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Drone Layer

Worried about the presence of drone cells and absence of worker cells a couple weeks back, I went into the hives to see what was up. As I feared, Hive 1 still had only drone cells. Fortunately, Hive 2 had a healthy laying of workers.

For comparison, take a look at the picture on the left and the picture in the middle. The picture on the left are Hive 1 drone cells, you can tell because they’re larger and bullet-shaped. You can even see some drones struggling to climb out into the world, just their heads emerging. The picture in the middle are worker cells from Hive 2, flat capped and a good, solid laying pattern. The picture on the right shows some eggs and larva (the little white lines, at the bottom of the cells on the right are eggs, the white grubs in the other cells are larva).
Beekeeping 2006 157 Beekeeping 2006 191 eggs

Julie had suggested that the problem might be a virgin queen, and that I should be able to tell the difference because a virgin queen would be more slender and move quicker. I found the queens in both hives and snapped some pictures, but I’m not sure I can really tell the difference. Hive 1′s queen is on the left, Hive 2′s on the right (look for the white dot).

virgin queen fertilequeen

Anyway, I called up Jim at Beez Neez and asked him what up. He apologized, said that I must have a drone layer (well, duh!) and that if I popped up there Tuesday, he’d give me a replacement queen.

Problem is, it’s already pretty deep into the laying season, so the bees that came with the original queen may be nearing the end of their lifespan, so there’s a danger there may be a population crash if the new queen can’t turn around a new generation fast enough. He recommended I swap over a frame of brood from Hive 2 to shore up Hive 1 in the meantime.

So that’s the plan for Tuesday: pick up new queen, kill old queen, swap in a frame of brood, crack a PBR and await fecundity.

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Suck it

Noticed this cool item on Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools, looks like it could come in handy:

extractor_web.pngSeveral years ago I was rafting through an isolated gorge that separates Mexico and Guatemala…at least several days away from the nearest medical facilities. We carried The Extractor for snake bites. A friend was bitten by a flying bug. Her arm immediately began to swell up. She was in intense, burning pain. We attached the extractor over the bite, with its largest cup…Several drops of foul brown liquid were drawn from her arm. Almost immediately her pain dissipated. I have used this tool many times since then on simple bee stings on my children — their pain leaves almost immediately.

Anyone tried it? Tell you what. I’ll spring for the $20 it costs on Amazon, we’ll get you stung and try it out.

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Flippyhead

We here at Hive Mind would like to give brief props to this past week’s guest apiarist, Peter “Flippyhead” Brown. After being safely sealed in Michelle’s Bee Wrangler bee suit and giving a hearty thumbs up to the camera man (aka, Peaboy, in the green veil), Peter dove fearlessly into the hive, getting himself a close-up look at those drone cells I talked about in the last post.

OK, not totally fearlessly:

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Droning

Often, I try to imagine how I must appear to my bees. For some reason, despite their teeny nervous system and inconsequential little brains, I find myself desperate for their approval, like some little boy on the playground, awkwardly trying to include himself in a game being played by 10,000 girls…with stingers.

For solace, I occasionally do things that I think will somehow promote my image in the hive as a benevolent god. Saturday was one such instance.

As you may remember, last week I put in five frames of somewhat moldy old comb into the hives, with the intention that they would clean them out and make them hospitable again. They seemed to be a doing a decent job of it, as I could see little piles of moldy wax and hardened pollen stacked outside their little doorway. But it’s a lot of work for them to haul out each piece of wax individually, so I thought I’d just exercise my monumental power as a 5’6″ human male and, with a single sweep of my massive hand, clean out the garbage that would otherwise take them a week or more to haul (or so I imagined).

Beekeeping 2006 111As you can see in the picture to the right, it really wasn’t such a big deal. They’d hauled out most of the debris themselves, and had a nice path around their little doorway (top right), but still I felt good clearing out the rest of the gunk you see (flecks of mold and wax). I checked the old frames and they had most of the grossness cleaned off it, just some areas on the outer edge they hadn’t gotten to yet.

There was one unpleasant suprise, however. As you can see in the picture below, there was quite a few drone cells (identifiable by their tall, bullet-shape) on one of the frames. Drones are males and are distinguished from their female counterparts both by their slightly larger size and by their total and complete lack of ability to do anything productive beyond getting busy with a queen from a different hive, after which they die immediately (giving new meaning to the phrase petit mort). That’s it, that’s all they do.

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Now, typically, you’ll get many fewer males then females in a hive (see one of my older posts for a curious mathematical fact on this topic), which is good because, as noted above, the males are really lazy, and there’s a lot of work to do. So, seeing a huge frame of drone brood (easily identifiable by their taller, bullet-shapped cells) is a sign that something’s wrong.

Here’s another little oddity of the bee’s reproductive process: a queen bee can lay workers (females) or drones (males). Worker bees, however, while they can lay eggs, typically don’t, and, if they do, can only lay drones.

You might see lots of drone cells if there is either no queen (the workers will start laying eggs in a last ditch attempt to keep the hive going) or a virgin queen (queens will screw a ton of drones over a period of days, and keep their sperm stored up for years, doling it out to their eggs as needed, but can’t lay females until then).

This obviously had me a bit worried, so I rooted through a few of the frames until I found the queen, wobbling around on the third frame from the end. She’s usually tough to find, but the little spot of white paint they put on her back (below) is handy for picking her out.

queen

So my best guess is that she’s a virgin (like the rest of us, I suppose). According to Julie, virgin queens will have a thinner abdomen then, what would you call them…slutty queens. Maybe one of the more experienced beekeepers that occasionally pass through this blog could take a look at the picture above and tell me whether she’s virgin or…more experienced?
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Burrilliant

This weekend was the one week mark for the two new colonies in their new home, so Michelle and I cracked ‘em open to see how things were going. For Michelle, this was her first opportunity to actually work one on one with the bees (I took camera duty), and, more importantly, to show off her new “Bee Wrangler” bee jacket for the blogging public. Ladies and gentleman, may I introduce Seattle’s newest apiarist, Michelle Dana Schwartz [applause]. Go on, sweetheart, take a bow:

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Anyhoo, enough of that girl, back to 10,000 or so other girls this blog is focused on. Short story is, all’s well. They sucked down the gallon or so of sugar syrup that we had given them last week, which is a good thing, because they’ve got lots of work to do. Here are a few quick photos of Michelle opening up the hive and making sure the queen got out of her cage OK (mmm…marshmallows). The blurry one on the right is a frame of wax that they’ve begun to work. It’s not a great photo, but you can see how the honeycomb pattern is a higher in the middle: that’s what they’ve been up to this week, drawing out the wax into a proper honeycomb structure so the queen has somewhere to lay her eggs and what have you.

Beekeeping 2006 063 Beekeeping 2006 064 Beekeeping 2006 066 Beekeeping 2006 075 drawn comb2

Something a bit more interesting happened in the second hive. As you can see in this photo below, rather than being satisfied with building up comb on the layer of foundation wax we so generously provided, the girls took it upon themselves to put on their own addition, adding a whole second layer attached to the first. This is called “burr comb” in the bee biz. Try that in conversation this week, you’re sure to impress your friends and co-workers (assuming your co-workers are hopeless bee nerds).
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It’s likely they did this because, as you may remember from last week’s entry, we only put in five frames instead of the usual ten. In the first hive, we placed the queen cage between frames two and three, but in the second hive we placed it between frames one and two. That led them to believe that the “center” of the hive (where the queen was) was closer to the end, so they built out beyond the first frame, rather than spending their time on the frames four and five (which were relatively untouched). I hope you’re taking notes, there’s going to be a quiz at the end.

Beekeeping 2006 101Earlier this week, I did as Jean instructed and left the moldy frames from last year out in the sun, then smelled the bag (Michelle drew the long straw on that one). Thankfully, it did not smell foul, so Michelle added the moldy but foulbrood-free frames from last year to the hives. The bees, Jean assured me, will industriously clean the frames of all mold and make themselves a nice home. I checked back this morning, and it appears she’s right, as you can see in the picture to the right that they have begun to haul out debris.

Perhaps when they’re done, I’ll have them start on my attic.

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New RSS Feed

Sorry to get all geeky on you for a sec, but if you happen to be reading this blog via an RSS aggregator, please change the feed URL over to http://feeds.feedburner.com/hive-mind/beeblog. It helps me know if anybody is actually reading this.

If you don’t know and are curious, an RSS reader is a program that helps you keep track of blogs by automatically downloading the new posts and notifiying you, so you don’t have to visit the web site to find out if there’s anything new. I use FeedDemon.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

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