Monday, April 12, 2010

Hive news and surgery tales

The weather here over the last weeks has been fairly mad.  Ten days ago we had snow!  However this weekend was glorious with temperatures hitting around 18 or 19 degrees (celcius), I guess.

We've had some pleasant enough spells occasionally over the spring up until  now but nothing extraordinary and certainly not warm enough to risk anything.  I was getting frustrated to check on what was going on in the hive although, as the saying goes, if you can't accomplish anything by opening it up, then DON'T!

So with a still, warm day at last and other garden & home chores either completed or demoted  down the list, Elva (my trusty assistant and fiancée) and I made a list of everything we thought we'd need to open the hive. 

One thing I've realised is that good planning is essential. The irony is that the comb mess that I had allowed to develop during September 2009 was down to my lack of foresight.  I blogged about this at the time.

As far as the bees were concerned, I knew that all seemed to be in order from the amount of pollen that was being brought in.  We have a large pussy willow tree (salix caprea var, I think) in the garden which yields masses of bright yellow pollen at exactly the right time of the year when brood is being reared and there's hunger for protein (from pollen).  This photo was taken on a gorgeous day in March just as the silvery grey buds were shining in the morning sunshine. The buds are just in the process of opening.

Back to the problem I had with a full brood box on top sitting over a shallow  super chamber with only 5 frames.  Wild comb in September had been built hanging off some of the higher up frames in the open spaces.  

The "surgery" involved lifting off the roof and, with the crownboard still in place, raising the complete brood box with frames (and bees) vertically upwards.  Jeez, what a weight!  Then my "hive surgeon" on her hands and knees cut out the vertical elongations of wild comb from the base of the frames and carefully placed them in a spare nucleus.  With the majority of these combs tidied up, I was able to lift the brood chamber back onto a spare temporary floor.  (A pair of trestles would have been helpful at this point). The air was pretty full of bees at this stage but all was calm.  

As Elva went through the cut away honeycomb for signs of her Majesty, I  removed the lower shallow super exposing the floor. I had to clear away quite a few dead bees from the open-mesh floor - the undertakers must have been busy!  All the time, I was hoping that the Queen would stay out of sight inside the dark recesses of the frames.  There were no practical precautions that I could think of to guarantee her safety absolutely - just being watchful and praying!  [I couldn't remove the upper frames individually because of the wild comb]. Photos were missed due to our both being occupied with lifting / cutting etc.

At this stage, with floor exposed, we could return the brood chamber to its rightful position above the floor.  So far, so good... stay calm.....

Next I went through the super frames sitting on a side stand.  These frames were mostly stores although there were signs of the odd egg meaning that the Queen had been here within the last 2 or 3 days. Still no sign of herself so it looked more likely that she was hiding somewhere safe.

Returning the shallow chamber onto the brood box, I decided against installing a Queen excluder at this stage.  I'll return to the hive in about a week when things will have settled after the major furniture rearrangement.  Unfortunately but unavoidably, a number of larvae at all stages were killed in the operation along with some eggs.  Now therefore, if the Queen is alive and well, and not traumatised or killed by the surgery, I will now be in the position to carry out normal frame manipulations again.  A good lesson to have learnt but one that I could have done without!

The only upset during the whole episode was poor Elva getting stung through her rubber gloves. 

To compensate for the lack of photos I've added a few of our spring-time flora from around our garden apiary.

Close-up of pussy willow before opening.  This tree has been a fantastic source of pollen during March and April although it is just about over now (11/04).

 The snowdrops are now finished although they bring a friendly cheer to the garden before the daffodils arrive to herald the true start of spring.  They're meant to be bee-friendly although we only have the odd clump at present.

Catkins of the salix contorta tree (twisted willow).

Freddy adopting his usual pose of indifference!

When working at the hive, these guys have learned to keep their distance.

As things get back to normal and garden jobs are less hectic to coordinate with full-time work, I should be able to get back to some semblance of regular bee blogging!

I'm interested if anyone else has had a similar problem and how they approached it.  I guess that there is argument that it would have been better to have waited longer for a time when drones were about.  This would have allowed a new Queen to have been reared and mated should I have accidentally killed the current one.  What do you think?  I guess time will tell.


Kat said...

I can not help you in the Bee department, but I was glad to read your post as always. You have been missed. I love your dogs. And the pussy willow! I have not seen one of those in a long, long time.

Cliff W said...

Thanks Kat.

Barbara's Spot on the Blog said...

Hi Cliff. I've been so busy I got behind on blog reading so I'm playing catch up. Also our weather turned cold today - the furnace is on at the moment and there was light snow falling, although not the kind that stays.
Both my hives have produced drones - I've seen one from each hive, so not a great number.

I think dealing with the problem early is good before the bees get going too much more on that wild comb. If the queen got lost they would make their own from an egg or new larva. Worst case scenario would be to purchase a queen from a breeder.
I remember this scenario from last fall and the debate on what to do. I'm sure it'll be a great relief to have it cleaned up.
No apologies for the lack of photos. I too am finding I get too task oriented and by the time I remember the lack of picture taking the job is done and the hive closed up!

ngaio said...

Hi Cliff, nice to see you back in the land of the living !! Autumn here with life slowing down and alot cooler !

Kenzie said...

Cliff - I miss you posts! Let us know how you and your bees are getting on!