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The Long Lang

It’s been months since my last blog post, but that’s because it’s been the normal fall and winter goings-on: getting hives ready for winter; reading and research during the winter; early spring inspections. But now, something new and exciting to write about: a long Langstroth hive. Not just a top bar and not just a Lang, but a hybrid.

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I’ve been interested in a top bar set up for ages, but felt committed to the Lang because I have so much hardware already. All the experts said there’s just no good way to get bees from a Lang into a top bar. But my back was oh-so-tired of lifting heavy honey supers. I just knew there must be a way. Turns out I wasn’t the only one thinking along those lines. Rusty Burlew over at Honey Bee Suite wrote a blog post about a long Lang she called the Valhalla. And I found plans online from an apiary in Canada.

It took much longer to construct than I expected because I had to learn how to use some tools, especially the router. But after working on it off and on for several months, and with some help from my husband, I finally finished building it.

This long box holds 30 medium frames. It has a deep inner cover for extra congregation space. It also has a slatted rack and screened bottom board with slide out Varroa traps.

I painted it a bright yellow with cheery flowers along with the name of my little apiary: Happy Florence Bees.

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Today was moving day. I waited until a Saturday so Hial could take video and photos. It’s not easy to take photos while doing bee stuff, plus I always get honey and propolis on the camera.

I reverse-stacked the existing hive boxes and moved brood frames from the hive body and brood chamber first, opening the brood nest by just one frame at each end. There were seven frames of brood. They were of course pretty stirred up by the disassembly of their hive, with lots of unhappy buzzing. Then suddenly the tone changed to a calmer hum. They had found their queen and the brood nest was back together.

After getting all the frames arranged, I placed a long piece of burlap sacking across the top. This prevents exposing the entire hive during inspections.

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I went back a little while later and bees were going in and out through the entrance and none were clustered anywhere outside. Good signs they’re satisfied with their new home. Cooler weather is in the forecast, so hopefully they adjust the lateral arrangement quickly. I’ll leave them alone for a week to settle before checking on them.

If this hive is a success, I’ll build a deep version with some modifications of my own.

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A Lite Harvest from the FlowHive Super

After months and months and after harvesting almost 100 pounds from regular supers, I finally got a little honey from my FlowHive super. I didn’t have the full set-up, just the frames to collect honey stores. I put my FlowHive super on a strong hive in March, just before the first nectar flow. In Central Texas, the spring nectar flow can be really hit or miss, but this year was incredible. The hive with this super started as a double-queen set-up, then, when I separated the boxes in April, this hive was deep with a medium.

They quickly outgrew the deep and medium set-up, so I moved to a double deep and moved the queen excluder to below the medium. After the last of the brood hatched from the medium box of frames, I moved it ABOVE the FlowHive super. That was the first indication of what the bees thought of the this new contraption. They crawled through the FlowHive to store nectar in the super above it! And they filled that super at the tippy-top of the hive in a hurry too. But even when they ran out of space for nectar, they were reluctant to use the Flow frames and began backfilling the top deep frames instead.

Eventually, they did start putting a little nectar in the frames in early June. They even capped a bit, but before they filled a complete frame, they began moving the honey to other parts of the hive. I decided to pull the single remaining frame that was about 2/3 capped.

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I had already decided to remove the frames for harvesting, rather than harvesting at the hive. Lots of reasons: the hive didn’t tip back as specified in the instructions; I didn’t have long tubes to connect the drain tubes; and, despite their assurances that it wouldn’t disturb the bees and could be harvested without notice, I was dubious. Good thing I did! Harvesting was a mess.

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The wax fractured when I opened the cells

The wax didn’t remain intact, so instead of only running down the interior of the frames, it also oozed down the fractured wax. The drain tube also had a little leak. In my honey house, I had a pan under the frame and another under the tube connection. If I’d been at the hive, I would have rained honey down on my bees!

However, I did collect a full quart of honey from the partial frame. I’m going to try to collect some of the fall flow on another hive.

I doubt I’ll ever recoup the investment, and I’m glad I only bought the Lite version with four frames. I get a fair amount of ribbing from old-timers, but I really bought it to support innovators. After all, beekeepers used to use baskets to house bees and destroy hives to harvest honey every season until someone had a better idea.

 

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Minnesota Hygienic Queens and Varroa Control

I’ve been experimenting with different Integrated Pest Management approaches to controlling Varroa. I started using Oxalic Acid last year, and it’s pretty effective, but it has limitations.

Last month I tried creating an artificial brood break by caging the queen with a large push-in cage. The queens were supposed to stay confined for 12 days. The bees released them in 3 by removing the wax around the edges of the cage. So much for that idea.

Next I’m trying a strain of Italian bees that have been bred to be resistant. Minnesota Hygienics are not only supposed to be better at grooming and removing Varroa on bees in the hives (phoretic mites), they are also supposed to be able to detect when a Varroa is in a cell and removes the pupa infected.

I picked up three of these queens yesterday. I had already prepared the hives last week by removing the queens. This would give the hives a real brood break before the new queens were introduced. And I did a sugar roll to assess the mite levels before introducing the new queens so I can compare their effectiveness against Varroa.

However, when I opened the first hive, I found not only were there no emergency queen cells started, but there were eggs and tiny larvae present. I know I removed the queen, so how could there be eggs and larvae?

I got my magnifying glass to see if the eggs were centered and single. I really hoped I didn’t have a laying-worker hive in which a worker bee tries to lay eggs. No good could come from that. However, the eggs were centered in the cells and there was only one in each. So began the search for a laying queen.

Fortunately I found her pretty quickly and removed her. The hive will need at least a few hours to know she’s gone for sure, then I can introduce the new queen.

But the question remains: where did this queen come from? There’s been no evidence of supercedure, as I had recently checked that hive. I feel confident they didn’t start a queen before I removed their old one.

And they couldn’t have raised a new queen in the time since I removed their old queen. It’s only been 10 days. It takes 16-18 days for a queen to emerge and at least a week, usually longer, for her to mature and take her mating flights.

So, my best guess is a usurpation swarm. This is a small swarm of bees looking for a hive to invade. They sneak in a few at a time, kill the queen, and usher in their own. If one of these swarms happened by and discovered the hive was already queenless, that would be a bonus because they wouldn’t even have to remove an existing queen.

Whatever the case, I removed this mystery queen and will put in my new queen later today.

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Grafting Larva and Raising Queens

In May of this year, I attended a queen rearing workshop at the Texas A&M Honey Bee Lab, led by Dr. Juliana Rangel with Sue Cobey and Liz Walsh. Some of the workshop was above my beekeeping skills (like instrumentally inseminating a queen bee!), but much of it was very informative for my level. Sue Cobey confirmed my thoughts that seeding the local area with drones from my best hives will help spread good genetics throughout the area and combat the genetics we don’t want (like those unhappy Africanized bees). Have to be careful with that since lots of drones can lead to lots of Varroa, but that’s another story. You can see all of the photos from the workshop on my facebook page. For all the latest at my apiary, visit facebook.com/happyflorencebees. Like my page while you’re there.

In early June, I lost a new queen. She was there one week and gone the next. While I was disappointed at the loss (I had her shipped overnight from California, which costs a pretty penny), it did give me the opportunity to try my hand at grafting larva. In the past, when a hive needed a new queen, I would simply give them a frame of eggs and larva and let them do the rest. The results were usually good, but earlier this year I ended up with a drone-laying queen because the larva the hive used was too old. Grafting ensures the larva is the right age to develop into a queen.

On June 6, I chose a frame of young larva from a hive with a queen raised by another hive last fall. This queen has performed well: overwintering, calm temperament, and honey production are all good. Plus, they’ve done well at managing the Varroa. My new queen would have both feral genetics from local hives as well as from the Bee Weaver line.

Hial built a rack to support the frame while I was working, and in addition to the grafting tools, I bought a set of head-mount magnifying lenses so I could see what I was doing. I can see eggs with the naked eye, but not the first instar larva after they hatch (bee trivia: every 24 hours the larva makes a 360-degree rotation in its cell and sheds its exoskeleton for the next day of this metamorphic phase, which lasts about 5 days).

I tried both the Chinese grafting tool and the German grafting tool. The Chinese tool has a plastic tip, but it also has a little bamboo pusher that gently pushes the larva off the tip and into the cup. The German tool is all metal. After I got the hang of using the Chinese tool, I liked it better than the German tool, but the German tool was perfect for cutting the wax cell from around the larva.

I practiced lifting slightly larger larva first, so I could get the feel for using the tools. In doing so, I discovered cutting away the wax cell made lifting easier. I fumbled plenty, either scraping them up the side of the cell, not getting enough royal jelly, or just plain squishing them. But after a bit, I finally got the flow of lifting, scooping, and transferring the delicate larva. Fortunately, I had a work space in my new honey house where I could work with plenty of light.

I only needed one queen, but grafted 10 larva, knowing that most wouldn’t make it.

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Delicate work. It looks dark in the photo, but there was really lots of light.

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Wrapped and ready to install

I kept them covered with a damp paper towel to prevent them from desiccating. After grafting ten larvae and getting the bar into the frame, I wrapped it all with a damp towel and headed out to the queenless hive. This fit in with Lawrence Conner’s preferred queen rearing set-up, in which a well-populated but queenless hive is both cell builder and cell finisher. That prevented having to shake nurse bees from a donor hive to get the cells started and then transferring the started cells to another hive after a couple of days to finish the cells. My queenless hive was able to do both. If you want to learn more about Connor’s work, read his book, “Queen Rearing Essentials.”

I placed the frame of cells in the center of the hive and left it for several days. When I went back three days later, the bees had accepted three grafts and were building beautiful queen cells around them.

Rather than selecting which queen to keep or transferring cells to nucs, I left all the cells. The first queen to emerge would be the winner. I waited patiently until June 27 to start looking for eggs. There weren’t any yet. Waited some more…

I almost gave up, since a virgin queen should be able to take her first mating flight about 5 days after emerging from her cell and it had been longer than that already. But while I waited, I read on other beekeeping sites about the queen rearing calendar and tried to be patient.

Then on July 4, I saw what I was hoping for! Eggs and tiny larva. I had successfully raised a queen from grafted larva! I marked her a few days later.

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If all goes well with this queen and she has calm brood with good Varroa resistance, I may raise more queens next year from her rather than buying from an apiary.

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Spring Increase Hives

I’m experimenting with a new method of increasing my hives- new to me anyway. Traditionally a split is made to make a new hive by taking several frames or perhaps half, including both brood in various stages and food from a donor hive. The foragers removed will fly back to the donor hive. This method increases the number of hives, but decreases the population of the donor hive and aids in swarm prevention.

This year I’m focusing on increasing the strength and population of my hives and didn’t want to so significantly impact any one hive. But I did want to add a couple of hives to the apiary.

I first learned of this method in Increase Essentials, by Lawrence Connor. It involves taking two or three frames from multiple hives to make a new hive. The frames I select have lots of capped brood or pollen. Then I shake extra nurse bees into the new hive.

I used this method last week, taking three frames each from two hives. I shook lots of extra bees in before moving the new hive to another bee yard about 300 yards away. I added a feeder with light sugar syrup. I did this two days before picking up my queens from Bee Weaver apiary. Before installing the new queen, I did a quick check to remove any new queen cells. It seemed to work. I saw new foragers bringing in pollen and there were plenty of bees when I refilled the feeder three days after installing the queen. I peeked at the queen cage and she had been released, so I slipped the cage out without pulling any frames.

For a second new hive, I used three donor hives. I gave the new hive two frames from each hive, plus an extra frame of honey from a fourth hive. They’ll get a new queen in two days, this time shipped from Koehnen Apiaries in California.

While making my summer increase hives, I am requeening a couple of hives. I have two hives that have grown quite defensive. The worst of the two was requeened last week and other will be requeened in a couple of days.

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End of the Double-Queen Experiment

It was an intriguing idea: two queens, each confined to their own side of a hive, with the workers from both working cooperatively in brood care and honey production. And I think it still has potential. But there are some problems.

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1. The Hardware

Having all that wood pressed up close trapped moisture, which damaged the hive ware. One box developed a crack in a knot, another developed a slight bow along the top edge. The closeness also provided a perfect place for tiny black ants to trap dirt and start a little home.

I had difficulty getting both sides to be even, in fact they never did line up along the top edges just right. And the queen excluder was a bit wider than the super above it, which meant the migratory covers covering half of each side didn’t fit tightly against the super. I tried filling the space with weather stripping, but it didn’t take long for the bees to chew it away.

2. Inspections

Every inspection was a big disruption to both sides. It took some quick moving to get the side I didn’t want to inspect completely covered so that side’s queen couldn’t wander over to the other side. But a second migratory cover was too wide to cover the space, so I had to cut a piece of scrap wood.

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The challenge of inspecting would be perfectly tolerable if both sides were calm. One side is quite calm. The other side is not. I dreaded having to go into their side, which meant I dreaded inspecting any of it at all. I’m keeping bees because I enjoy it. And when I don’t enjoy it, it becomes a chore, a task, something I want to avoid. So it was time to change that.


I’m not saying I won’t try this experiment again. I think I would enjoy it if both sides were calm. But the hardware issue needs to be examined before I use this setup again. The original double-queen hive involves a brood chamber at the bottom and another at the top with the shared supers between them and two queen excluders to confine the queens top and bottom. An upper entrance would certainly be required, otherwise the drones would be trapped and the workers unable to remove them when they died.

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For now, the two hives have been separated. I will requeen the more defensive side in a couple of weeks.

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Double-Queen: One Month Learning Curve

I’ll say this about this behemoth hive: inspections are intense. I did a full inspection on April 2 and learned trying to do both in one day stirred them up too much. And the two halves have developed a Jekyll and Hyde character. Both halves have queens I raised last year. One side is docile and sweet. The other side is not. In fact, they were so agitated and defensive at the beginning of April, they followed me all the way back to the house and flew around looking for targets of their ire for a good 30 minutes. Unfortunately, some contractors who’ve been working on a project for us showed up unannounced just as I was finishing. I had to put veils on them so they could work.

After that April 2 inspection, I decided not to try to do them both in the same day again. And I’ve made some changes in my approach.

The first inspection modification I’ve made is to cut a piece of board to fit the exposed half of the hive I’m not planning to inspect. That keeps them cozy and not as aware of my work with their neighbor. As soon as I remove the queen excluder, I slip the board into place.

The second modification is to remove the brood chamber and set it on a bottom board and immediately place an inner cover with a bee escape over the deep hive body. Again, that keeps the bees in the other box less aware of my presence and prevents the queen from moving from box to box. I had been unable to find her in the last two checks because there are so many bees and she’s been on the run from the smoke.

This time I saw my queen. This was a relief because it seemed like the demeanor of the hive had changed so much, I thought I might have had a usurpation swarm of Africanized bees invade before I had set up this double-queen system.

You might wonder how I would come to suspect such a thing. It’s because in early March I did catch a usurpation swarm preparing to invade another hive  (the other half of this set up, as it so happens). It was shortly before a severe storm (tornado included) moved into the area and I was doing a quick visual inspection of all my hives. On the back of one hive, hanging from the cover, was a small clump of bees about the size of my fist. I poked around in them and there was a queen. I killed her and knocked all the bees off. I believe this phenomenon is more common in Central Texas than many beekeepers know. I recently heard from a fellow beekeeper that the pickup location for the local association’s packages is impossible to approach without a suit because one of the apiary’s hives has been taken over by Africanized bees.

The good news for me though is, while this half of the hive may be testy and defensive, at least they’re still mine and requeening isn’t as urgent.

Another issue that’s come up is the fit. The queen excluder is about 1/8 wider at both edges than the Flow Hive super above it, which means the migratory covers on the brood boxes won’t fit snugly against the super and leaves a channel for water to collect in when it rains. My solution, for now, is to put a piece of weather stripping along the edges of the migratory covers. Not a perfect solution, but it’s working for now.

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