Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Second Harvest...more coming?!?

A week after the fact, let's talk about the second harvest.  John and I were both excited and apprehensive about pulling the honey out of this set of supers.  This hive houses our Sicilians, after all! 

For those of you just joining this blog, the Sicilians came to us as a replacement hive for our queenless Carniolans.  They've been productive and they've done what bees do, but these girls are agressive!  We initially purchased two breeds of bees, the Carniolans and another hive of Italians.  Originally hailing from (you guessed it) Italy and the Mediterranean region, the Italian breed is by far the most popular for beekeepers and has been for about 200 years or so.  They are loved for their quick population buildup in the spring, large production and generally mild temperment.  The Carns are almost as popular.  They are a bit darker than the Italians, populate with nectar flow instead of ramping up right away, don't rob other bees (Italians are a bit notorious for that), produce honey well and are very gentle.  To give you a quick idea on the gentle factor, despite numerous hive manipulations that included dumping every bee out of the hive unceremoniously (I believe that is described in the "Salvation Hurts" post), neither John nor I have been stung by the Carns.  Our first Italian hive has stung me twice and John once. 

But those Sicilians.  Can they be similar?  Oh, no.  They have to teach us about dealing with an aggressive hive.  We named them the Sicilians for their desire to put a hit out on us nearly every time we open the hive.  Fortunately, they are a bit Jeckyll and Hyde, sometimes being calm, sometimes going nuts and attacking the hive tool.  These are the girls that hit me 12 times in one day, 11 of those stings occuring so fast that I only felt three or four.  So, we were a bit nervous.

To deal with our testy mavens of sometime misery, we pulled a frame, knocked most of them off into the overturned top cover, and sprayed them with a sugar water mix that has the probiotic kombucha in it.  We have to be careful with using the spray as we don't want the kombucha or the sugar water to infiltrate the honey harvest as it puts a foreign substance into the mix, quite a way to reverse our organic desires!

In pulling out the frames, which the Sicilians are quite good at bonding to the frames from the upper hive body, they got a little riled.  They buzzed both of us incessantly, attacked the tools, followed us about fifty feet away from the hive (much farther than even the most agressive Italians from the first hive), and stung John about five times.  Surprisingly, despite me pulling almost all the frames out, the girls never stung me.  Again, I go back to my Jekyll and Hyde comparison.  But there may be an easy explanation.

Once a bee stings you, it releases an "attack" pheremone that the other bees target on.  The Africanized honey bees get hyper-focused on this pheremone and follow the target for up to a mile, gladly sacrificing themselves for the cause.  This trait leads to their so-called "killer bee" status, even though victims rarely die, albeit they do get stung upwards of 100 times on less than rare occasions.  Africanized honey bees do deserve their reputation of being super bullies!  John and I have come to believe that our Sicilians have a tiny bit of this trait in their genes.  In talking about it, John became a bit of a pheremone-covered sacrificial lamb for me, giving the Sicilians something else to focus on besides me.  I can't say that I'm not thankful about that!

We received the Sicilians about 3 weeks after the first two hives, so the first Italians have had 21 extra days to build up their population and had good conditions to do it in.  The Sicilians have not slacked on production, though!  While the super was not nearly as full of honey, they did an admirable job in playing catchup.  We harvested six out of the nine frames in the super and returned five on the advice that less will equal more.  Our guess is that the bees build deeper cells and therefore can collect more honey.  That said, it was still a good harvest with an estimated 15 or so pounds of honey (I've revised my estimates from the original harvest and think we got 20-25 lbs).

A last note on the harvest: there is more coming.  The 1st Italians have already built up significant comb on the frames John emptied.  We don't expect nearly as much, but flowers are still in bloom and the weather is nice, so nectar is still flowing and bees are still gathering!

A note on our underdog hive 
The Carniolans will die.  There is no way, at their current population level, they can over winter successfully.  Not only are they too low in numbers, their spirit had dwindled and the queen hadn't laid an egg in several days by the time we did the inspection after the harvest.  We saw several larvae, but the youngest was about four days old, judging by size.  They also have eaten maybe six ounces of sugar water in the two or three weeks since we last filled it. 

Our next question is what to do with them in a way that doesn't foul the hive.  I am concerned that we might not be able to use the components within the hive if they die on us "without notice," yet am unwilling to bring about their demise as I remember what I felt when I tried and succeeded in getting rid of the drone-laying worker.  I don't think it's a wise idea to introduce the larvae into either of the other hives as it might mess with the population balance as they wind down for the season.  So, any plans are on hold at the moment.  Sometimes, "wait and see" is the way to go.