State of the union inspection

pre swarm

We have had numerous swarms in our new hives this summer. The remaining bees that did not leave are still very quiet and wonderful to work with. They have even brought in some honey last week. Not an easy task with all the rain we had this summer. Sadly, our much-loved queens Rachel and Esperanza turned out to be less than satisfactory. In fact, they were downright disappointing. So we feel no loss now that they have up and left. This is not uncommon with new packages of bees. Queens are often added to a package of bees just before delivery. They may not always be young, healthy, well mated or from the original apiary where the bees came from. But the bees will accept and tolerate her until such time when their numbers increase and they feel secure enough to make one of their own liking, from scratch.

So once Rachel and Esperanza had flown the coop, followed perhaps with multiple swarms of their sisters, it was time to look in the hives for a “State of the Union” inspection. Sadly in both hives, there were no eggs or larvae left for them to make another queen. If left alone the bees would have died off with age. They would eventually have had with no new bees to replace themselves. One solution to this problem is to add a few panels of larvae and newly laid eggs from another hive. The bees would then select an appropriate egg to feed royal jelly and make their new queen. Sadly we didn’t have more panels with eggs so we purchased newly mated queens from “Rucher du Nord” in Brebeuf, Quebec. A quick trip was made and we installed the new queens after cutting out all left over swarm cells from both hives. These new queens will change our stock to a locally bred and historically successful strain of bee. That’s the plan…

queen cage

Photo above: The new queen in her cage with an entourage of carers awaiting insertion into the hive.

So what were the signs of our poor queens?

Poor brood laying pattern, which may be a sign of poor mating or disease. Eggs were laid in a  haphazard and spotty sequence with some panels having no eggs whatsoever. Sealed brood was not in a “slab” format and there were many missed cells. The proportion of empty cells in the brood area is an indication of the extent of inbreeding. What’s that I hear you ask? Thanks to Mr. Craig from the Scottish Beekeepers Association for his clear explanation below. (You may want to read this out loud with a thick Scottish accent and a wee dram just for fun)

In the honeybee a fertilized egg is diploid, having 32 chromosomes and will develop into a female caste; an unfertilized egg is haploid, having 16 chromosomes and will develop into a male caste. With multiple matings of the queen with, say, up to ten drones diploid females are usually produced. If inbreeding occurs some of the eggs would produce diploid drones. Diploid drones are detected by nurse bees whenever the egg hatches. They are not seen in the colony because they are not tolerated and get eaten by the worker bees leaving a “pepperpot” appearance to slabs of brood.

By Ian Craig, “My Beekeeping Year”, Scottish Beekeeping Association

It seems inbreeding can occur in isolated colonies but is becoming more prevalent in heavily bee-populated areas due to the lack of feral colonies and problems of varroa infestation. This is not our case locally but may have been in the areas where our newly bought packages of bees were bred.

A high number of drones cells outnumbering worker cells. This may indicate a queen was not mated properly. A good queen will lay mostly worker bees, sometimes up to 2000 eggs per day. Worker bees run the hive in a streamlined efficient manner. Drones just hang around sharing dirty jokes, getting in the way of workers or waiting for that special doozy of a queen to mate with. (*Yes, doozy is a word) Presently, our hives are still overrun with large numbers of fat drones. That can be a good thing, especially if we need queens to be mated, but that is not the situation at this time of the season. Today, many beekeepers are replacing their queens yearly or every two years even though a good queen may live up to four to five years. I question whether this practice is warranted or advantageous to colonies in general. It also has been found that some miticides cause a decrease in the viability of drone sperm and the sperm stored in the queen’s spermatheca.

cell sizes

The above photo shows worker cells on the left and larger drone cells on the right and lower left.

Poor honey production. As yet our supers are still light in weight but this does not worry us too much. Our concern this year is with the bees and not honey production.

honey 2017

High tendency to swarm. Swarming behaviour has a high genetic component. A young healthy queen will release more and stronger pheromone levels than an older one. This makes the colony less likely to swarm or supersede the queen. However, swarming is a natural occurrence for the colony. The departing swarm reduces the population, alleviates congestion and reproduces more colonies. However, as the departing bees leave, they gorge themselves on the hive’s honey to have enough supply upon arrival at their new destination. This of course results in a reduction of honey for the beekeeper. This is the reason beekeepers dislike swarms. A swarm is normally docile as most of the bees are packed with honey. Concentrating on the new location, following the queen’s pheromones and stinging at the same time is a difficult task. We must remember that not all swarms are successful in surviving. This great expedition, by the old or a newly hatched queen, with thousands of bees may not always end successfully. The destination is unknown for them and the trust is given to a handful of scouts in securing a new location will result in life or death for the entire swarming colony.

Workers failed to form a retinue around the queen. Perhaps it was because one of the queens was from Chile but this royal got no respect from her subjects! As they walked about, there was little interest or acknowledgment of her existence. Which perhaps describes most royalty today…

honey inspection 2017

Other possible signs of a poor queen to look for are:

Defensiveness, low bee populations, bees prone to disease and high mite numbers, an injured or diseased queen, excessive debris on the hive floor (non-hygienic), excessive propolizing, high honey consumption (difficult to discern), and poor wintering success with low numbers before and after winter.

So, what could be the possible advantages of requeening, if any? There are two obvious reasons. One, the new queen will be more productive. Two, the new queen will release more pheromones making the colony less likely to swarm. There is also a third, perhaps overlooked advantage. You can call it a bonus. As the brood hatches the cells remain empty. This break in the egg laying cycle for a few weeks also stops any new varroa mites from being laid. Consequently, this interruption in the mites cycle of reproduction allows the colony to re-establish themselves in strength.

We will keep you informed  how our two new queens are progressing.

workin hard

*Note: I have visited the Scottish Beekeepers Association web site on numerous occasions and found it to be very helpful whenever I had problems. Perhaps because of their geographical location, I feel the tips, solutions and calendar year closely resemble our Eastern Canadian Nordic beekeeping year.

Link: Scottish Beekeepers Association

Link: Rucher du Nord

 

European wool carder bee

I am very lucky to have a good friend living in St. Johns, Newfoundland. I have known Terrance Hounsell for many years and it is always a pleasure when we get together to photograph. Besides his intellect, multiple talents and wine making expertise, it is his photography skills that we are lucky enough to show here. The following is the wonderful photograph of the wool carder bee taken by Terrance accompanying his text. Merci Terrance!

This is a solitary bee called Anthidium manicatum, or its common name the European wool carder bee, it is a species of bee in the family Megachilidae, the leaf-cutter bees or mason bees. This photo of mine, was taken in a garden in Mount Pearl Newfoundland, shows a male sleeping, he is holding on with his mandibles and is using his legs for stability and balance.

They get the name ‘carder’ from their behaviour of scraping hair… from leaves such as lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina). They carry this hair bundled beneath their bodies to be used as a nest lining. 

It is an invasive species to Newfoundland and I hope does not affect the healthy indigenous bees in any way. This bee is endemic to Europe, Asia and North Africa. It has recently been seen in regions of South America, New Zealand, and the Canary Islands. It was accidentally introduced into North America from Europe sometime in the mid 20th century. They are generalists and do not seem to prefer any plant genera for foraging.

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You can look at more of Terrance’s photographs at his website here.

 

Thanks, but no thanks.

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We have had rain nearly every day for the last three weeks. This has not been a good Spring for beekeeping in our area so far. We hope the Summer will improve. So it was not surprising to see our bees lining up at the front entrance with nectar once the weather improved yesterday. Both colonies are strong and were busy filling the honey supers already in place.

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Some years ago I found an article about Anthony Planakis, a beekeeper in New York City. He extracted enormous amounts of honey from hives placed in his backyard. His method was to have entrances in every honey super on his hives. This allowed the nectar gathering bees to enter and exit directly. By doing this, they could cut down on travel through the normally congested brood box leaving more time to collect honey. It also gave very clean panels of cone honey as the bees often have dirty feet. My fault I suppose for not putting a welcome mat at the door. I had to admit, his photographs looked impressive.

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© Anthony Planakis

The bees can be seen clustered around the holes on every honey super box.

Two other pieces of advice were given by  Anthony. One, do not steal honey during the summer. His philosophy is, the more you take, the less they make. I have found the opposite to be true in our case. However, the pressure to produce more honey is perhaps too strong for many beekeepers. Just keeping and caring for bees should be sufficiently rewarding. Their struggles at the moment are occupying enough. Two, leave them alone. As beekeepers, we tend to be nosey and want to know what is happening in the hive, all the time.

So I decided to try an entrance in one of my honey supers. Apart from the occasional bee who came to look out, it was seen as inappropriate to their needs. They decided the idea was not to their liking and plugged the one-inch hole completely with propolis.

Thanks, but no thanks they said. We know what we like and what we need. It was not another hole. In the end, it was best to leave them to do what they do best. What they have been doing so well for the last few thousand years.

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The propolis plugged upper entrance.

Link: Anthony Planakis

 

Wayne’s Landscape

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Flatland River © Wayne Thiebaud / Licensed by VAGA, New York

I have always liked the artwork of Wayne Thiebaud, an American-born artist associated with the Pop art movement. His work has been described as commercial and plain. Simple images of everyday subjects perhaps lacking any depth. I disagree. Yes, he is known more for his paintings of desserts, ice cream cones and heavily frosted three tier cakes. However, his subject matter is a product of his time and our age of mass consumption.

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Close-up of “Cake Bell” Wayne Thiebaud

Wayne Thiebaud was originally trained in Graphic Design and employed for a time in the animation industry. He also worked for a Long Beach Californian cafe which probably led him to his choice of subject matter. The paintings could almost be edible. They are all covered in thick luxuriant paint with their notable multicoloured edges. It is these edges and the colours he has used that give the illusion of vibration. This gives us another interpretation of the subject and perhaps what the artist wanted us to experience. All different from what we usually see and yes, I suppose, it could be called art.

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Y River, 1998. Photograph: © Wayne Thiebaud / DACS, London / VAGA, New York 2017 / Courtesy White Cube

It is, however, Thiebaud’s landscape paintings that intrigue me the most. The colours in his works are non-traditional. They have lavender coloured orchards and lemon custard streams. These juxtapositions play with our sense of depth on the two-dimensional canvas. Could this be what our bees see as they fly across the fields and cityscapes? We know for sure that bees do not see the same colours as us. The colours and patterns of the ultra-violet illuminated flowers that the bees see would be completely different than our visual perception. Their world must be full of attractive patterns and colours. Upon returning to the hive, the bees communicate through a dance process the flight distance and location of the new nectar source. 

visible and UV

Visible (left) and Ultra Violet (right)

Unlike Thiebaud’s paintings, we can only imagine what a bee truly sees. I wonder what colours these bees would see looking at one of his landscapes? Perhaps by looking at other artists’ works, we can imagine the possible difference between ours and the bees’ visual world.

Bee Photography and Sticky Gloves

Photographing your bees and activities around the hives has always been a complicated affair for me. It is not just the sticky gloves and irritated bees that annoy me. The propolis gummed shutter and dead batteries usually occur exactly when you want to capture that special occasion. I don’t deny that after thirty odd years as a photographer, I am more accustomed to constructing or fabricating an image. Grabbing shots by chance has always challenged me and left me disappointed with the results. My impatience usually got the better of me and I would walk away frustrated, swearing just a little planning my strategy to return. If I did manage to obtain that special once-in-a-lifetime image, I felt guilty that I had no hand in its capture or I was just extremely lucky, not worthy of its capture or future increase in invoicing. The old, being in the “right place at the right time”.

So when you come across someone who does know how to photograph bees, well they should be complimented. That someone is Eric Tourneret. I had seen Eric’s work some years ago but it was while I visited my local library recently that I stumbled across his latest book “Les Routes Du Miel” Link: (by Eric Tourneret and Sylla De Saint Pierre). His work shows a great understanding of his subjects. His lifelong passion is something viewed with respect among photographers. It is when a photographer has “gone narrow, gone deep”. His work is inspirational not just photographically with great composition and angles but apicultural-ly. Eric has placed a tremendous number of his photographs on-line for everyone to see and this proves, to me, his love for the bee and their environment. Each page is filled with large photographs from beehives around the world with written text from respected professionals who add a sense of urgency to the bees present endangered predicament. I can highly recommend this publication, even more so when you are a beekeeper and know just how tricky it is to get special photographs. If you have the chance, grab this book from your local library or perhaps purchase it for your own pleasure. Thank you, Eric.

Be warned though, this volume is in the oversized book section and perhaps not for Grandmas old knees.

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New Queens and idle hands.

Our beehives are very busy. Both have increased in population and the workers are busy cleaning the added honey boxes. We have had good temperatures lately so ventilation boxes have also been added to each hive. The surrounding fields and ditches are full of wildflowers and weeds. Today we have a temperature of 30C degrees and a week ahead of us predicted in the mid-twenties. If we get less than anticipated rain this week, we may even be able to add another honey box on each hive. I tend to add more than necessary at this time of the year. With ample space above the hive and comb awaiting nectar, the bees are less congested and fulfil their respective duties. Following the old expression, idle hands…

Well, you decide. The following are a selection of various quotes from a lot more famous or recognised people than myself.

“Idle hands make fretful minds.”  Shelley Shephard Gray

“You should not have idle hands, you should always be working. All your life.”  Ivan Bunin

“You can bet the rent money that whatever politicians do will end up harming consumers. … Economic ignorance is to politicians what idle hands are to the devil. Both provide the workshop for the creation of evil.”  Walter E. Evans

“The devil finds work for idle hands to do. Better to reign in the hell than serve in heaven. We are in bondage to the law in order that we may be free.”  Marcus Tullius Cicero

“The people who are unemployed want to do the work, but the system is such a catastrophic failure that it cannot bring together idle hands and work. This is all hailed as a great success, and it is a great success – for a very small sector of the population.”  Noam Chomsky

Sadly, a lot of these quotes are from grumpy old men, some dead, others alive. But you get a general idea.

And now some mugshots of the hardworking Queens.

Esperanza

(With a dot marked in yellow for 2017)

queen chile

Rachel  

(Unmarked but just as wonderful as she about to lay, centred in the photo.)

Rachel Queen