Monday, June 1, 2009

Supering Made Easy

Every beekeeper knows that if they want to produce honey that they must have a colony which is strong enough to draw and fill supers. Here is a quick rundown on how I super my honey producing colonies. When the colony is strong enough only then is it appropriate to add a super. When using frames with foundation I will use ten frames in the super. When using foundation only add one super at a time. When this super is 90% drawn it is time to add another super with foundation. Always use ten frames when using foundation.

The title to this post, "Supering Made Easy," is named so because I intend to show you the easiest way to super a colony in order to achieve the most harvest. For this post I have used supers of drawn comb. These supers were extracted last year and have been stored safely away from wax moths, mice, and other unwanted pests. In the below picture I intend to super the colony on the right. This is a rear view of the colony. There are two empty supers over the inner lid on this colony. They are there to surround t6he feeder jars which are over the inner lid. These feeders will be removed so the honey from the colony remains pure.

After the inner lid is removed a queen excluder is put in its place before the first super goes onto the colony.

The supers which I am placing atop the hive contain nine frames of drawn comb. Once the comb has already been extracted it is OK to use only nine frames. The bees are less likely to build any burr comb between the frames after they have drawn out. Also the frames are easier to uncap as the bees have drawn the comb out past the frames. Uncapping goes a lot faster when you are uncapping frames that are drawn out farther than when the bees have ten frames per super. Always use ten frames with foundation or else you could end up with a nice mess. When superimg in the way I am disclosing to you be sure to only use drawn comb as pictured below.

When using multiple supers of drawn comb it is pertinent to have an upper entrance. This allows the field bees easy access to the supers when returning from gathering nectar. This relieves congestion within the brood chambers since the field bees do not have to traverse the combs which contain brood and are covered with the bees which are incubating the brood. It also helps the field bees to bypass the queen excluder. If you have a colony strong enough the bees will have no problem using the upper entrance. In the picture below you can see I created the upper entrance by notching the bottom of the second super.

In this picture I have added three additional supers of drawn comb. The fourth super from the bottom, or second from top, can also be notched for another upper entrance.

The advantages to having drawn comb over using foundation are immense. The bees must consume approximately eight pounds of honey in order to produce one pound of wax. Since nectar has a moisture content of over 80%, which is over four times the moisture content of honey (which is between 16% and 18%) a colony must obtain around 32 pounds of nectar to get the 8 pounds of honey (after evaporated) to make the one pound of wax. Save your wax!!! Of the five supers of drawn comb which I placed atop this colony, the bees must nearly fill all five supers with nectar in order to evaporate the nectar down to one super of honey. It is extremely beneficial for your bees for you to save the comb that they have labored to construct. I know people like cut comb or chunk honey but they get very little of that from me. The comb does so much more for the bees than it does for any human being who chews on it for awhile just to spit it out.

This is the easiest way I know of to super a colony. If you have drawn comb you do not need to labor over installing foundation into frames or assembling frames to hold the foundation. Do yourself a favor and protect all your comb.

I could not help myself, but after taking these pictures I used the top deep on this colony and the one beside it to make up some more nucs so we will not have any future posts showing how beneficial using drawn comb in your honey supers is. I can testify from past years experience that you can obtain more than twice the amount of honey from a colony when using drawn comb as opposed to using foundation.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Make Six Colonies From One!

Depending on how aggressive you wish to be when expanding your apiary, you can easily make six colonies from one (or more!). This of course depends on how many frames of drawn comb are within the colony, how many bees are in it, how much brood the queen has laid, and how many stores the bees have put in the comb. In this post I am making five nucs from a colony which consists of three medium hive bodies with one deep hive body on top. The hive bodies each contain ten frames so I will use a total of twenty medium frames to make the five nucs. After making the nucs The parent colony shall consist of a deep hive body with three drawn frames and seven frames of foundation on the screened bottom board and a medium hive body on top with ten fully drawn frames. Here I have five medium nucs placed near the donor colony and ready to be occupied with some frames of brood and bees. The entrances are screened ahead of time to keep the bees within.

Pictured below you can see that the three medium hive bodies have bee seperated and that the deep hive body is now atop the screened bottom board. With the deep hive body in place I can now have a place to relocate the queen one I find her in amongst the medium frames. Also with the deep in place, the returning worker bees have a place to go,

As I was going through the medium frames to decide where to place them within the nucs, I came across the queen on the fifth frame I looked at. After placing her within the deep I could work much quicker as I did not need to worry about finding her.

When filled these nucs with frames I started on the right side of the boxes with a frame of honey and attached bees. The second frame from the right is capped brood. The third frame from the right is open brood. The last frame, or the frame on the left is usually a frame of pollen or bee bread. In this case the frames on the left also contained some amount of brood and honey as well.

Before placing the frames into the nuc boxes I sprayed them with sugar syrup. After the bees are sprayed they will not fly and will stay in the nuc boxes until I have enough frames within the nuc boxes in order to put the lid on them. Here is a picture of the sprayer I bough at Lowe's last year for around five dollars. After it is pressured by action of the pump, a button releases a fine mist of sugar syrup by simply depressing it.

Here is a picture of a frame that has just been sprayed.

Pictured below are the nuc boxes as they begin to fill with frames of bees. AS I did with the frames, I started with the nuc box on my right and worked to the left.

Now there are three completed nucs only three frames left to select to finish the last two nucs.

I'm down to selecting the last three frames that I need and I have a medium box on the ground in which I have not looked.

Now with all the nucs filled I need to transport them to an outyard to keep the bees from going back to their parent colony.

I also have three full size nucs in the truck. I made up eight nucs this day. After taking the nucs an outyard they were unloaded and placed atop some small pallets.

After a day I gave each nuc a queen cell. They should all have laying queens by now and will be brought back to the home yard before too long. Now from this colony I made five nucleus colonies and kept the mother colony. I actually could have made six nucleus colonies but I did not want to leave the parent colony too weak. Hopefully the parent colony will build up enough in time to make some more nucs out of it, and I bet it will.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Grafting Queens, Revisited.

There are a few important things which I forgot to mention on the previous post about grafting queens. Number one, when removing the larvae from the donor colony with your grafting tool you should always slide the tool in behind the larvae and not the front. Pictured above is a piece of black foundation which the bees have drawn comb and begun to lay brood into. The black foundation helps the beekeeper see his targeted larvae much easier than a new light colored comb as pictured below. The arrows point to where you should slide the grafting tool under the larvae in order to transfer it to the queen cups.

In the above picture I am using the German grafting tool. It is a rigid piece of stainless steel and not the easiest type of tool to use. I am also grafting from a new piece of comb. This is when I first started grafting. The situation could not get much more difficult for a beginner queen grafter. The only advantage I had at this time was that I was Harvesting Royal Jelly to prime my cell cups with and the larvae floated off of the grafting tool easier. I have not been priming any cell cups this year and can tell you that I had a higher rate of acceptance towards the grafted larvae when I primed the cups with royal jelly.

You can see the advantage to using the black foundation versus grafting from new comb. Another important factor which will increase acceptance of the larvae is to make sure that you keep the cell bars covered with a warm moist towel during grafting and when you are transporting the cell bar frame back to the cell builder colony.

Recapping what I have said;
1. Prepare cell builder colony,
2. Place cell bar frame with cell bars a cell cups into the colony so it can be polished,
3. Remove the cell bar frame no sooner than 24 hours later for grafting,
4. Select a frame of dark comb with larvae of appropriate age from the breeder queen's colony,
5. Slide the grafting tool under the larvae from the outside of the curl as denoted in the first picture in this post by the red arrows,
6. Preferably prime your cell cups so the transference of larvae into cell cups is more easily accomplished,
7. Keep the cell bars which have been filled with larvae already covered with a warm moist towel,
8. Keep the cell bar frame covered with a warm moist towel while transporting it to the cell builder colony,
9. Place cell bar frame into the cell builder colony.

After you have the queen cells completed you have a few options for them once they are ripe. The most important thing to remember is to not let a queen hatch out into the cell builder colony while the other cells are still within it. The new virgin queen will destroy all the other queen and I'm sure that you do not that to happen.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Caging Queens

Caging a queen is easy to do. The first thing is to do is to have a cage ready. Here I have two cages ready. Whatever type of cage you use, use your common sense as to how to put an insect into it. The cages each have their tube full of queen cage candy so they can be placed into a receptive colony. The queen candy serves two purposes, it keeps hostile bees away from the queen during introduction and it keeps the queen from running into a colony only to meet her demise. The queen cage candy delays the amount of time in which the queen will be able to have full access to the receptive colony and vice versa. (Do not place a new queen into a receptive colony unless the colony shows proper signs of readiness and willingness towards acceptance for a new queen. Inexperienced beekeepers should allow the bees to eat through the queen cage candy in order to release the queen, permitting extenuating circumstances, e.g.; five days have gone by since introduction and the queen is still confined). During the amount of time in which the queen gains access, by gaining access through a clean candy tube, to the receptive colony the colony slowly accepts her as their leader by becoming acclimated to her pheromone. You can click on the pictures to enlarge them if you wish.

So we have two queen cages ready to go. It is now time to find two queens to fill those two cages. Here is the first queen.

When placing the queen into the cage it is important to place here head first and to gently coax her into the cage. Do not force her into the cage. Do not hold her by the abdomen. Hold her by the wing or by the thorax only.

Now we have one queen left to go. I'm sure that you can see one cage full and one empty. The full one is complete with attendant bees. How do we get attendant bees into the cage? Well, that is a good question.

In the picture above you can see very clearly the bees with their heads in cells. I have red arrows denoting their location. All you have to do is to take hold of these bees by their wings while their heads are in the cells. If you grasp them in this manner they will not sting you. It is physically impossible for them to sting you if you grab them by their wings (both of them) while their head is in a cell. There is no trick to it. The bee can not see you approach it while its head is in a cell. It is very easy to do. You should also put the attendant bees head first into the cage. Bees are more prone to move forward than backward, especially while their head is in a hole!

You can grab any bee you wish off of a comb and use it for an attendant bee and I have but do not recommend it. What I like most about taking one while its head is in a cell is that it is oblivious as to what is getting ready to occur and that it can not sting me after I have a hold of it. The second thing I like, and is more beneficial to the bees than me, is that it is more than likely placing nectar into the cell in which it has had its head and also has its belly full which it can feed the queen with. Having attendants with full bellies is very important if you are banking queens. Unfortunately (most likely fortunately, if you want fresh queens), I have never needed to bank any queens. Banking queens is what a queen producer does when they have more queens than they can sell. As I said, unfortunately I have never had more queens than I can sell or more bees than I can sell. This is only a simple tutorial on how to cage a queen should the need ever arise.

Here are the two queen cages with queens and attendants. Catching the queen and caging her is no problem for me. Queens are easy to find, and they don't sting so they are easy to cage. The attendants are the ones which take the time. When you find the frame with the queen upon it, though it may not be easy to find her, you can capture her easily by grasping her wings or thorax. The hard part is placing four or five attendants in with her. After the queen is in the cage, the easiest way to find attendants is by studying the frame she was on. Typically around the edges of this frame you will see some bees with their heads in cells. Usually these bees are depositing nectar within those cells. These are the bees that you want. You want the ones which have full bellies to help ensure their queen can make it through the hardship of being introduced to a new colony.

For more on queens cage candy click on Recipes for Beekeepers

For more on how to handle and hold a queen go to Queen Marking

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What To Do With Your Grafted Queen Cells... Make a Nuc

OK, it has been eleven days since I grafted the queens in the last post to my blog. Those eleven days plus the three or four days (most likely three) makes fourteen or fifteen days since the grafted larvae were laid as eggs. It takes sixteen days from egg to queen so we need to do something with the queen cells quickly. Pictured below is some cells I grafted last year. I got in a hurry today and used and sold most of my queen cells before I remembered to take any pictures so I'll use this old picture so you can see what to expect if you do a fairly decent job when you are grafting your larvae.

One of the great things about rearing queens is that it gives you many more options for which you wish to do with your bees. I used some of the cells to replace some queens I sold a few days ago. One cell was used to replace a queen I accidentally killed while marking. It's hard to admit but I do mess up pretty badly sometimes. When replacing queens that were sold or if I'm simply requeening the acceptance rate of queen cells is pretty much guaranteed. After a colony realizes it is queenless you can give it a queen cell with a queen which shall soon emerge you do not need to worry about acceptance. Like I said, it is guaranteed when the queen emerges from her cell within the colony.

Now today I made some nucs since I had some queen cells. I put the old queens in with the nucs and used the queen cells for the colonies. This method may be somewhat opposite of what most beekeepers would do (I'll explain a little more in detail later), however I find that with a smaller population of bees in the nuc that it will not suffer without a laying queens and will build up nicely. The colony from which the nuc is made can handle the absence of a laying queen better than the nuc. The colony can sometimes benefit from not having a laying queen. I have in the past purposely removed a queen prior to a good nectar flow in order to allow the bees in the colony to concentrate on gathering nectar, drawing out supers, and making honey rather than spending all of their time feeding larvae. After the flow you can reintroduce the queen or allow the colony to requeen itself. Remember to always cutout capped queen cells four days after removing the queen from the colony or you may choose to leave the colony queenless for a longer amount of time if necessary to accommodate the nectar flow. The important thing to remember is that you remove the queen at seven days before the flow hits so most of the brood will be capped, nine days is actually more preferable. I would not recommend a novice beekeeper to attempt this. However if you feel that you have enough skill you should try it sometime because you may be impressed what a strong colony can do without having to take care of larvae during a strong nectar flow. OK, enough talk of this. I'm way off subject so let's get back on track.

I went to my outyard at the black raspberry patch to make a few nucs and took my camera along.

The raspberry patch is only a few acres big and I only have four colonies there at the present. I really wish I would have had more colonies there because I feel that I could have harvested more than the eleven supers of raspberry honey I got. I definitely feel that I would not have got nearly this much honey if the bees had to draw their own comb. It is important to save all of your drawn comb to reuse. Drawn comb is almost like gold to me. The raspberries were in bloom for slightly less than two weeks but I can still find a scarce bloom here and there. Shortly after the berries bloomed I grafted the queens so I could make some nucs right after I harvested the surplus honey after it had cured and was capped. The key to getting an early crop of honey from the raspberries is to have strong colonies. This is achieved by feeding your colonies syrup and pollen patties to the point where the brood chamber is full of "syrup honey", bee bread, brood, and bees. If you would like to know how to strengthen your colonies to get an early crop of honey refer back to my posts on Feeding Pollen Patties To Your Colonies, Feeding Inside a Colony, and Strengthening a Weak Colony. You must start making preparations in late February or early March to make sure that you can get an early crop instead of a bunch of swarms, or no swarms, or even some late winter dead outs from starvation. Also, if you need to know how to make syrup and pollen patties for your bees refer to Recipes for Beekeepers.

OK, so when the honey supers with drawn comb went on the colonies the feeding of syrup stops during the flow. We do not want syrup in the honey supers. After the flow the supers are removed. Then it is time to make some nucs. This is all about timing. Knowing your bloom dates, the life cycle of the bees (required for raising queens on a specific timetable), and having the proper equipment (nuc boxes, preferably drawn comb) ready to go is very crucial at this juncture.

Let's put the nuc together. First a good frame of honey is selected.

Now I need two frames of brood. These frames can be one of open brood (eggs and larvae) and one with capped pupae or two frames with a mixture of open and closed brood. The frame pictured below was selected due the fact that it had the queen on it. It also had open and sealed brood, honey, and bee bread which made it a good frame to select.

And another frame of brood is selected.

The nuc is finished off with a frame of drawn comb.

All that is left to do to the nuc is to put the lid on. The entrance was sealed with screen before any bees were added.

The main colony now requires a queen cell for it is queenless.

I prefer to place the cell between the top bars near the center of the colony. This cell was placed between the fifth and sixth frames of the lower hive body. If you choose to let the queen remain in the parent colony you can place the queen cell into the nuc in the same manner as described above. Be sure that your nuc is in place and will not be moved when you put the queen cell in it or it could get damaged from the top bars should they be moved any.

I got lucky when I found the queen to make this nuc. She was on the fifth frame I looked at. I already had the honey frame in place, the the brood frame with the queen, another brood frame, and a frame of drawn comb. It was a very easy nuc to put together. I had to replace the frames I took from the main colony to make the nuc. Luckily I had some empty frames of drawn comb. When you save your comb and keep it safe from wax moths it makes things so much easier on your bees. This picture is of the top hive body after taking the frames from it to use in the nuc.

The thing to do when you put frames back into the hive body is to center the remaining frames within the box and put the empties toward the outside. This helps to consolidate the brood near the center of the hive. After the upper hive body is back in place it is time to put the inner lid and feeders back in place.

With the feeders in place the must be filled to feed the bees. I now have a short amount of time to coerce the colony into filling the empty frames I gave them before the next nectar flow which will be tulip poplar.

Taking some brood from this colony will set it back some but not too badly. Taking the queen from the colony has set back more than taking some bees and brood from it has. The good thing about it is that this colony will not be set back as far as it would have if it had swarmed. In a sense, I made it swarm, or made an "artificial swarm". Most beekeepers make artificial swarms as a last ditch effort to stop a colony from swarming after it has made swarm cells and gone through the preparations to swarm. My reasons for doing this is because I want more colonies, to stop a swarm before it starts, and to requeen a colony with a new queen. Some beekeepers would not dream of doing this before the main honey flow starts. Then again, these are the same people who will most likely have their colony swarm and lose half their colony up in a tall tree and then lose their honey crop because there was not enough bees left in the colony to take advantage of the honey flow.

There are many things to consider in beekeeping. There is no "right" or "perfect" answer to every situation. This is why beekeeping is an art to be performed at the discretion of the beekeeper. One of the many things to consider is what kind of goals do you have concerning your bees. Most beekeepers goals are to let the bees make surplus honey and then harvest that honey. If this is your goal I hope you are working to achieve it. Don't let your bees do all the work. You can be proactive and share the burden. Don't be one of those guys who only goes out to his colony just add a super when needed and then take them off in July, if your lucky enough to get anything. Be one of those guys who starts feeding in late February or early April. Look in the brood chamber and see what's going on. What if your colony is pollen bound? What if you got sac brood? What if you got swarm cells? What if you have a queen that lays very poorly? What if the colony is infested with mites and on the verge of collapse? Please go out and look in your hives, and I don't mean tomorrow.. See what's happening in there. Maybe you need to make an artificial swarm so you don't lose half your bees and half or all your honey. Maybe you find a bunch of swarm cells and could use them to make some nucs, or put them in some mini nucs, or use one in a queenless hive before it becomes a drone layer. The list goes on and on. Be proactive with your bees, be a beekeeper.

I really did not intend to talk about a bunch of stuff other than making a nuc and what to do with a queen cell. It is just hard to contain my enthusiasm, especially this time of year when the bees are bringing in nectar. I love it. I hope you love it too.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Grafting Queens

At one time or another every beekeeper will need to requeen a colony. Some will requeen annually. Queens can be costly for a beekeeper so why not raise some yourself out of your best colony? I prefer raising my own queens because I know what kind of bees I have. I do not know what kind of bees the queen breeder on the other side of the country has for twenty dollars a piece.

There traits you must consider when selecting a queen to graft from. If gentleness is important to you be sure to select for it. Hygienic behavior is important for colony health. Fecundity and a solid brood pattern are important. Honey and wax production need to be top notch. Disease resistance is a valuable trait though I doubt most beekeepers are going to submit their colonies to being tested with a disease to see if it is resistant. These are a few of the things to consider when selecting a queen to graft from. Since you are grafting for yourself you should decide what is most important to you and try to breed for it.

Once you have prepared a Cell Builder Colony you can add a frame with your freshly grafted larvae. Pictured below is my cell builder colony.

My cell builder also has a shallow super full of bees to be placed atop the deep hive body.

Here is a picture of the cell bars with the queen cups in place. The queen cups are where the grafted larva are placed.

Here is a picture of the cell bar frame. The cell bars slide into the slots on the end bars of the frame. The queen cups are faced down to simulate a natural queen cup within a colony.

Also in the above picture are some Chinese grafting tools in the coffee cup. They are submerged in water so they can easily be cleaned of the royal jelly they encounter while in use.

Now it is time to do some grafting. First we must select a frame with larvae of appropriate age from the colony we wish to graft from. This frame looks like it is acceptable.

In the picture above you can see the royal jelly in the bottom of the cells along with a very small larva. The larva which is most desirable are the ones which have not curled into a "C" yet. These are the youngest larvae. It is a good idea to graft your larvae of all the same size so the queens will hatch at about the same time. I have grafted queens which were curled with good results before. The main thing is to graft all your larvae of the same age, or size, and to make sure not to graft any which do not have any royal jelly in their cell. If they do not have any royal jelly do not use the larvae. They are too old, to big, and their diet of royal jelly has been interrupted and will result in an inferior queen. You can click on the picture above to see the larvae in their pools of royal jelly in the bottom of their cells. If you look hard enough you can see the ones which have not curled yet and are very ripe for grafting. Ideally you would want to graft the larva after it hatches from an egg, which is at three days. I have found that as long as all the larvae that is grafted are of the same size and are still being fed royal jelly that they will make good queens. The only thing that will vary is how long it takes for them to hatch out. The youngest larvae are more desirable because it is easier for the beekeeper to time out when the queens will emerge from their cells.

Here is a picture of me using the Chinese grafting tool to graft the first larvae. The Chinese grafting tool has a flexible tip which slides under the larva and removes it along with some royal jelly from the cell.

The Chinese grafting tool has a push button on the end similar to an ink pen which when it is depressed it will push the royal jelly containing the larva in the queen cup. I've used other types of grafting tools but the Chinese grafting tool is the easiest to use.

In the queen cup to the right is the first larva that has been transferred. You can click on the picture to enlarge it. You can then see how small the larva is. You may need to get some magnification glasses from your optometrist to graft the small larva. Fortunately for now I can do it unaided from any optical devices.

On the end of the Chinese grafting tool you can see a small pool of royal jelly. Within that pool is a very tiny larva. You'll have to take my word for it because it is nearly impossible to see even when you enlarge the picture.

Here is a picture of all queen cups filled with larvae.

Now the cell bars are ready to be placed into the cell bar frame.

And now the cell bar frame with its freshly grafted larvae is ready to be placed into the cell builder colony.

After the cell builder colony is put back together it is important to give it some sugar syrup. The extra syrup will help the bees make the wax for the queen cells. Also make certain that the cell builder colony has a frame of pollen. The bees need the pollen to make royal jelly for the larvae if they are to become queens. These queens should start hatching about twelve to thirteen days after I grafted them.

Grafting or raising queens is easy to do and every beekeeper at one time or another should do their best to make their own queens. I spent maybe twenty minutes at the most breaking the cell builder down, finding the frame with larvae to graft from, grafting the larvae, taking pictures, and putting everything back together. I'm raising eighteen queens for myself to make some nucs with. Most places charge close to twenty dollars for a queens. Provided all eighteen queens hatch out, I made $360 in twenty minutes, or $1080 an hour for grafting those queens. Of course this example is not quite fair because the queens you pay twenty dollars for are mated, or they should be. So my virgin queens are probably worth only ten dollars a piece. I guess I can buy some frames or foundation with the money I saved. Saving money is not my main objective for raising queens. My main objective is to raise a queen that I want. I don't want bees from Texas, bees from California, bees from down south, or bees from anywhere else. I want to continue raising my own feral queens that I captured here in southern WV. I doubt if I'll be seeing any of these queens available in Bee Culture or American Bee Journal so I will continue to raise my own.