Sunday, September 4, 2011


It has been another roughish year for the bees, though not so bad as last year. We only had one colony really do well this year, and it currently seems to be struggling -- there does not seem to be any sign of a queen after a late swarm. We were able to capture a different swarm and start a new colony, hopefully it will be able to get itself up and running before the weather turns too cold and wet.

The good news is that the one hive that has been doing well for most of the summer has produced about 30 lbs. of honey for us so we will be able to get a small shipment to Bi-Rite for the fall and hopefully for the holidays as well. We are just working on getting it into jars and labeled now, so look for it in less than a week.

Please visit our shop to purchase Noe Valley Honey and other hive products from the Pollen Princesses.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

First Hive Visits of the Year

It's been while since the last post because it ended up being a tough year for the bees. Of our five hives, only two managed to hang on.

The diseased hive seemed to bounce back only to completely vanish a month later -- I suspect that was our first experience with colony collapse, but am not really sure. The other hive at our friend's limped along for a while, then petered out. They never really showed signs of illness, but the population just never got very big. One hive at the Dolores location suffered the same fate. There was a small population in November, so we let them go as they were but they did not make it through the winter.

Overall, 2010 was a very cold summer but also fairly dry for the area. I suspect that the bees did not get out to forage as much as they needed and that even when they did get out nectar was scarce. Consequently we simply did not harvest any honey last year. Anything that the bees did collect we left for them to get through the winter.

The two hives that we have left are bustling now, though. The one at Dolores is chock full of bees and I hope to have a chance to explore the hive more thoroughly to see how much nectar and pollen they have been bringing in, and to make sure they are standing up to mites and generally healthy. The hive on our friend's roof is also very busy, but a little smaller. We added a new honey super to the top and are hoping that they get right to work on it. There was plenty of brood, and plenty of honey, and quite a bit of new nectar.

The year seems to be off to a promising start.

Please visit our shop to purchase Noe Valley Honey and other hive products from the Pollen Princesses.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Update on the Diseased Hives

Well, we have lost both hives from our friend's yard. It's a bit disappointing, but one of the things that happens when you are dealing with nature.
The smaller hive just eventually petered out. There simply wasn't enough population to sustain the colony. Still not sure what caused the decline -- typically I'd expect colony collapse to have happened much more suddenly, with the bees just leaving the hive, not dwindling away like this colony did. I suspect it may have been a case of nosema that they were simply unable to weather.
The foulbrood hive was confirmed to be European foulbrood, so we proceeded with our plans to salvage the colony. We were able to transfer the adult bees into a fresh clean hive, then sterilize all the hive components of the old hive with a blowtorch.
We kept the colony quarantined and closed in with screen in the new hive for two days, then transferred them into a second new hive with sugar water to feed them, still keeping them screened in for a few more days. Then we removed the screen and let them go about their business.
California Poppy
Within a week the queen was laying eggs again and brood was developing. The brood developed well and things seemed to be just fine for the colony.
Unfortunately, the colony absconded from the hive last week -- the entire group just left. Maybe this time it WAS colony collapse; the symptoms seem right. The brood that remained of course all died because there were no nurse bees to care for them, but they looked as if they were healthy until then; there was still no sign of foulbrood in the new brood.

The hives near Dolores are still doing pretty well, but the nectar flow seems to be slow -- it's been a very cold summer here in the City so they may just not be finding as much nectar as they might otherwise. One hive is doing very well, the other is a little slower -- both seemed to have spotty laying patterns at the last inspection, but the queen was seen in one, and eggs and worker brood were seen in the other so the queens are present. We'll keep an eye on them.
Rose of Sharon

Please visit our shop to purchase Noe Valley Honey and other hive products from the Pollen Princesses.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Bad News in a Couple Hives

This past weekend was magnificent weather here in the City, perhaps attributable to global warming or just El Niño. At any rate, Sunday was a great day to visit the bees. We brought a friend of ours along who has kept bees with his dad in PA for ten years.

The hives near Dolores park seem to be doing alright -- one of them is humming right along, with a healthy amount of brood and almost a full super of honey. I'll be adding a second super to that hive in a week or two while they finish filling this super and cap the honey. The second hive, which was started as a split from the first hive has several eggs and a queen but the population is a little on the low side -- I'm going to give them the shortening and sugar patty treatment in case it is tracheal mites. This treatment worked very well last year with a flagging hive. Otherwise we'll just keep an eye on them and monitor the population. If they are suffering from Nosema, there is not a lot we can do but hope they are able to weather it (just like the flu for us).

We then trekked over to our friend's yard to see the hives there. He has recently started his own hive there from a package because he's interested in watching his own colony up-close. The colony has really taken off over the past couple of weeks with LOTS of brood and a good amount of nectar collected. They've even begun to cap some honey at the top of a few frames. It is very nearly time for him to expand that hive to a second hive body.

The two hives we have at that location are not doing well at all though. The smaller hive, which we began as a split from the first hive had started out very well, but the population has simply dwindled away. There are now only a few dozen bees (instead of a few dozen thousand) and the queen is dead or missing. It is hard to say what happened, it could be colony collapse, though that has not been a problem for us before, or more likely it is that the hive we split them from was diseased to begin with and the new colony could not battle the disease.

The larger hive from which we took the split seemed to be just booming earlier in the year, but when we opened the hive last week, we noticed that the bottom chamber was simply empty -- all the bees were in the top. We planned on swapping chambers this week, but when we opened the hive we noticed that there was nothing but capped brood -- not much in the way of supplies, honey or pollen, and no larvae or eggs. The brood caps were also very dark. I pulled a stalk of dried grass and pierced a few of the caps -- yes I would have to kill a few larvae to try and diagnose what was happening, sad, but necessary. Instead of ooozing creamy white as a healthy larvae would, the cells instead contained a sort of beige goo with a lugubrious consistency and a kind of off smell: foulbrood!

This is a disease that infects developing larvae, killing them off and disintegrating the bodies in the cell. The adult bees are not affected, but they are also unable to clean the cells because of the consistency of the dead brood. The spores of the disease get into the honey, wax and even the wood of the hive so there is no way for the bees to rid themselves of it.

We are going to try to save the colony (assuming the queen is still present), though we will have to put them in all new clean equipment, replace the frames and foundation and destroy all the existing foundation, wax and honey.

We hope to be able to shake the adult bees and queen into a clean nuc and close them off for a day without foraging, then transferring them back to a new clean hive and basically treating them as a captured swarm or a new package. This time of separation appears to be a sufficient quarantine to keep the adults from reintroducing the disease into the new hive.

Failing that, we will have to re-sterilize the equipment by scorching it with a torch, then start with a new, healthy colony. Either way -- our honey production this year is going to be severely reduced as both hives that we use for the Pollen Princess label will basically have to start over. The honey from the Dolores park location will still be available at Bi-Rite under their label once the bees have brought in enough surplus to harvest. We will also hopefully be able to harvest and bottle some honey from our newest hive just below Corona Heights above the Castro.

Please visit our shop to purchase Noe Valley Honey and other hive products from the Pollen Princesses.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Gearing Up

About a month ago, we made the rounds of our hives to see how everyone had fared through the winter. At each location, interestingly enough, we found one strong hive that was already building a strong population and one hive that was nearly dead (if not completely dead). I don't believe that either of the dead hives was caused by colony collapse -- the bees did not just disappear from either one, that I can tell. Each of them had a colony that was a bit on the small side at the end of the fall, and I just don't believe they had a critical mass of population to maintain themselves through the winter.
At any rate, rather than ordering new packages for these two hives, we decided to do a split from the healthy hives at each location. We chose 5 frames from each healthy hive that were heavy with developing brood and eggs, and swapped them out with five empty frames from the empty hives. The hope was that the while the brood on these frames was hatching to maintain the population, the bees would raise one of the eggs as a new queen.
Yesterday and today, I made the rounds again and checked both locations -- in each location the strong hives were ready for their first honey super (yeay!). In fact at the Dolores Park location, it appeared that the colony was preparing swarm cells. I am pretty confident that I was able to get them a new super in time, but they were quite ready for more space.
What I really was anxious to learn though was whether the two weak hives were able to produce a new queen and whether she was successful in mating. At Dolores Park, I examined just a few frames before I found copious amounts of eggs in the cells! Some of the cells on one frame side seemed to have some strange laying patterns, such as more than one egg in a cell, or eggs attached to the side, rather than the bottom of the cell, but they overall laying pattern was good on the rest of the frames I examined, so I imagine that the one frame was just from the queen's early attempts as she first started laying.

At the other location the weak hive seemed to have a decent sized population, all things considered. However as I started examining the frames I could not find any eggs at all; frame after frame and all I found were adult bees. I was just about to close up the hive and run home to order a queen to give the hive, when I saw this!

Voilà la Reine! She appears to be plump enough that I believe she has mated already, she must not have started laying quite yet though. We'll give this hive a little more time and check again, but I think they are going to be alright.

Please visit our shop to purchase Noe Valley Honey and other hive products from the Pollen Princesses.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Heater Bees

It has long been recognized how well bees can maintain the temperature of their hive. By shivering to warm the hive or bringing in water and using their wings to evaporate it to cool.
Now researchers in Germany have determined how precisely temperature plays a role in the hive and specifically in the development of the bees' larvae.


Read the article in the Telegraph here.

Please visit our shop to purchase Noe Valley Honey and other hive products from the Pollen Princesses.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I knew they could recognize a face

But I did not know that they can distinguish one face from another.

Here is a recent article from the New York Times about a study showing that bees can recognize a face and distinguish one face from another. Since I know from personal experience that bees target one's face when they are angry and wanting to sting you, I didn't find the fact that they can distinguish a face from, say, a chair. But I did not realize that they may be able to recognize an individual face from another.

Please visit our shop to purchase Noe Valley Honey and other hive products from the Pollen Princesses.