Fewer bees this year

by Jorge

It appears our colony count will wind up a little lower this year. A few years ago we were around 700, but the long winter has a number of the hives looking quite weak. That is a sad fact considering that forty percent of last year's hives didn't even survive the winter. The first round of splitting only added 100 colonies to the 2008 total. I'll start going around again in a few days, but I'm guessing that 525 represents the maximum I can scrape together. Too many brood boxes sit in the building waiting for bees. The bees looked excellent going into winter, and my mind anticipated a summer of 800 rather than 500. So it goes. This might be the motivation I needed to head south for the winters.

On the bright side, I suppose I won't feel quite so crushed for time as I write my history dissertation in the coming year. Some comfort I suppose.

Yellow blossoms arrive

by Jorge

The dandelions started to bloom a couple of days ago. I thought it might take a little longer before the bees got to visit them, but they are starting to come back to the hives with a fair amount of orange pollen. Now we have to hope the weather starts to cooperate so those flowers don't go to waste!

Yesterday we installed Minnesota Hygienics in some splits--we ordered 100 from Mark Sundberg. Marla Spivak suggested that his queens mate with hygienic drones instead of the usual genetic mess. Most of the big queen breeders have little control over their production queen matings. The breeder queens are usually purebreds maintained through artificial insemination, and their production daughter queens (which we buy) are purebreds as well. The problem is the midair free-for-all that hybridizes the offspring workers. Then beekeepers decide to experiment with MN Hygienic, Carniolan, Russian, etc. and wind up basing their opinions on a hive with worker bees that are 50% mongrel Italian. Not a sound manner of evaluating any line of bees. Anyway, these MN Hygienics will decide whether or not we want to shift toward Marla's line in the long term.

I'm a little skeptical about moving away from Carniolans because the Italians take a lot more feed in spring and fall--Carniolans step down their brood rearing at appropriate times. Then again, I never want to see American Foulbrood again, and it seems unlikely that a Hygienic Carniolan line is on the near horizon. Also, our ability to feed hungry Italians has improved in the past few years...now we feed bulk corn syrup, have many division board feeders installed, and we purchased a syrup pump a few weeks ago. The next year or two will show how we get along with these bees.

Splashy surprise........

by Jorge

I awoke and encountered a dampened world. Last night I pulled up to the Ebert Honey House at 11:30 p.m. and needed to make a decision. I could go home and rest from a day of splitting and moving bees, or I could gather some more equipment and move another dozen colonies to their new location. The variable in question? Rain or no rain. I bet "no rain" and lost. It didn't get so wet that I could not get into a few places to work today, but those dozen splits still sit over excluders at the bottom of a hill. Curses. Tomorrow I will attempt to finish the job.

We had some of the best weather of the year this afternoon. The bees went a little crazy filling their pollen baskets--one of them tried to land at the entrance but ended up on her back and basically immobilized. Now the brood will really get roaring.

Splitting begins!

by Jorge

After the interminable winter and frequent rains, splitting new colonies from the old hives is behind schedule. I finally got some nucs made this afternoon, but first I shook the last thirteen 3lb. packages that came out of California via Larry Draper. I will feel relieved to put queens in the nucs tomorrow. It feels better to have them installed than sitting in a shipping box or a queen bank. With any luck the rain will hold off another day and I can hit a number of yards and really make a dent in our stock of homeless monarchs.

Our splitting method doesn't take a lot of expertise. We just pull three frames of brood from the decent colonies, shake the bees off the frames, and put them in a brood box over an excluder. Then the bees come up to cover the brood and we can take away the new box, give it a queen, and leave the parent colony to rebuild strength. The main advantage to this method is saved time--you don't really look for the queen. Stronger colonies can spare more brood, but then there are the really weak colonies to account for as well. I am really curious to calculate our hive count at the beginning of June. Let us hope for many bees!

Too cloudy for bees

by Jorge

For the record, seventy degrees is too warm to have a two pound package totally blocked up. The bees were more than ready to have some fresh air at those temperatures. I had partially unblocked the entrance before I opened the lids, otherwise a lot more bees would have wound up in the air. I sprayed them with syrup again to keep more of them down on the frames.

I also have the distinction of my first accidental queen murder. I rapped a queen cage on the top of bare frames to knock the bees off. Guess who walked underneath the cage as it struck wood? Goodbye queenie.

Speaking of questionable maneuvers, we got the flatbed unstuck yesterday afternoon. We hauled the Swinger over to pull it out, and one of the newish trailer tires went flat as soon as we arrived. Just a lucky streak? Now I must admit that I forgot to take the camera for a picture of the sunken truck, but I'll make up with a couple of package bee pictures.

Now it looks like a rainy day, so I'm off to organize some boxes for splitting when it turns dry again.

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