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  A Beekeeper's Diary

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Two good-looking overwintered beehives on a near-freezing Alberta spring day

Tuesday March 20th 2012
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There is still no sign of the promised storm.  Although the radio spoke of blizzards all around us, yesterday, we have no snow except for remnants of drifts in shady spots.

I will have to go to town today, I think, to get some plywood, unless there is some in the shed.

*   *   *   *   *

I went out mid-day and looked at the bees.  I took pictures (further down this page).  Then I made a wasted trip to town to get a chunk of plywood for the hole in the floor.  First I phoned the lumber yard and got a girl who did not identify herself, then put me on hold twice without asking and asked my questions (which she did not understand) of someone else out of my earshot.  I finally had to ask for someone who knows about lumber and construction. I got someone, again unidentified, and was reassured that they have what I need and when I asked if they sell part sheets, indicated that is no problem.

I drove to town, expecting to pick up where I left off.  When I walked up to the "contractor's desk", nobody had a clue and I had to ask again for anyone who knows about construction.  The man who took up the task did not.  He may have known a few things, but did not know his materials and could not tell 3/8 for 5/16 without measuring.  I had to go out back to the shed and pick through scraps.  Out there, the main guy was no better informed, and no, they only sell whole sheets.  (Where did all the part sheets come from?)  I've been in a lot of lumber yards, but never seen such incompetence and indifference about customer service.  I was prepare to pay far too much for a small piece, just for the convenience, but found myself driving home without anything.

At one point during my quest, I mentioned that if I had gone to to Home Depot or Lowes, I would have no problem buying a part sheet, thinking that the staff member might get the idea and try to be accommodating, but the guy pointed out -- as these small town guys always do -- that it costs money to drive that far.  (I had never suggested I was not willing to pay a premium for the service, and they did not seem overly busy).  I said that I go to the cities often anyhow, but thought I'd give the local shop some business -- especially as local shops claim they offer superior service.  He looked blank and I don't think he got the irony.

I won't make this mistake again.  Next time I'll go where I know I can get service.  It takes another twenty minutes or half-hour and bit more gas to go to a larger and better-managed store, but the selection is better, the staff is better trained and there are usually experienced personnel -- sometimes retired journeymen -- in the store to advise.   No wonder the small town stores are struggling.  I mentioned earlier the Three Hills IGA owner who does "get it".  They may charge a little more, but their service is fantastic --and they have discount days for those who really care about cost. 

BTW, I accumulated some promotional  coupons for some Pyrex storage containers at $ 1 each at that IGA and the items have been slow coming in.  I phoned the store yesterday to ask when the next shipment was coming and whether there is a chance I might miss out.  The owner's son spent five minutes chatting with me and reassuring me that they would make sure that everyone got the items.

I love that store and they get a lot of my grocery dollars.  Sure, I do shop Wal-Mart and Extra Foods and even the SuperStore when I am near them, as much for the special items that the IGA does not carry, but I can't say enough good things about that IGA.

On the other hand I don't plan to go to the Three Hills Home Building Supply again unless I am desperate.  I'm tempted to phone the owner since I know him and he is a nice guy.  Maybe he could use the heads-up, but I imagine he already knows and can't do anything.  He's probably too nice, and stuck with marginally qualified job applicants.  He;'s outnumbered and the staff think they own the place and don't have to learn the products or learn how to handle phone calls properly.  A grocery store does not need highly trained staff to handle the shoppers, other than in a few departments like meat, but a hardware store and lumber yard needs people who know the products and their uses.

*   *   *   *   *

When  I looked at the hives, I started at the west end and worked east, then went to the next row and worked west. I did not take pictures of all hives.  These hives have all had five oxalic evaporation treatments since October.  IT does not seem to have harmed them at all.


This was the first hive I opened. It is strong and heavy. 

This is the top box, peeking under the pillows.


After a few more good hives, I came on this. It is the one hive I previously indicated was likely queenless and bound to perish,  The cluster was much larger at the time, but had 'that look'.  Now it is dwindling.  I was tempted to shake the bees out and take the equipment in as I did with the last deadout, but I was concerned that these bees might drift into another hive and I think they are less than healthy.


Here are two good hives. I plugged any holes the bees were not using to conserve heat.  I had not plugged holes in the one on left yet.  I have to judge how many to leave open, since I have found that auger holes make a big difference in encouraging earlier build-up, and controlling moisture, but too much ventilation could over-ventilate.  Heat conservation  is important in spring.

The white box at left is a Meijer box.  I think this is the one I ran over and glued back together with Weldbond glue and the assistance of long drywall screws used as clamps


Another strong hive  

And another


  And another  

This is Test Hive One.  It does not look great,  Without help it will probably die.  It will likely die anyhow.

  This Test Hive Two.  What can I say?  
The hive above is not a test hive, but was interesting in that the bees are still tightly clustered.  They had quite a bit of moisture under the pillow, so I pulled back the pillow a little to increase ventilation.
These are the top boxes of hives which are still down under the top bars due to honey above.  In both cases the combs are newly drawn foundation which was filled and capped.  In my experience, bees do not winter as well with such combs as they do on older brood comb
  This is the only hive in the yard that faces south.  The box on right immediately above is on that hive.  
  Another strong hive  
  These hives at left are interesting in that bees are flying from every hole in the one at left and also cleaning out the bottom entrance.

Unless lots of brood boxes are left on hives, we never find out what they can do.  I recall two years ago that I had one four-box hive which was extremely strong coming out of winter and was able to be split repeatedly.


At this point, it appears that I'll lose another two hives, adding up to three dead out of the 25 that I placed into winter, for a 12% loss.  That is not too bad.  We'll see.

I am a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to flexible at all times.
Everett Mckinley Dirkson

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Wednesday March 21st 2012
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The above video below really good, but he lost me when he said early-in that 99% of bee hives from North America -- the US and Canada -- end up in Sacramento to pollinate almonds annually.  The vid is almost an hour long and I don't have the time to watch the whole thing right now.  If someone has the patience, please post a review and any important minute marks in the Honey Bee World Forum.  Thanks.

BTW, I cancelled my Lookout Android anti-malware premium account that was costing $2.99/mo in favour of the Avast! free app.  My previous account only covered my Tab and not my phone.  Avast! is now on both.

I'm enjoying Fedora, and run a Fedora window on one computer all the time, just for fun.  For one thing, hat allows me to use Konqueror to view web pages.  They look quite different using the open source fonts.

Meijers came by for supper.  Their beekeeping season is starting now.

The Perils and Secret Language of Bees

A lot of people mistake a short memory for a clear conscience.
Doug Larson

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Thursday March 22nd 2012
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From the discussion taking place here this morning:

Yes, this is often the case, and running out of feed is very bad for a colony. Once protein feeding starts, the hives should be checked weekly if possible. The alternative is to put four or five patties on at once and adjust them later if they are outside the cluster. If too many are placed on one particular hive, they can be moved to a hungrier hive later. They all have to go on anyhow, since patties should not be kept over to next season, so my advice is to load the hives up at the start of feeding and not hold back.

Patties can't do the bees much good sitting in a box in the shed. A beekeeper will never know how much the hives can eat unless more than enough is supplied, and running out can be hard on a colony which has committed itself to brood rearing. Nonetheless, I know far more beekeepers who wait for the first patty to disappear before feeding another than beekeepers who load the hive with patties and keep patties supplied continuously.

There is no fear of wasting patties IMO, since the bees will eat them as they need them, even well into the summer. A colony's pollen needs amount to well over 100 pounds a year, so a few patties are really a drop in the bucket. In my experience, a decent hive will eat several patties a week any time that the beekeeper cares to provide them during brood rearing. My experience is with Global Patties, which the bees will eat any time of year, and I have heard of lesser consumption rates and even refusal or rejection with other types. (Check your hive floors for signs of patties being thrown out).

There are always some hives which eat all their feed early, and often they are usually among the most prolific hives, the ones which will give the most splits if they don't starve partially or completely. Once a hive commits to serious brood rearing, the feed requirements go'way up. Whereas a hive might only lose a pound or two a week in winter, a hive will use far more once activity increases and brood must be fed.

A frame of brood is going to use up roughly a frame of honey, so a beekeeper expecting to have five or six frames of brood by early May had better make sure there are at least that many frames of honey right now or it is not going to happen.

The best time to feed is in the fall, and that is why one reason I prefer to use three standards or more for wintering. The other reason is to get the cluster up off the ground.

If the hives have lots of feed, the spring feeding is less critical, but still advisable to ensure that no hive runs out of feed. As the old beekeeper explained, feed in the hive is not the same as feed in the bee. Providing fresh feed near the cluster ensures that the bees are no starved during a cold snap or starving while they try to mine out the sugar in hard granulated honey.

It is easy to see if a hive is starving or not. A brood frame should have open cells of both pollen and nectar (syrup?) ringing the brood. If all the cells near the brood are empty, beyond the cells prepared for the queen, there may be a problem.

In addition to sugar and protein, the bees need water. That can come from thin syrup or from condensation inside the hive at times of day when the bees cannot go out for water.

I'm thinking it is time for me to start protein feeding and I guess I'll have to run down to Global for a supply. I think I should load the hives up and keep photo and numeric records the way I did the other summer.

See http://honeybeeworld.com/diary/articles/pattyconsumption.htm

A wise man gets more use from his enemies than a fool from his friends.
Baltasar Gracian

Friday March 23rd 2012
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I'm working on the bathroom today.

To recap:  At the start, the job looked simple, but after I pulled up the carpet, I saw the underlay was delaminated.  I cut the worst chunk out and went to town to get a replacement piece.  We all know how that went.  So, I filled the spot with cement floor leveler.  For those who have ever done body work or fairing hulls, we all know that the job cannot be done with one fill.  It usually takes at least three successive fills, with leveling in between before the surface is perfect.  This job was not different, no matter what the package said.  With hours to days between layers, this job is dragging on.  By noon, it looked good and I ran a coat of primer on top.  I hope it was not too soon, but we have visitors coming Monday.  I chose the peel and stick tiles and can see that may be a good thing, but could be a huge mistake.  They require a perfect and well-primed floor for adhesion,  Normal tiles can float on  a bed of glue.

I managed to get the floor level enough to lay tile and left it to dry it dry overnight.  In the afternoon, I ran to town to take in some bottles ad recycle items that we have accumulated over the last year or more.  Joe phoned and said they were passing by, so they came in for coffee.  As it happened, they had just picked up a load of patties from Global, so I was able to beg two boxes from them to get me by until I get down to see Mike next week.  The patties are 15% pollen since they want to boost some colonies for nucs and queen rearing.  I prefer the patties with 0%, but these will do.  They may just be eaten faster than I like.  80 patties gives me three for every hive and that should last a while.

What is the difference between unethical and ethical advertising? Unethical advertising uses falsehoods to deceive the public; ethical advertising uses truth to deceive the public.
Vilhjalmur Stefansson

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Saturday March 24th 2012
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Today, Jean and family came for the afternoon, arriving in time for lunch.  They left just before supper.  During the afternoon, Zippy and I went for a one-mile walk down the property and back.  We own a long, narrow strip of land that runs down the tracks to the south, and which used to have the grain elevators, some railway sheds, and a truck scale.  The scale is still there, but the strip has gone to grass and clover.  I keep bees down there sometimes.

After supper, I decided to tile the bathroom floor and install the new toilet.  I managed to get the job pretty well done by bedtime.  We're expecting visitors tomorrow, night, so I wanted to get that job out of the way.  I haven't grouted the tile and notice that the grout instructions say to keep foot traffic off for 24 to 48 hours.  That will not be easy to do right now, with people wanting to shower after the trip, so I think I'll have to put the job off until later, unless I do sections at a time and protect them from traffic.

Many who seem to be struggling with adversity are happy;
many, amid great affluence, are utterly miserable.

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Sunday March 24th 2012
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I was planning to go to a boating seminar in Calgary today, but I'm not feeling well.  I'm tired and vaguely nauseous.  I had hoped it would pass, it hasn't and I'm thinking that driving to the city, then getting sick would be a stupid move.  Also, we received an email that our visitors are 700 km away. Driving at 110-120 KPH on Highway One, they could be here by mid-afternoon.  It would be nice to be here to receive them and settle them in.  Ellen would be here anyhow, but I should  be too.

The time has come now to feed patties.  We are about a month away from the beginning of reliable pollen supplies, but I have not placed the patties onto the hives yet.  I hope to do that today or tomorrow.

I have considered dividing the yard randomly into two groups and feeding one and not the other, but given the differing hive configurations and the number of hives, I'm not sure that any difference I could measure might not be simply chance. 

I would like to compare fed to non-fed hives, however, and may pick out eight decent and comparable hives and leave half without patties while feeding the other four, and do a visual brood comparison later.   A really good evaluation would compared splits made and honey production, but doing such a study is a lot of work.

The relatives arrived and we had supper and a walk down the property before calling it a day.

My life has no purpose, no direction, no aim, no meaning, and yet I'm happy.
I can't figure it out. What am I doing right?
 Charles Schulz

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Monday March 25th 2012
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This morning I drove Ellen over to Drum for a CAT scan and bought some groceries before returning for lunch with the gang.  I had intended to run to the City for the seminar, but decided against.  We have company, the weather south of here looks bad and also Jean and family will be dropping in this afternoon.

From the forum today (1:54 AM):

I'd consider the box under to be a good idea if the bees are hanging out, but you did have unseasonably hot weather and it is not likely to last.

Adding boxes under is harmless at worst and and can be very beneficial. Cooling hives down a bit can prevent the dwindling that happens if there is no forage around and they fly a lot, but you don't want to shock them or chill them by unwrapping too early and it is too early for your region IMO. Opening bottom entrances can help a lot, too..

For that matter, I don't usually unwrap until the end of April and your climate is much like mine. The colony may not look so big after unwrapping. (I don't unwrap any more due to the EPS boxes, but I do open entrances and reduce top insulation).

As for splitting, May is the earliest I'd do it unless the bees indicate differently a week or so after being unwrapped. Don't unwrap and them split in the same week, and be sure the forecast for the first days after splitting is mild, especially at night. I split when I figure that two queens will make more brood than one, i.e. when the queen, not the bees or the weather is the limiting factor in the mother hive. If a good queen has only a few partial frames of brood, then it is too early.

Once the parent colony frames get full of brood, there is the risk of chilling splits if the clusters are not big enough to cover it all. In free air, two clusters made from one cluster will necessarily have a smaller total volume than the original cluster, so housing splits in warm boxes with restricted entrances is essential. Restricting volume with paper of follower boards can be essential since nucs do best when they can occupy the entire space on warm days and seem a little crowded, but then have to be watched closely so they don't plug or swarm.

One other thing: watch that your hives don't starve. Big prolific colonies can eat a tremendous amount once they get going in spring, and can starve in a heartbeat. Even near-starvation is disastrous since they shift from buildup mode to survival mode. Tip them every week or so to make sure they are still heavy. If not, the best early feed is frames of honey, and if that is not available, fondant or thick syrup.

Allen Dick, RR#1 Swalwell, Alberta, Canada T0M 1Y0
51° 33'39.64"N 113°18'52.45"W
Forum owner/janitor

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Tuesday March 27th 2012
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This morning, I drove Ellen to an echocardiogram appointment in Calgary, and then we came straight home.   I was tired and had a nap, then I went out in the afternoon to put on patties. 

I had decided to put two patties on each.  That is not nearly enough, but it is a start and I'll see which hives need more.  I'm nearby, so don't have to worry about the hives being without a visit due to snow and mud.  Commercial beekeepers should probably be more putting on their best hives.

The hives look fantastic and even one I had considered a goner may turn out to be good.  The bees are sitting on a lot of feed and several hives are still far down in the hive.  This makes putting patties onto the hive difficult.  The bees were also pretty dopey and were not easy to herd with smoke, but I don't like killing bees with patties.  Crushed bees are eaten by the others and if any were diseased, that is a great way to makes sure all the bees get sick.

Above is the first hive I looked at when I lifted the lid, after I smoked the bees down and after receiving patties.  The rest were mostly similar.

This hive (above) was still in the second box and only a little up into the top box.  Even after smoking, I could not see any brood.  They have been very dormant and I like that.  Now is the time to wake them up so they can begin to build for the flows beginning about one month from now.  It took a lot of patience to wait for the bees to retreat into the boxes so I could place two patties between the boxes.

Above is Hive One of the test hives, the one I figured to be on the way out.  It is looking better today and I have hopes for it.  They are still down in the  box, as it is full of honey.

Here is Hive Six of the test hives.  It is still not into the top box.  The top box is an entire box of drawn and capped Mann Lake 5.0 mm frames.  I smoke the bees so I could place two patties in between boxes.  The frames hump up a bit, but with my system, using pillows under lids, this does not cause air leaks.

I did not pull the drop boards today.  The day after tomorrow will be four weeks from the last count which took place on March 1.  I figure I'll wait until after the bees are stimulated a bit by these patties and the warm weather expected tomorrow and the next day before I pull them.  I'm interested to see if any of the patties is rejected.  I have looked in the past and never seen any of the Global Patties dropped. but have seen other types of patties chewed up and dropped down.

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Wednesday March 28th 2012
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I repaired the master cylinder for the forklift and Bill and I put it back in place. 

These folks like to walk every day, so we did the mile again.

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Thursday March 29th 2012
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We did the mile again, and also walked over to the ball diamond.  Chris looked on his phone and discovered a geocache nearby, so we headed down that way.  A pickup truck slowed down to ask directions and Chris recognized the driver as Canada's Biggest Know-It -All and asked him for a picture.  The driver stepped out and they had their pictures taken together.

The bees are flying freely.  I peeked under a few lids and think the patties should last ten days or so.

We returned and Mckenzie and I made a cake.  I had taken out most of the ashes now that the forklift works again, and now took out the rest.

I pulled the boards this evening and tried counting.  I get 2, 18, 13, 69, 21, 1.  That is over a 28 day period and I think some of the mites were from a previous period and had been dislodged by the bee activity lately.  There is a lot of debris on the boards from uncapping and in the light of the lamp, I am not at all confident in my numbers, even with the magnifier and a pair of reading glasses.  I'll count again later in the sunlight.  Not tomorrow, though, since I'm off to Calgary early in the morning.

If these are current drops and not mites which were hung up on top bars and the screens from some time back, some of these numbers are higher than I would like to see in spring.  We'll see what I get after I work through the hives a bit and clean the screens sometime in the next weeks.

I'm also unsure if I am seeing any immature mites.  These will show up when mites are reproducing as some of the daughters in each cell may be too young to survive and fall down dead soon after uncapping.  These mites are soft and pale in colour, as described and illustrated here back in October & November.

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Friday March 30th 2012
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I'm still thinking it would be nice to know the natural mite attrition over a northern winter.  I found a little info on Randy's site (below) which implies that the work has been done, but this chart is derived from it and does not reveal the underlying data.  I commented about this previously.

Here is that figure and Randy's description.  The entire article is worth reading.

Figure 3. Recommended threshold levels of natural 24-hr mite drop onto sticky boards, ranging from conservative to very liberal as far as allowable mite levels. The dates are for a mid-latitude temperate climate. Note that these curves do not show the total mite population, but rather natural mite drop. I’ve indicated the approximate total mite population relative to the peak drop about the first week of September. The “very liberal” colony could still survive if virus levels stay low. Mite levels above a curve indicate that the colony requires treatment. Data compiled and extrapolated, with liberties, from various researchers.

From this the implication is that all but 2 of my hives are above the liberal threshold, even at 2.5 mites/day.  Of course, I do not know the region used as a basis for the chart -- or how accurate my current count is, since some of the mites may simply be dropped from previous kills by the hive cleaning by the bees which is resuming at present due to warmer weather and longer days.

Also, somehow, I doubt the populations suggested in the chart by these drop numbers.  I suspect the chart is for a far warmer region, and an area where brood rearing in winter is greater.

I'm off to Calgary early this morning.

*   *   *   *   *   *

Bill and I left for Calgary at 6 AM.  I had a dermatologist's appointment at 9 and thought that in case of traffic, I'd allow lots of time.  One never knows what to expect from rush hour in the City.  We arrived at Market Mall almost an hour early since we were going cross-town, not downtown like most of the traffic.  We entered the daily morning traffic jam on the Deerfoot just as we turned off, but our exit lane was moving, unlike the the through lanes.

My appointment took about a minute.  The doctor was putting people through at a mile a minute and I wondered about his thoroughness.  At any rate in that minute, he managed to spray some liquid nitrogen onto the actinic keratosis spots on my bald spot. 

Beekeepers spend a lot of time in the sun and need to watch their skin.  I used to work bees all day in only cut-offs and sandals. My years of sailing have exposed me to a lot of direct sun as well.

From there, we did some shopping and dropped by a dealership to check on vans.  After that, we went by the car auction and walked down the line of vehicles coming up on public auction this morning.  There was not much to interest me, but there were quite a few decent looking half tons, three-quarter tons and a one tone that might have interested me a few years ago.

Then we drove back to Swalwell in time for supper and the daily one-mile walk.  I went to bed early (10) and slept.

The value of a man should be seen in what he gives and not in what he is able to receive.
 Albert Einstein

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Saturday March 31st 2012
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I awoke at seven.  That was the best night's sleep I've had in quite a while.  I'm finding that if I drink anything alcoholic, my sleep is unpredictable for some days after, so have laid off the least few days and it is paying off. 

This morning, Zippy and I have to be at the dog groomer's at 9.  I'll check the bees' patties later today and maybe feed some syrup.  I'll put in some frame feeders, perhaps.  I have some hive-top feeders, but they don't work well with patties on a hive. 

I noticed, whenever I peeked the last few days, that the bees have eaten the bottom out from the patties, but not yet cut through to the upper surface. 

Patties look intact until the last day or two, then disappear suddenly since the bees undermine the feed from the bottom and near the brood.  Smaller colonies leave scraps around the outer edges where the material is too far from the heat and the small region where the nurse bees live, but larger colonies seem to inhale them suddenly as the upper surface is consumed.  That is why it is important to replenish the supply when the patties look half-eaten and not wait until the last scraps are gone.

Bill, ZIppy and I were at the dog groomer's at 9.  The groomer said the job would take until noon, so Bill and I dropped by The Mill, then Bert's.  We put some Apivar into Bert's hive and looked at his boat, then decided to go to Linden for coffee.  Bert flew and Bill and I drove.

We had coffee, then Bert did his walk-around before flying home.  He waved at us and we learned he had discovered a missing elevator hinge pin, so we drove around town until we found a screw which would get him home.  We then picked up the dog and returned to Swalwell.

After lunch, Bill and I looked at the electrical panels in the Old Schoolhouse which need some upgrading and then went out to check the bees.

For the most part, the hives looked good.  The hive I suspected to be poor was queenless, so we combined it with test Hive One, so that probably removes Hive One from the test.  It had a queen and a bit of brood, but not a lot of bees, so we figure that the box and half of bees from the queenless hive will help.

Combining hives now may make them splittable later.  Another, populous, hive proved to be a drone layer, so we combined it with a weaker colony.  No, we did not use newspaper or de-queen the DL.  We just piled the boxes with bees from the hives being decommissioned onto the target hives.  I'm not expecting problems and saw no signs of fighting.  You can see the two taller than normal hives at right.

Since Hive One was being disassembled, I had a chance to examine the screen from under it (left) The screen was not too badly blocked with debris.  I had wondered if it might be and if it were, that would, of course, affect the varroa drop counts.

The hives have only had patties for three days, now, but I used up  most of the second box of patties on the stronger hives.  I put the first patties on on March 27th, but some hives had eaten more than half of their two patties.  None had eaten everything yet, but I never want that to happen, so some hives had four patties when I was done.  I'll have to check them in a week.

The brood is more spotty than I like to see and I wonder if there is some background bacterial disease that would respond to OTC.  I'm tempted to dust some hives with OTC to see if there is any improvement.  Nonetheless, it is not unusual to see spotty brood before the pollen starts coming in, especially in recent years, possibly due to the influence of varroa as a vector.    Although there is plenty of honey in all hives, some of it is quite granulated and I noticed a lack of liquid stores close to brood in some hives.

So, we put feeders and syrup into several hives (above right) and left an open drum of syrup with grass on top for a float.  We noted that bees were already lined up at the frame feeder before we closed the hive in some cases.  The syrup I have on hand had some thymol added a bit more than a year ago, but does not smell much, so I gather it may have dissipated.

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