Bees just around the corner July 01, 2013 18:47 1 Comment

With all the beekeeping workshops we host, we are often asked if we have a beehive on the roof or in the back parking lot. No, but they're very close! Our neighbors Bruce Carscadden Architect (carscadden.ca) have generously offered to host our two langstroth hives in their back courtyard. We've had one hive there since March and a second since May.

 20130701-184555.jpg
Here's a picture of me (Rick) taking a peek in the brood box of the newer hive!

 This is my first year as a beekeeper, but I am trying hard to make do without gloves (better dexterity!). This is the hive that's doing well, with lots of brood and several frames of honey. It's the one in the foreground in the last photo with two boxes.

 20130701-184609.jpg
something is seriously wrong here...

 Here's a shot of the upper box of the same hive! Beekeepers will immediately notice something amiss. In a fit of daring idealism, we filled this box with foundationless langstroth frames. The rationale goes something like this: conventional plastic foundation deadens bees' communication and is unnatural. All-wax foundation may contain pesticides or antibiotics if it originates with a commercial hive. Both force the bees to conform to a certain comb size, which may not meet their specific needs. Getting the bees to build their own comb is, seemingly, the solution!

Here, however, we've met with grief. That beautiful, pristine white comb is supposed to be VERTICAL, but it's NOT. If allowed to continue, the bees could fill the whole box with "cross comb" spanning multiples frames and making it impossible to remove each frame for inspection. Note the jumble of bee-covered wooden strips - these were wedged in the top of each frame in the hopes of enticing the bees to build neat vertical comb. They fell out, obviously. Retrieving them was sure a hoot!

 20130701-184622.jpg
some modern bee-art

 Here my friend Gerald who went through The Bee School at Homesteader's earlier this year bare-hands the miscreant wax. He is wearing shorts! My own bee zen is not developed enough for that.

 20130701-184638.jpg
beating a hasty retreat to conventional use of foundation

 With the cross comb wax removed and frames cleaned, we replace them with wax-coated plastic foundation. With one failure under our belt, we'll get some advice and perhaps try going foundationless again another day. For today, the priority was giving the bees room to expand. The blackberry flowers are out, so there's no time to lose!

 20130701-184715.jpg
everything back in place

 With the hive reassembled, the bees seem no worse for wear after this invasive procedure. We also tried another trick today that didn't get photographed. The first hive (left in the above photo, yellow box) has so far failed to thrive. We've observed K-wing (a sign of tracheal mites) and nosema stains, and a high varroa mite count. For nearly a month we've been unable to find the queen or observe eggs or young brood. Today, to our dismay, we observed a spotty pattern of drone brood! This is a sure sign of laying workers in the colony. This is the last ditch reproductive effort of a queenless colony on death's door. Oh NO! The only way to save the colony at this point is to introduce a new queen. Though salvation of a queenless hive is more likely if action is taken before the workers start laying, this can be attempted by "transplanting" a frame (or frames) of young larvae or eggs from a healthy hive. The bees in the dying colony can in theory raise one of these young to become a new queen. Today we found a comb full of brood in the healthy colony that had two queen cells suspended from the bottom bar containing young queen larvae. Rather than squish these cells to dissuade swarming, we transferred the whole frame to the struggling colony. Hopefully one of these queens will hatch and begin laying in the struggling colony. Photos and updates next time we check on the hives!