Friday, May 9, 2008

Cell Builder Colony

This is the first year that I have raised my own queens by grafting larva into cell cups. One of the main things that I needed to raise some queen cells is a cell builder. Some queen breeders will use starter colonies to start a large number of cells and then disburse those cell cups between multiple finisher colonies to build the cells and to cap them. Some will also use special nursery cages or banking bars in incubators to free their cell finishers up to increase production. Since I am just getting starting and do not need to make the amount of queens as those who sell them commercially I decided to use one queenless colony to start, build, finish, and incubate my queens.

The first thing you should do is make sure that your cell builder colony is populous and disease free. I would also like to recommend that the colony you use is extremely gentle. A colony which goes queenless for a while can become agitated rather easily and may become ill tempered. After you select your colony there there are few few manipulations that should take place. Keep in mind that this is only one scenario and that there are other ways to end up with the same results. This is just what I did and it worked for me. However I do wish I would have used a more gentle colony but now I know better and will next time.

This is the colony which I chose to build my queen cells. After I decided to use this colony I brought an extra hive body to the rear of the colony. As I went through the frames looking for the queen I placed the frames which contained the most eggs into the extra hive body. When I found the frame with the queen I placed it over to the side to isolate her from the colony. After finding and placing the frames with the most eggs into the empty hive body I then began placing the frames with the most youngest and most larvae into the empty box as well. After getting the frames with the largest patterns of eggs and larvae I searched for any other frames with open brood. After I had the extra full of those frame the remaining frames went into the bottom deep along with the frame with the queen. Once the remaining frames and queen was in the bottom deep I put a queen excluder over it and then placed the hive body which contained mostly all open brood atop of that. The picture above was taken nine days later when all the brood cells in the upper deep were capped.

At this point, nine days after putting all the open brood in the upper deep, I removed the lid and placed the upper deep onto it.

The lower deep is removed from where it is sitting creating a vacancy for the upper deep.

After placing a bottom board where the lower deep was I placed the upper deep upon it.

Once the top deep, now queenless, was in the place where the lower deep was originally, I placed a solid piece of plywood atop it then I placed the queenright hive body on that facing towards the rear.

Since the bottom deep now has all capped brood and is queenless there is no way, or should I say no larvae, for the bees to attempt to raise any queens. Also, with the queenright hive body on the top facing towards the rear all of the returning foragers which leave the top will enter the lower queenless half boosting the population for cell building. The queenless hive body, now on the bottom, also has many young bees in it. The bees have the most time and effort invested in the capped brood so they will stay on the capped brood to keep it from becoming chilled. After two more days many more foragers have left the top queenright hive body only to return to the queenless hive bottom.

After the two additional days I moved the queenright portion of the colony elsewhere so I can gain access to the cell builder more readily. At this point you will need to remove a frame so you can add a frame of eggs for some easy queens without any grafting or you can add a cell bar with some freshly grafted larvae.

If you don't think that there are enough bees in your cell builder you can always shake some in but be sure not to shake a queen in. After a while the population of your cell builder will become depleted but you can keep the population up by adding frames of capped brood.

Harvesting Royal Jelly

If you decide to graft your own queens you may decide to use royal jelly to prime your cell cups with. Royal jelly is a substance secreted by special glands in immature worker bees. It changes otherwise ordinary bee larvae into queen bees. Queen bees live 50 times longer than worker bees, exhibit extraordinary fertility, and have great stamina in spite of their stressful lives. Some grafting tools, such as the chinese grafting tool are easy to use as they will push the larva off the tip along with a small amount of royal jelly. If you use a stainless grafting tool which is stiff on the tip you will find it easier to float the larva off of the tip into a small pool of royal jelly. Two days before I decided to put some queen cups with grafted larvae into a cell builder I split a colony in two in order to harvest some royal jelly to prime my cell cups with. After the two days I went into the queenless colony to find the emergency cells being built.

The bees can build the emergency cells anywhere that there is larvae. So the easiest way for me to find all the cells was to create an empty space in the queenless to shake or knock the bees off the frame in.

Once I got all the bees off of the frame I could find every emergency cell on the frames with ease. This frame has six emergency cells that are easily identified when the bees are knocked off.

Once I got the bees off the frame and found the emergency cells I removed the larvae within the cells to keep from pulling them into the syringe.

After the larva is removed you can pull the royal jelly into the syringe and you don't have to worry about clogging the end of the syringe with the larva.

The royal jelly can be stored in your refrigerator until needed, but it must be warmed up before priming cell cups and placing any larvae in it. I timed the harvesting of this royal jelly to coincide with my cell builder being queenless for two days and used it immediately for priming my cell cups.

Overwintered Nuc Becomes "The Pink Hive"

Going back to Building Up an Overwintered Nuc, Part 2, I would like to show the progress that this little nuc has made so far. This nuc overwintered on eight shallow frames, two four frame nuc boxes. I added a pollen patty, some syrup, and a deep four frame nuc with drawn comb and honey to it back in February. In March I added another four frame deep nuc box to it. Around the first of April the little nuc was starting to not be so little anymore. There were a lot of bees and it was time to put it into a bigger box. I started out by making a screened bottom board for and eight frame hive body.

I also had some eight frame equipment in need of repair and painting. After doing what I could to repair the boxes I painted them pink. This was the color my daughter had chosen for her colony and I was more than willing to oblige. I actually like the look of the hive myself. Pictured below is the pink boxes along with some other woodenware which was repaired or repainted..

After getting all of my equipment prepared, I loaded everything up to go visit the overwintered nu and to help build it up some more. Looking from the outside of the hive it appeared pretty much as I had left it.

When I started removing the frames from the nuc and putting them into eight frame equipment it began to rain. This picture is the last one I could take because now it had started to downpour. By the time I had finished transferring the frames I was standing in the middle of a full fledged thunderstorm.

In this picture you can see the eight frame pink to the left. I put the eight shallow frames it overwintered on in a shallow super above the screened bottom board I made. Then I placed the eight frames from the deep nuc boxes into the first eight frame deep hive body. I also added another deep hive body with frames of foundation above that.

I'll soon be going to go inspect the Pink Hive for progress and development. I would have liked to have been able to some pictures and would have if not for the thunderstorm. The queen is laying a really nice pattern. When I go back I will be adding a super and will do my best to remember to take some good pictures.

Raspberry Patch Outyard

I really nice older gentleman, Mr. Dolan, recently gave me some used woodenware. I went an collected about four truckloads of hive bodies, supers, and other miscellaneous equipment from his outbuilding there at his home. The price of the woodenware was easily paid, as he wanted as few colonies placed onto a couple of acres of raspberries for pollination. Seeing how I was going to be raising some queens this year, I jumped at the chance to put a few undesirable colonies in the raspberries before any drones hatched. I sent samples of bees to the Beltsville Bee Lab last year and had one colony come back positive for tracheal mites. Though I decided to feed this colony some grease patties through the winter I still wanted it out of my main yard before drones started hatching. I also have a hot colony which needed moving too.

In the picture above you can see the colonies after being placed into the raspberry patch. The picture below shows me adding frames of foundation to the mean colony. I made a split out of this colony before moving. I thoroughly went through the two hive bodies as I made a split from it. I had confined the queen to lower deep with a queen excluder nine days before making the split. I moved all the open brood above the queen excluder at this time. Nine days later after locating the queen in the lower deep I isolated the frame she was on and shook five frames of bees into the upper deep which was now on its own bottom board. I took the queenright half to the raspberry patch and left the queenless half, which contained all capped brood and no larvae or eggs, for raising some queens. As an extra precaution, I also scraped the cappings off of all the drone brood I could find in the queenless half, or I should say cell builder now because that is what it has become.

Pictured below are the two colonies sitting on a pallet at the raspberry patch. The one on the left was the one with the hot bees and on the right is the one which was fed grease patties to help combat tracheal mites.

Since I really weakened the strength of the hot colony I found it necessary to give it two inverted half gallon jars over the inner lid to help them replenish their numbers and to aid in drawing out the upper deep of foundation.

Pictured below is a top view down into the colony which had the tracheal mites. Though it did have the tracheal mites, I believe that by feeding it grease patties with essential oils through the winter really helped the colony. You can see in the picture that the population is quite sufficient for pollinating the raspberries. If I would have removed the the top deep you could really see a lot of bees int the gap between the two hive bodies.

This colony was definitely strong enough to add a shallow super for some honey production so I took one with me to add the the colony when I moved them there.

This colony also got a few inverted jars of syrup over the inner lid as well to help them draw out the super and for feeding larvae. Pictured below is both colonies as I left them at the beginning of April.

The colony which had the tracheal mites had the feeders removed after they emptied them. It did not draw much comb in the supers when they fed from the feeders but I am positive the extra syrup helped to dramatically increase the population. I checked the colonies two days ago and the mean colony has nearly drawn out the upper deep and is not taking any more syrup due to the heavy locust flow I am experiencing here this year. The other colony which had the tracheal mites now has a fourth super on it. Though they had the tracheal mites I believe they may have mostly been eradicated due to the fact I made sure it had grease patties on it all winter. Having an outyard to set some colonies which have undesirable traits when you plan on raising queens is a great benefit. Though I may have helped the colony rid itself of the tracheal mites they are still susceptible, or not resistant. After the raspberry bloom dries up these colonies will be split down and will be given some of the hygienic feral queens which I have been raising. I am also thankful to Mr.Dolan as he is allowing to keep some colonies there as an outyard after the raspberries are done and over with and has told me I can keep all I want to there. I'm sure that eventually I will end up with close to twenty colonies here in the raspberry patch probably before August.

Colony Extraction at Buffalo, WV

On April 13th I went and performed yet another colony extraction at an old farm house near Buffalo, WV. This was a fairly simple cutout as I could do it from out side of the house while standing on a picnic table. Here's a nice picture looking up through the field where the farm house is located.

After meeting and becoming acquainted the the the land owner, who drove down from near Columbus, OH, I began to start the work. Finding the entrance to the colony was easy enough. It looked as if someone had possibly shot a hole in the fromt of the house with a small rifle, possibly while deer hunting on the property. Once the hole was formed it became a perfect place for a swarm to settle down inside the wall cavity.

Once the entrance was discovered it was time to remove the old asphalt siding and the old oak boards underneath.

As you can see from the previous picture, the colony was not very old. I would guess that it was a late swarm from last year, possibly in July, which never had the opportunity to build up nicely. The picture is a closer of the comb. I forgot to take my digital camera with me so most of the pictures are quite blurry.

In the next picture you can see the manner in which the comb is measuered and cut to fit the wired split frames.

Here is a good example of a wired split frames full of comb which was cut out of a hive.

It took me a little while, but I did find the queen. The picture is blurry because I tried to get too close with the disposable camera.

This picture is of a wired catch frame with some brood comb in it which I place into the wall where the colony was to attract the stragglers. You have to leave a large enough gap between the inside wall and the comb or most of the bees will festoon over onto the wall.

After removing the comb and bees from the wall I reinstalled the old oak boards and asphalt siding. I also used a scrap piece of OSB to cover the hole in order to deter any returning foragers from reentering to old nest site. I also placed the the hive body which was the bees new home over the old entrance on the edge of the roof to encourage them enter it.

At dusk and after the bees had seemed to settle into their new home. I sealed the entrance and proceeded to bring them to their new home. This picture was taken the following morning before the screen was removed from the entrance.

I must say that out of all the cutouts I have done that this was possibly in the worst shape of any. There was absolutely no capped honey and no nectar in any of the cells. I don't know whether or not this colony would have made it until the flow began or not. There was a small amount of pollen that the bees had gathered. I noticed that there was also quite a bit of varroa mites. Actually, there was a lot of them when compared to how small the colony population was. The mites I seen did not include the mites which I did not see inside of capped brood or between the abdominal segments of the bees. A few days after getting them home I performed a test for hygienic behavior which they failed miserably at. I had grafted some queens from some of my own hygienic feral stock and have since replaced the original queen of the cutout with one of them. The cutout is now building up nicely.