I went to check on the bees this morning. I wanted to make sure that the queens had been released from their cages (the workers eating through the candy cork). If they had not been released yet, I was planning on releasing them myself. I wanted to bother the bees as little as possible, so I wasn’t planning on doing a full inspection.
Wen I got there this morning, the landowner said small entrance I had set up seemed to be causing some problems. There seemed to be a traffic jam problem, especially during the middle of the day. I went ahead and opened the entrances up to their next setting. Instead of a roughly single file entrance, they now have a little over an inch (and 3/8″ tall). Hopefully it will be a reasonable balance in size. I’ll keep an eye out for signs of robbing though.
I realized that I still have not named the hives. Since I am going to be talking about them now, I need some way to refer to them. For now, they will be “#1” and “#2”. Pretty generic, but it will have to do for now. I want to be able to distinguish them, as much for my benefit as anyone else’s. If you have any suggestions for names, I’m open to that. 🙂
I named them the way I did because for some reason I always start by working on the one on the right first.
When I opened up #1, I started by removing the top-bars closest to the follower board. I was startled at first by the lack of bees when I looked in. For a moment I was worried something bad had happened. As I mentioned last time, after I dumped the bees in they spread out and covered all the walls. When I closed the hive up, there was a blanket of bees covering the whole inside. You almost couldn’t see any wood. Its silly, but I unconsciously expected the same when I opened it up again. Instead they were all clumped together, hanging from the top-bars near the queen cage (which was not visible when I first removed the back top-bar). The bees were doing exactly what they should have been doing, festooning and hopefully building comb. I removed a couple of the bars at the back, and then started moving the remaining bars to the back until I got the the bar containing the queen cage. There were bees festooning on top-bars before the queen cage, but no comb yet. There was however comb at the queen cage. The cage was also completely hidden by bees. Here is what it looked like after I removed the cage from the top-bar. Most of the bees were removed while I tried to get the queen cage free.
As you can see, they built comb from the queen cage. With enough bees removed however, I could clearly see bees entering an leaving the cage. The candy was gone and the queen was free! I hated to remove the fruits of the bees labor, but I couldn’t see a good way of returning this burr comb to them. With the queen cage remove, I could see that there was a pretty good sized comb built on the next top-bar, but I didn’t disturb them. I also forgot to take a picture, sorry. There may be more comb between there and the entrance, I’m not sure. I set the burr comb aside and put all the top-bars back in place. I also opened the back of the hive (behind the follower board) to check on the feeders. It looked like there were some bees stuck back there, and a few dead ones. In order to avoid trapping bees back there, I decided to simply move the feeder back, leaving a larger hole for bees to access the feeder (and get to the hive). Hopefully this will work fine. I added more syrup before putting the feeder back. There were also some ants, so I may want to find a way to stop them before I come back again (maybe oil or water in cans for the legs to stand in).
After closing up hive #1 completely, I moved on to hive #2. Everything was almost the same. The queen was definitely free. They had used a little more syrup and built slightly less burr comb from the queen cage, but there wasn’t much difference. I didn’t see any ants which was good. I spilled some syrup putting the feeder back though, and that might attract them. I will probably also do here whatever I do at hive #1 to discourage ants. By this point, my gloves were a mess. There was syrup stored in the burr comb, and it got all over my gloves. I closed up hive #2, gathered my stuff, and headed back to my car. I took the burr comb from both hives with me to look at away from the hives. I also figured my 4 year old daughter would be interested in them. At the car, I took off my bee jacket and veil and could look at the comb better. There was syrup stored, a few cells with pollen in them, and best of all, eggs! Not only were both queens free, they were both laying. There were only a few eggs in the comb, but they were there! The eggs were also one per cell and roughly centered in the cell, all good signs for my queens.
When I got home I got the combs out to take pictures and showed my wife and daughter. My wife quickly noticed something I hadn’t seen. Its not in focus and when I took it outside to take a picture in the sun, it ran off the comb.
Is that a Varroa mite? It seems to be a little different in shape from the picture on Wikipedia but thats still my guess. Whatever it was, it ran fast for such a small thing. It was too small to be any type of tick I have seen. If its a Varroa mite, thats bad news. Not really unexpected, but bad none the less.
Edit: I posted the picture of the bug on Beesource, the thread is here. After some of the comments and a little more searching on the web I am pretty sure its not a Varroa mite. I think it is instead some type of predatory mite (who shouldn’t bother the bees at all). I am sure I do have Varroa mites, but I just haven’t seen them yet.
Here are the two burr combs. The one from hive #1 is on the left, and hive #2 on the right.
Here are some closeups to show the eggs. (I was so happy to see them 😛 ) The picture of the second comb is not as good, but trust me, those are eggs.
Just for the heck of it, I wanted to know what size cells my bees were building. Normally, if bees have come from hives with normal foundation, they need to go through a regression process before they build small cell comb. Actually, I guess I am going for natural comb, not small cell…whatever. 😛 Having the camera so close distorts the image a little I think. I measured 6 cells at 31 mm on both combs. That gives me 5.17 mm cells? (4.9mm is commonly considered small cell).