off the new extracting space over the past couple of years. I even had plenty of leftover screws to do the job! El cheapo prevails. It's also nice just to get the steel off the ground. Beekeepers do not lack for loose parts to manage.

Also a parting note: these little Malco nippers are incredibly handy for cutting thin metals. The corrugated parts are a bit tricky to navigate, but the flats are extremely fast. I tend to hold it upside down on the drill for better control. I bought them a few years ago to help put on a simple steel roof without sole dependency on tin snips, but I've valued having this gadget around for odd jobs like this too.

Flowers Flowers Everywhere (and a Tractor)!

by Jorge

We are once again in (or very near) what I consider "peak bloom" for the summer. The Dutch clover is strong on its second lease on life after recent rains, the yellow sweet clover is not yet burned up, and the white sweet clover is opening. Trefoil started to open about a week ago, and basswood opened in the past few days.

The bad news is that my worries regarding cooler temps and rain proved correct. People are in general very happy about temperatures in the 70s, but I am rather disappointed as temperatures slide into the 50s overnight. The bees just aren't too thrilled. At least it has not been constant rain with even lower temperatures. The mid 80s will supposedly return in a few days. All in all it's pretty normal for our main flow to come in July rather than the bouquet of late June, but our best years generally involve a warmer June leg to the crop as well.

Around home I have some of the floral diversity as well. My basswood (linden) tree has plenty of blossoms awaiting six legged visitors (a bumblebee photo bombed this one):

And here are some of my lily offerings to the wild bees. These are one of the perennial flowers I love despite their nominal value to my preferred species of honeybee:

And it seems the garden may grow sometime soon! Andrew wisely donned a John Deere shirt on a day when we ultimately decided to drop by the local dealership on a Sunday afternoon. As usual, he is ready to work with anything that takes attachments!

Beautiful Queens and How They Can Change

by Jorge

One aspect of strong floral and temperature stimulation for the hives this year is the affect it has on the queens. Until I started raising queens, I did not fully appreciate the abdominal size fluctuation that is quite common in the lives of queen bees. When they first emerge, they're usually pretty decent looking but shrink down to go on their mating flights. Then their abdomens swell as their reproductive tissues activate.

Prior to swarming, the established queen often shrinks down prior to departure. This enables her to fly a meaningful distance. During her normal egg-laying season, she weighs too much to do much more than control her descent to the ground if she falls off a frame. After settling in at the new hive location, she goes back on an egg-laying diet that causes her abdomen to enlarge again. They can also shrink down substantially in the late fall/winter as they cease serious egg-laying. I remember the first time I went through a fall yard where brood-rearing had ceased and the queens had slimmed down...I first thought there had been a mass queen failure and the yard was lost. Then I spotted a little queen and realized everything was just symptomatic of poor forage and an absence of brood rearing due to the season and environment.

Caged queens also shrink down pretty substantially--that's why they're usually able to fly away if you pop open a cork instead of using a safer candy release.

This year, however, a great number of queens in the production hives are gorgeously nourished and bordering on gargantuan. Here is a lady that appears to be 50-75% Carniolan who was busily laying many eggs in the combs of a flourishing hive:

In the following pic her attendants are attentively grooming her. She almost appears to be doing double-duty by checking out a cell with her head while poised to deposit an egg as well :)

Time will tell whether or not the beloved queens continue to maximize their potential. There are hives that contain a respectable surplus already, but most of them are on the brink of making a real crop. A bunch of supers have a few center combs that are whitened with fresh wax and holding a little honey. It will only take a couple of quality weeks to make a lot of headway. We got some rain recently that reinvigorated the Dutch clover and made soybeans much happier. I'm somewhat nervous about a cool-down of several degrees and a few approaching dates with a possibility of substantial rain. Such is life when beekeeping in the Midwest!

You Might Need Supers If.......

by Jorge

The bees are roaring with activity the past couple of weeks. The momentum is building. Dandelions were staggered with a week of very cool weather that ultimately divided the bloom rather than waste it. Weather was good for about half of the black locust bloom. Now we have decent heat as the clovers begin to open and basswood nears. The honey prospects are the best I've seen in five years, and the forecast looks favorable. Last night we even had a perfect little overnight shower to stimulate the plants without washing out the nectar.

The second hive body has gotten very weighty in the past couple of weeks as I've shot around putting on boxes. Here are a couple of pics from last night as I closed out the daylight hours. A lot of the doubles are in exactly this condition--beautifully prosperous and showing potential for a great crop. Incredible that this yard was split just three weeks ago, very heavily. If not for splitting them, they would be totally full of swarm cells. Delay from a heavy rain would have sent a sad number of my bees into the trees. Fingers crossed for continued good fortune and hive vigor!!!

I've seen quite a lot of division board feeders with fresh comb in the overwintered hives. Alas for an early flow without boxes everywhere!--maybe some of it will move up if the weather stays favorable:

I was really happy that I did not have to finish supering with illumination from truck headlights like I did the night before in melon land---and then I got a call to pick up a nearby swarm which I hived from the limb of a fruit tree with the aid of headlights once again. There is a bonus to an evening swarm call--you know it will still be there when you show up. Hopefully the queen made it into the box.

Queen Cell Reuse and and Nasty Mites

by Jorge

A couple of weeks ago we pulled apart a hive that had a number of cells in it. One of the cells was cleverly built on an old plastic queen cup that was still embedded in the comb. Way to reuse your resources bees! The supply of royal jelly for the larva looked healthy, so we distributed it in a nuc in the outyard where we found it:

On a less happy note, Alex sent me an image attesting to mite buildup in a Central Iowa hive. Mites love drones, so a quick observation/assessment is just to peek into any drone cells that are accidentally broken apart when the hive bodies are separated. This number of mites is pretty terrifying at this point in the year:

The good news is that we've been able to get in a fair number of treatments, and the splitting process dilutes the mite concentration on a per hive basis. Obviously we'll have to be extra alert and punctual with mite management this year.

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