Thursday, June 17, 2010

Home Made Tonic for Healthy Bees

Hello honeys, I went on line to research using essential oils (spearmint, lemongrass, thyme) to counter varroa mites and act as a feeding stimulant for bees. I was impressed at how expensive the commercially available products are.   I looked further and found a recipe from another beekeeper in a blog called "Bee Source" .

I made it last year and was really pleased at the results - the bees definitely get excited by the aroma. In fact, while I was making it they pressed in droves against my open kitchen window screens - so when it says it "not be left open around bees"  take it seriously!

Here it is:

5 cups water
2 ½ pounds of sugar
1/8 teaspoon lecithin granules (used as an emulsifier)
15 drops spearmint oil
15 drops lemongrass oil
Bring the water to a boil and integrate the sugar until dissolved. Once the sugar is dissolved remove the mixture from the heat and quickly add the lecithin and the essential oils. Stir until everything is evenly distributed. This solution should have a strong scent and not be left open around bees. Cool before using.

Cool side benefit - put it in a spray bottle and spritz it instead of using smoke to calm the bees!  I have worked my hives just using this and everyone was fat and happy.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Queenless and Queenright


Drama in the hives. Last post I was worrying about foulbrood. I had settled on the strategy (learned in the book "Natural Beekeeping") of housing the queen and her workers in an entirely new, clean hive and burning the old one.

Confirmed in this plan by my mentors, I set upon this daunting task. It involved: finding the queen and picking her up (that part gave me the willies), putting her in the new box, then brushing all bees off each frame into the new hive.  Lots of upset bees. Then hide all the brood and honey frames from the bees so they don't take the contagion with them, feed them sugar water, and scorch out the old boxes, etc.

I was rather depressed afterward. Even more depressed when I checked in the next day and the queen was gone!!  Anguish!  And only a handful of workers left.

Well good thing the hive next door (the blue hive, erstwhile Elizabeth) was fixing to swarm. Scads of workers, brood, too many drone cells, honey and - wait for it - about 10 swarm cells.  Bad beekeeper!  {Note to self - do NOT travel in March/April because the bees will get ahead of you!}. Elizabeth was busting out of the hive.

So I split the hive!  I had to read the "unusual situations and advanced techniques" sections of all my books! I felt quite the hive rock star.

I put all the frames with swarm cells into their own new fresh box, gave them honey frames, and tried to find the old queen to leave her in the old box with lots of new brood and honey space.

Except that I couldn't find her.

There are squillions of bees in a full hive. And they are all moving around so much.  And they rarely make that convenient circle around the queen all pointing at her like they do in the pictures. And she hadn't been marked {note to self: mark the dang queens}.

I shut the hives after exhaustive searching (with no veil and with magnifying glasses on; hello - bees in my hair). And prayed Elizabeth had not just got shut up in the tight new hive with all those restive swarm cells...

Upshot is: the bee goddess smiled on me. I checked in and the new hive still had swarm cells and the bees were tense when I opened them up. High pitched whining, frantic motion, many more guards buzzing my face - I had the distinct impression they were upset and wanted the top put on NOW. So I did.

Then I checked Elizabeth's hive and what a difference: calm, quiet, mellow bees. Happily socking away honey (a whole box in one week!). Happy making brood, no swarms cells. Amazing what a different feeling a queenless hive gives compared to a queenright hive.  I was moved by the experience. So I am waiting on the new queen to hatch!

Last thing - turns out the other hive did not have foulbrood. Something was way wrong with the brood - our state apiarist happened to be at our beekeepers club meeting last week but he said, no, not foulbood. But he took one of my brood frames to be analyzed in the lab.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The joy and the pain of beekeeping

Happy Spring,  bee people. After a long winter with extraordinary snowfall (50+ inches in central VA is very unusual in these warmer climate years), yesterday I went back into the hives, to see how the ladies fared.

The answer is mixed: one hive, the blue one, is doing splendidly. Lots of honey from last season, lots of brood, lots of workers. I had checked in three weeks ago, before leaving on a big trip, and came home intending to reverse all the hive boxes (swapping bottom with top boxes keeps a production chain going by putting the empty frames back on top for Queen Elizabeth to fill).  This I did.

My only concern about Elizabeth was she has more than the usual number of drone cells.  Not so many that I think workers are laying (i.e. no queen present), but more than the usual distribution. I seem to remember that last year, prior to swarming, there were a lot of drone cells.  Maybe Eliz was feeling crowded and the wheels are now in motion. This time around I'd like to split her hive if it comes to it, capturing bees before they leave. Also I might need to because I fear I am losing my second hive...

The green hive, Kathryn's, I was worried about last fall. She had a heavy varroa mite infestation and I'd seen crippled wing disease. Her worker numbers were WAY down after the winter. Three weeks ago I had given her a frame of Elizabeth's brood, hoping to boost numbers.

However, when I opened her up yesterday I saw: very small amount of brood, a spotty brood pattern, holes in some of the brood caps, and dead rotting larvae inside cells. All of this sounds like Foulbrood, a perfectly horrible disease that not only kills off the hive, but requires the keeper to burn everything because the disease is spread by spores which contaminate the hive boxes and frames.

See what I mean about the pain of beekeeping?  I've put a call out to my beekeeping mentors to confirm the diagnosis.

*Sigh*.  Such a bummer.