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I don’t mean to drone on, but…

hive inspections 4.0 and 5.0

Sting count:  0 (the question we’re most often asked: have we been stung yet?  Nope!)
Spot the queen? Negative
Eggs and Larvae? Some
Pollen and Nectar? Low
Combs inspected: all

We finally were able to do our 5th hive inspection today during some nice, warm weather after the long-lived deluge that Calgary has been experiencing. The idea behind waiting for good weather is so that you do the inspection while a lot of the foraging bees are away from the hive (less bees to upset) and that you catch them in a not-too-irritable mood after being cooped up in the hive on a rainy or cold day.

The hive was buzzing with activity and we were able to go through each comb.  It was definitely a different situation today than during our last hive inspection on July 12th.  During the last inspection, we were again a few days late after waiting for rain to subside and caught the bees after work while most were on their way in for the evening.  We got to look at about half of the combs until the bees were buzzing quite loudly and dive-bombing us.  Still no stings, but we decided that we’d stop and close it up rather than anger them.  Unfortunately we didn’t come across the queen during our half inspeciton. There were tons of new larvae and pollen stores, though and some of the combs were extremely heavy! We had a friend helping us out and were able to send him home with a few pictures of him holding a comb full of bees.  Not your average activity when you’ve got house guests, I suppose!

This time around, the bees were very calm and we didn’t even have much of an onslaught by the dive-bombing guard bees.  A few new combs have been made and we saw some capped and uncapped brood, but the combs that we pulled out were very very light, especially compared to how heavy they were the last time we were in there.  The nectar and pollen stores look pretty low, which may be due to the fact that the bees haven’t been able to forage in a week or so – we imagine that they’ve been needing their stores.  We are in for some nicer weather, so we will be watching through the observation window to see if they are able to fill these combs in over the next few days.

Even as we made our way into the brood nest, the combs felt very light.  I imagine that a lot of the brood that we’ve seen capped in the last few inspections have now hatched and hence the comb is lighter – it would be more reassuring though to see a lot of new brood, which we didn’t during this inspection.

Drone bee on the comb. Click to enlarge.

We did see something new this time, however… drones!  Looking for the queen, we came across tons of very strange looking bees.  They are a lot bigger than the worker bees and have these massive, shiny eyes!  Not only are they bigger, but they are beefier too.  The baby drones are pretty small and skinner than the baby worker bees we see, but you can pick them out pretty easily by their enormous peepers!  It made looking for the queen much more difficult this time, given that our new bee peepers are trained just to look for a “bigger bee” and we’re now confronted with tons of bigger bees on each comb in the brood nest.

Drones are the male bees and hatch out of cells that are covered with a large rounded cap that look like tiny bullets lined up on the comb.  Their eggs can be laid by either an unfertilized queen or by worker bees, so they actually only have one parent!  The drones hang out in the hive eating honey and pollen and taking the occasional stroll in the neighbourhood to stretch their wings, but as their tongues are too short to drink nectar from flowers and their legs don’t have the necessary apparatus to gather pollen, they return empty handed and hungry.  A.I.Root et. al in the ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture mention that a drone could very well starve in a field full of clover!  Defenseless and all but helpless, they don’t even have a stinger to protect themselves. While they don’t contribute to the hive, the do have one very important function – to mate with queens!  Once that’s completed (more on this later), they die! And if they choose to kick back and hang out in the hive living the cushy life, the worker bees will eventually push them out of the hives to meet their doom.

We were disappointed that we didn’t see the queen and there hasn’t been a huge amount of new larvae to indicate her vitality in the hive.  We did come across two combs that have been drawn across one bar and a spacer and so hopefully she’s hanging out in between those two combs that we weren’t able to separate… this is the one place we saw a fair bit of new larvae.

A few of our current concerns:

  •  we may have also met a second new visitor in the hive – the pernicious varroa mite.  We haven’t seen them on any bees per se, but we did see four or five little red dots crawling on the tops of the top bars… and they do especially like to incubate in drone cell larvae.  With the recent hatching of so many drones, it would make sense that we’re seeing our first mites.  Sad, but inevitable in this day and age of mass agricultural pesticides.  We can only hope that our bees will be strong enough to live with their mite burdens.
  • most combs were very light. Is this from a lot of brood hatching?  Our hive has tripled in size since we installed it.  Or could be because the massive amount of rain and cool weather these days? It has kept the bees inside and they would have to rely on the little stores they did have gathered in the first few weeks of the summer. We’re looking forward to some good weathered days to give them a chance to get out and bring new supplies back to the hive.

All in all, the hive seems healthy and reasonably productive. We opened the rest of the hive up so that they now have the full length to start building in and put an extra bar into the brood nest to ensure that they don’t become “honey-bound”.

Until next time in a couple of weeks!

Any thoughts?

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5 comments on “I don’t mean to drone on, but…

  1. Nice photos. It doesn’t look like you have an open mesh floor? That’s useful for helping reduce varroa mite numbers. I usually treat for varroa using Apiguard (a thymol thyme based treatment) in August once supers are off and the weather’s still warm.

    If the weather doesn’t change soon you might want to start feeding with sugar syrup, just to be on the safe side.

    • Thanks for the advice, Emily. We don’t have a mesh floor in this hive (it was built based on the plans from Backyard Bees and the Golden Mean Hive) but I would like to include one in the second one we build (even for some extra ventiliation when it gets hot). I hope the bees will do alright with the mites, we’ve had them for two months now and this was the very first evidence we’ve seen.

      Thankfully we’ve had a nice string of 4 or 5 hot days since this inspection and the bees are back and busy as ever!

      • Glad you’ve had some nice weather and the bees are doing well again!

        Btw you won’t usually see varroa mites on the bees unless you have a bad infestation. During the active seasons of spring and summer most of the mites are busy breeding in the brood cells. When a female varroa mite enters an uncapped brood cell she hides under the brood food, where she can’t be seen, until the cell is capped.

        • Hi Emily, the good weather has been great for the bees. I hope that they are busy refilling their comb! I’m sadly accepting the reality that we’ll have to be on the guard against varroa – I’m hoping that if they can get through the season that our cold winters would help to keep them under control?

          • Cold winters will mean there’s less likely to be brood in the hive, which will help keep numbers down… there’ll still be some of the nasty critters stuck on the backs of your adult bees though. At my local apiary we usually treat with Oxalic acid once in mid winter, to hit the adult mites while they’re vulnerable.

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