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Here come the drones!

Drone cells

I took advantage of a nice mild early spring day to look in the hive to see how things were going, and saw this group of drone cells.  Drones are the male honeybees that develop from unfertilized eggs that the queen lays in cells that are slightly larger than the regular worker bee cells.  You can easily identify them by the fact that they really bulge out the top of the cell as they are pupating.  The appearance of drones is a good sign that the hive is preparing for Spring.  Last year, as summer came to an end, the colony kicked out all the drones and they died. All of them. The drones have no chores and contribute nothing to the maintenance of the hive. They don’t even feed themselves. They would be a real drain on the limited supplies of food over the winter and that is why they are expelled from the community.  Sounds harsh, but that’s one survival strategy they employ to make it through the winter. And besides, the Queen can always make more in the Spring. Which is what you see here.  The only role the drones play is to fertilize virgin queens that will be emerging in the next couple months from other colonies in the area.  Every day, the drones fly out of their hive and hover at special areas up in tree branches. There they await virgin queens who are escorted to this area by their attendants and mating occurs. And another cycle begins.

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Hungry Bees!

Wow. It has been a while since I last posted.  And you know why?  Not much has happened to my hive. The colony went into winter strong and healthy, but I only harvested one bar of capped comb in early November. I’d rather have them have too much honey than not enough.  I can always harvest the excess in the Spring. The queen was strong;  the hive had about 10 bars of brood, and about 6 full bars of honey… which made it just a little over half full. I wished them all a healthy and Happy New Year and left them alone.  The workers seal all the cracks of the hive with propolis, which is like a “bee glue” that the bees make by mixing saliva with beeswax and resin and sap from tree buds and bark.  The bees allow some air flow into the hive for good circulation and to prevent moisture from building up.  Opening the hive, and breaking the seal too much in the winter when it’s very cold will stress the bees as they then have to go around and re-seal the cracks.  Temperatures now are reaching the 50’s during the day, and that means that the bees emerge from their hive to defecate and find water.  There is nothing blooming now but they are determined to find something to eat.  What to do? Feed them!  I mixed up a solution of 1 cup sugar to 2 cups water and poured in into a pan with stones and sticks in it. Honeybees are very poor swimmers and will easily drown unless you provide them lots of climbing spaces to grab onto in the sugar water.  Once they discover the sugar water, they go back to the hive, tell the others and within a short time they will eat it all up.  The sugar is an energy source, but they will also look for pollen, a protein source.  A beekeeper friend of mine told me about providing them a high protein pollen substitute and gave me a sample to try out….. the bees loved it and made short work of it. They collect it on their hind legs and take it back to the hive just as if it were real pollen. It’s an interesting mix of vitamins , lipids, minerals and a complete amino acid profile.   I gave some to another friend who has bees and she had the same result.  So we decided to buy our own.

Ultra Bee
High protein pollen substitute

Feeding the bees with Ultra Bee ( left) and sugar water

We ended up getting a 10 pound bucket of “Ultra-Bee” from Mann Lake, a great source of everything dealing with apiculture.    Ten pounds of pollen substitute is a lot!  We divided it up into 1 pound bags so we could pass it on to other bee keepers.  Today was another bright sunny day and temperatures got up in to the mid 50’s so I put out a tray of Ultra Bee and a pan containing a quart of  sugar water. By the end of the day, they had finished off almost all of the Ultra Bee and all of the sugar water.   If tomorrow is in the 50’s again, I will go in to the hive and check on the colony.  The queen should be starting to build up the colony in anticipation of spring.  That might be why the bees are so eager to bring sugar and pollen back to hive.

Ssssss….summertime!

It’s been quite a while since I last posted.  At that time it appeared that both queens had made it through the winter.  Unfortunately the older queen wasn’t able to handle the drastic warm/cold swings of our spring weather here.  I just added her bees to the remaining hive and hoped for the best.  The queen in the surviving hive was one that the worker bees “created” last year. It’s called “re-queening” and you can learn more about that here. She is now half-New Mexican. I am trying to develop a number of truly local queens for my hives.  Most beekeepers order their queens from California or Texas but I want bees that have local genetics and can handle the challenging conditions here in the high-desert lands.  It’s been interesting following the progress of this colony. She is a large and strong queen but has not been a heavy egg producer.  The hive is growing slowly but steadily.  I have been checking in on their progress every week.  They have filled up most of the combs with brood ( and some honey ) to the point where I decided to add another empty bar for them to expand in to.

Adding new bar

If they get too crowded, they will begin to create another queen and swarm. Notice too, I have a backer board at the end of the bars.  This creates a confined space for the hive. As I add bars, I move the board back until they fill the entire box.  This way the bees are able to control the temperature and humidity in the hive.  It’s been very dry these past couple months and although there is still pollen out there, there will be a lot more food once the mid-summer rains begin. I’m beginning to think this queen is responding well to this condition…. not over-producing brood when food supplies are low.  It will be interesting to see if she speeds up production once the rains come.  In any case, all looks good for now!

( I just updated this post so that it would go out on FB )

Hive inspection

After my last entry,(” Warm Spell” ) we did indeed have another cold spell with snow.  Ah… Spring! It’s now getting warmer and nights aren’t as cold; temp today got up to 60 degrees but will drop down into the low thirties.  Such changes in the weather pose a challenge to the honeybees, but they have adapted to our climate here and hopefully made it through OK.

I took advantage of the beautiful day to take a look inside and see for sure how they are doing. Hive #1.  This is the one that replaced their queen themselves…so she is now a “local”.  I was a small colony going into winter but I left them plenty of honey. I was excited to see her alive and well and beginning to lay. queen-2

In this photo I circled the queen and put in an arrow showing a developing larva.  The brown capped brood cells are the pupating larvae…they will hatch out in a few days and little by little the colony will expand.

I also took the opportunity to put in a feeding bowl for them.  Even though there is still plenty of honey in the combs, I feel a little extra food wouldn’t hurt.  I mixed up 2 cups water with 1 cup sugar and put it in a 1 quart baggie in a plastic food container.  Then I pricked the surface with a pin.  This will allow the sugar solution to ooze out in little drops on the surface of the baggie. The bees can lap up the sugar water and they won’t drown as they would if I just put the liquid in the bowl.

feeding-bowl

The second hive looked just as strong. There was still some extra uneaten honey so I took one of the combs out… all the better, as I have just finished eating the honey collected last fall.  comb

So….. all is good with the honeybees for now.  We will no doubt get some more cold weather and even a stray snow storm yet, but Spring is definitely on its way. As it continues to warm up, and trees and flowers begin to flower the queen will increase egg production and the hive will really start to hum!

Warm Spell

A new year…. a new bee season.

snow-chicken

The rare Rocky Mountain snow chicken made an appearance in January. Haha!

It’s the second week of February and the temperatures have been in the 50’s and 60’s.  Is winter over?  It’s hard to tell. It’s much too early but this sure feels more like mid March.  Winter was cold, temperatures got down in the single digits at times, good snowfall ( 103 inches up at the Santa Fe ski basin) for skiing and  making some fun snow sculptures.

It seemed to go by quickly. But I digress.  I checked out the two hives today . With reports of another cold spell coming in soon I didn’t want to open the hive.  The bees have it all sealed up and I figure it’s too early to start nosing about in the combs.  I’ll wait a week or two yet before looking inside.  I saw a lot of activity at both hives and upon closer inspection I saw bees coming in with pollen! Wow…. where is that coming from?  It’s very pale yellow… almost cream colored.  That tells me that it may likely be Chinese Elm. Hmm.

img_4476

Entrance to the hive

It’s amazing how they can find this at a time when almost everything else is still

Bee bringing pollen back to the hive

Closeup of bee bringing pollen back to the hive

dormant. In any case, this is a good sign, as that means there is brood activity inside the hive.  I really don’t know how much honey is remaining in the hive for the bees.

I’ll check in a week or so and if the combs are low, I’ll feed them sugar water.

Stay tuned!

Royal portrait

New queen bee

Today I took my camera to the hive to see if the new queen would pose for her royal portrait.  She wouldn’t stay still for long, so I had to photograph her as she quickly traveled across the comb, looking for just the right cells in which to lay her eggs.  I finally located her and she is a beauty!  Can you find her?  I’ll give you a hint…. her body is longer than the worker and definitely more slender than the big drones. Scroll down a bit to see where she is.  All is good!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New queen bee #2

A Royal Success!

Bee larvae from new queen.

Bee larvae from new queen.

It has been two weeks since the new queen emerged and today I not only got to see her ( so young and beautiful) but I saw all the new larvae she has produced.  That means her mating flight was successful and she is now mistress of her domain.  If you look carefully in the center cells, you will be able to see the very young larvae swimming in royal jelly. They are fed this for only about 3 days and then they are given only pollen and honey. The royal jelly gets them off to a good start, but they don’t get enough of it to develop their reproductive organs so they will be sterile when they emerge. ( Larvae destined to be queens will be fed royal jelly throughout their entire larvae stage and therefore have fully developed ovaries ) Now the hive is busy producing comb, honey and of course more bees.  Hail to the Queen!