Thursday, July 7, 2011

Hive Check: Week 7

After my weekly public hive inspection at the Added Value Community Farm in Red Hook, I headed up to my rooftop apiary in Fort Greene carrying a pair of extra hive bodies, plenty of frames and a bunch of foundation.


As I hypothesized last week, the influx of queen and brood pheromones from the activity of the new queen (Esmeralda) in Hive #1 resulted in some gangbuster comb building. Unfortunately, a lot of it is in the space under the feeder.

Brace comb all up in my business.

After removing all the brace comb (and feeding it to a photographer that tagged along for the day), I started flipping through the frames. They're up to working 8 of the 10 frames in the original deep hive body I installed them in, which is excellent. According to the '7/10ths rule', which suggests giving bees a new hive body/frames when they have drawn out 7 of the 10 frames in the newest box, they are more than ready for a little extra room. The large amount of brace comb built under the suggests the same thing. Bees want to build vertically rather than out to the side, so you will often see them build up wherever they can (usually in an inconvenient manner) and neglect the outer frames.

Not low on stores, no sir.

After you give them a new hive body and they start drawing out comb, you can start shuffling the frames in the original box and move the undrawn outer frames a few spaces closer to the center. This will encourage the bees to draw them out, but be sure not to put frames of undrawn foundation between ones that contain brood of any age (eggs/larvae/pupae). You don't want to break up the brood nest in a young colony! Ideally, you should move the unworked foundation between two combs that are fully drawn out and which contain stores of (un)capped honey and/or pollen.

A frame of newly capped brood.  I seem to make this pose a lot.

Esmeralda, the new queen of Hive #1, is absolutely fantastic. That frame and a half of eggs/larvae I saw last week are now a frame and a half of capped brood, surrounded by several frames of eggs and larvae of all ages. Her laying pattern is perfect; solid, circular, and prolific. I sure do hope that this hive doesn't decide to supersede her as well. That would be lame.

Eggies, so fresh!

As this new queen was freely mated in Brooklyn, I have no idea what the genetic makeup of her offspring will be. Unlike queens from commercial producers, who flood their breeding yards with drones of known/specific/desired genetics, Esmeralda mated in the jungle that is Brooklyn with "wild" drones. The drones she mated with may have come from feral colonies living in hollow trees or the walls and attics of homes in the surrounding area. They might have come from the hive of a neighboring beekeeper. They could have any sort of genetics; Italian, Carniolan, Russian, or hybrid!

While the queen herself is Italian in terms of her genotype/phenotype (her genetic makeup/her physical characteristics), I won't have any idea about who she has mated with until the new bees start to emerge.


It's risky; I have no idea what the temperament or behavior of the new bees will be. They could be docile and productive, they could be cranky and lazy, or they could be anywhere in between. Many people prefer not to risk the unknown and immediately replace any supersedure queens with commercial ones, but I've decided to let them do their thing and see how it goes. If the next couple of brood cycles come out terrible I WILL requeen, but only as a last resort. I like the concept of using (and sharing) locally bred and adapted bees, so I have an interest in seeing if such bees are a practical option, especially considering the shortage of quality bees and queens this year due to the terrible weather in the American South.

We'll see.

Tasty new foundation.

Hive #2 is still doing it's (somewhat slow) thing. Brood is still spotty and they're slower about building comb, but it does seem to be ramping up. They finally started work on their 7th frame, so they aren't quite ready for a second hive body, but they might be next week. I've been wondering if it is possible that their poor brood pattern may be the result of a dearth of high quality protein, so I think that I am going to start feeding the colony fresh pollen and see if the situation improves. The hives were started out with pollen patties and the brood pattern in Hive #2 was originally pretty tight. While Hive #1 doesn't seem to have the problems that this one does, I haven't seen much stored pollen in either of the hives.


It certainly can't hurt!

I brought a deep/frames/foundation for Hive #2 as well, but they didn't need it so I stored it on top of the feeder rather than carrying it back down the ladder.

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