Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sheesh...been too long!

The season went well!  Two out of our three hives survived, flourished even.  The Carniolans completely disappeared at the last inspection we did of them.  When I carcked open the hive, all I found was a couple of bees scraping the last drops of honey or bits of bee bread (a pollen-honey mixture that the bees use for protein storage), a couple of earwigs that quickly met their untimely demise, and a few wax moth larvae. 

The last was the most depressing as they wreaked carnage upon some of the frames.  The moth itself is a dark grey moth that looks pretty much like any other moth.  It lays its eggs in bee hives, hoping the bees are too weak to fend off the moth and its larvae.  Once the eggs hatch, the larvae eat their way through the wax leaving a path of destruction not disimilar to what a town looks like after a tornado crashes through it.  The larvae spin a web-like substance that only heightens the effect as it's cast about through the wrecked comb.

A moth infestation (and even one larva can look like an infestation) is a sign of a weak hive...or nonexistent one in the case of the Carns.  The moths are comparitavely large and easy to detect when they attempt to intrude into a hive.  If the bees are in good spirits by being queenright and have a good population, a wax moth has not chance of getting in, much less laying eggs.  The Carns lacked both of the above traits.  The queen we purchased had a penchant for laying two eggs in a cell (often a sign of a drone laying worker), something that dooms both eggs as they won't have enough room to grow.  It's impossible to tell why she did this.  It could have been she never perfected the single egg drop (i.e., she was defective), or it could be that she was so stressed by a lack of workers that she was just shoving her abdomen in a cell and laying willy nilly.  Or it could be something completely different.  Either way, the Carns will be missed but we learned a lot from their time with us. 

Next time we run into that problem--that a queen appears to be out of the picture--we know that we must act more quickly to get the hive requeened.  We discovered over the summer a couple of ways to do this.  One is to manipulate the frames by slicing off the bottom of a comb in a sort of jagged pattern to help induce the workers into creating queen cells (something that can be done in a queenright hive to breed extra queens on purpose).  Another is to buy a queen quickly and get her introduced fast.  Her pheremones, assuming she is accepted, will turn off the drone laying worker's or workers' reproductive organs.  Thus, we could have prevented that kill off that I pereptrated in the early stages of our requeening attempts (see the "How Salvation Hurts" post from June).

What it came down to was a problem with PPB.  This ailment doesn't infect the bees, but the beekeeper, which affects the bees.  PPB is a curable ailment, requiring two things: the desire to be a good steward to the bees and a bit of knowledge.  PPB is a beekeeper's affectionate term for being a lousy bee keeper: it stands for piss poor beekeeping.  One could argue that John and I were just naive and unlearned brand new beekeepers.  However, when it came to the kill-off, it didn't feel like a good idea at all and I should have decided against it.  But at the time it was our only option, or seemed so.  We didn't know that you could try to requeen it as is.  We didn't think about adding them to the second Italian hive to boost their population and, therefore, production.  For me, it all came down to not exhausting the research and knowledge base out there.  That last is one of the simplest cures for PPB.

One last thing about the learning curve.  Another thing that we learned is that going foundationless with deep supers has certain ramifications.  On my last inspection of the hives about three weeks ago, both Italians were obviously doing very well.  As normal, I started with the Sicilians to prevent too much aggression.  Didn't work.  They got pretty "in my face" pretty quickly.  I swear they have African roots some days!  (Look for a post about the recent arrival of Africanized honey bees in Georgia soon.)  I pulled out a few frames of from the top super and they were loaded with honey.  As they were getting mightily ticked off and I had seen enough to know they would do well over the winter, I buttoned them up and wished them well.

The first Italians were so docile initially that I started wondering if they had a a problem.  but as I popped off the inner cover and peaked in, they were as busy as bees should be and looked in good form.  And here's where the learning curve comes in: the first frame I removed was one of our foundationless (the Sicilian frames that I puled out were all foundationed frames that came with their nuc) and the bottom bar had been pretty well attached to the frame below it.  Hence, the bottom bar came half undone, pulling itself halfway out of the frame.  "No problem," I thought.  "I'll just knock off some of the girls and pound the bottom bar back in."  The comb was fully laden with capped honey and weighed a good seven pounds or so.  I tapped and brushed most of the girls off and flipped it over to reattach the bar.  As soon as I had it upside down, the fragile comb collapsed on itself.  The bees start the comb from the top bar and then build it down, attaching it to the sides and bottom once it's fully built out.  Without the bottom bar securing it and the jostling that I did to it to get the frame out, the comb lost its footing and, well, crapped out on me.  So, we got an extra bit of comb honey and the Italians suddenly sounded like the Sicilians.  As soon as the comb collapsed, I heard the hive go into a bit of an uproar.  I felt horrible about it, but realized that if this outside frame was fully loaded, they had more than enough honey to get through the winter.  So I returned the belatedly fixed frame, spaced them and buttoned them up.

So, I can't wait to start our top bar hive project, the subject of the next post!  In that post, I'll tell you how this little incident will be (almost) completely avoided with the different hive design.