Dauntless!

Springtime in the Rockies.

This colony has enjoyed multiple days in a row of temperatures reaching almost 70°.  Then, on March 31st, this:

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But then the very next day, April 1st, with just a slight break in the weather, they were back out while there was still snow on the ground.  It was barely in the 40s when I took this photo:

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Blooms!

This is just three blocks from the Gypsy Queen Colony.  Could this be the pollen they are bringing back to their hive?  You can’t tell from these photos, but there were a lot of honey bees on this Crabapple tree.  Not thousands, but certainly hundreds.  The photos aren’t crisp because I was standing in the street, outside this resident’s fence, and had to zoom way in.

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More Pollen!

Sunny, virtually still, and 68°.  Lots more pollen being brought back today, and it appears that they’ve found a second, and different, source.  They’re still bringing back the creamy white pollen they first found 4 days ago, but it looks like they’ve also found a more yellow pollen.  If so, this is good news for the simple reason that a more varied diet means better nutrition for the bees.

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In this final photo it seems apparent that there are two colors of pollen:

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Hive Check

Sunny, slightly breezy, and 67°.  The bees had started bringing back pollen for the first time yesterday, so I wanted to be sure that they had room in their hive to begin expanding their population.  This particular colony has been my hardiest and I hope to propagate this stock by splitting it this spring and letting the queen-less half raise a new queen.

Just below you can see that they are busy harvesting the half-frame of honey that I had put in their top feeder.

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This next photo is what the top of the top box looked like.  (There are two hive bodies on this hive.)  This is just below the top feeder.  All eight frames are covered with bees and they are definitely wanting to move up.  There was a lot of comb that they had constructed between the top bars of this box and the bottom of the top feeder.

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In this next photo you can see a close-up of some of the burr comb they built.  There was an equal amount stuck to the bottom of the top feeder as well.

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The top box had five frames of brood, two frames of honey, and one mostly empty frame.

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Below is a photo of the top of the bottom box.  There were quite a few bees in it, but no brood.

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The bees that were in this box were storing the pollen that was being brought in.

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Conclusion:  Since this colony’s top box was full of brood and honey, and they seemed to desperately want to move up, and the bottom box had lots of room, and the bottom box had pollen… I switched the boxes and put the empty box with the pollen on top.

I then put the top feeder back on the top and closed up the hive.

Hopefully, this will make them feel like they have room to expand as the brood emerges and the queen continues to lay with the pollen coming in.

Pollen!

This is the first pollen that I have seen coming into the hive in 2017.  I don’t know what it is from, but it looks like genuine pollen as opposed to something else that they’re scavenging just out of instinct this time of year.

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Cleaning Up the Mold

This photo was taken on March 9th, just four days after putting the half frame of honey in the top feeder.  You can see that the bees have already cleaned almost all of the mold off of the cappings and are beginning to open the cells and move the honey down into their hive.

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Re-Queening, a Bee-Centered Perspective

I recently spent a few days with Ross Conrad of Dancing Bee Gardens in Middlebury, Vermont.  Ross is the author of Natural Beekeeping and was trained by world-renowned beekeeper Charles Mraz and his son Bill.

Ross never re-queens.  Ever.  Two reasons:

First, Ross reminded me that a colony of honey bees, as a super-organism, behaves much more like a mammal than an insect.  The queen represents the female reproductive organs; the drones represent the male reproductive organs; and the workers represent the individual cells and other necessary organs of the super-organism’s body, performing all the functions necessary for its health and vitality.  A colony regulates its own body temperature; builds its own home; eliminates outside its “den”; makes decisions and choices for itself; learns and remembers; chooses the foods it needs for its health from the forage available; produces a “mother’s milk” for its young, which we call Royal Jelly, from the pharyngeal glands of the nurse bees; and reproduces through an event we call swarming, which produces a second, live colony (the queenless half just has to wait to become sexually mature through the creation of a new, mated queen).

Ross believes that every colony has a right to life.

If the queen needs to be replaced, let the bees decide that.  They are the best at knowing when that should be done, and have a very complex process for doing so.  Ross allows every colony to live out its own natural life.

Secondly, Ross believes that our reasons for re-queening may be flawed.  For example, conventional beekeeping practices teach us to replace a queen that has a spotty brood pattern.  But, if the queen has the genetics for a propensity toward varroa sensitive hygiene, the brood pattern may be spotty because the worker bees are uncapping and removing brood that they sense have varroa mites reproducing on them.  Also, Ross said, we don’t know if a queen that we are replacing may actually have the genetics to successfully handle the next disease or stress that the honey bees may encounter.

My own thoughts:

In addition to the above, by re-queening, we are not allowing honey bee colonies to adapt.  We are, in fact, interrupting that process.  We are not allowing the colonies to become an ecotype (sometimes called an ecospecies) – a colony that is a genetically distinct geographic variety, and which is adapted to its specific environmental conditions.

It is part of the honey bees’ natural process of adaptation to re-queen their colony themselves when they perceive the need to do so in order to survive and thrive.  As bee-centered beekeepers, why would we disrupt this?  Re-queening by the beekeeper is one of the practices of conventional beekeeping that is aimed at maximizing honey production for the beekeeper’s profit.  But, given the above, re-queening may not necessarily fit within the ethos of bee-centered beekeeping.

Advantages of a Bee Tree™ In-Hive Top Feeder

South-central Colorado, 7,000 feet elevation.  Sunny, slightly breezy, and 57°.  I opened this hive to see how the food in the in-hive top feeder was holding out.  It was warm enough that I went ahead and removed the top feeder and looked in the top box of the two 8-frame deeps this hive consists of.

This hive is full of bees and it’s only March 4th.

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On just the second frame in from one side, in the top box, I discovered this:

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There’s capped brood under those house bees.  Here’s a close-up:

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Having a surplus of honey from another colony, I decided to add half of a full frame of honey to this colony’s top feeder.  That was easy to do because I cut the capped honey out of a foundationless frame (something you cannot do with a frame with foundation).

There was a light dusting of mold on the capped honey, but it is not bad for the bees.  According to some sources, one of the molds frequently found on combs is Penicillium waksmanii which can actually inhibit the growth of certain bacteria, including American foulbrood.

As a bee-centered beekeeper, I try to avoid moving or swapping frames inside the hive.  The bees know best what’s best for the bees, and I trust them to construct the hive to their best advantage.  I also do not believe that supplemental feeding is best for the bees if you’re trying to develop an ecotype (which is exactly what I’m doing), except when necessary to get them through the winter… and that’s the only reason I’m feeding them in this instance.

So, an in-hive top feeder allows me to give them some additional honey from my apiary without disturbing any of the work they’ve done inside their hive.  They can bring the honey down into the hive and put it exactly where they want it.

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Below is that half frame of honey laying in the top feeder.  There is a lid that goes on over the tray to completely seal it from above.  The bees are able to access the food, from below, through the cone-shaped opening.

I build these top feeders myself.  They are designed to work in conjunction with my Bee Tree™ inner covers that allow the bees to control the ventilation in the hive themselves, and nothing I do throughout the year changes the ventilation they’ve created.  This gives them the entire season to prepare the hive for winter.

One advantage to this top feeder is that the bees access the food from inside the hive, all year round, and bees from other colonies cannot get to it.  (I’ve learned to NEVER feed bees out in the open.  I did that in 2015 and my bees contracted Varroa mites from bees outside of my apiary that came to that open food.)

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I had put some honey-filled comb in this top feeder a couple of weeks before and the bees completely cleaned it out:

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