Saturday, May 28, 2016

There’s Another and Another and Another...

Our 'Swarmy' Hive.. doing very well, thank you!

When we talk bees, we tend to talk in big numbers. There can be anywhere from 10,000 to 60,000 bees in a hive (they typically start at 10,000 when you purchase a ‘package’ of bees). We can go through 100 pounds of sugar in no time, and we get several hundred pounds of honey... and that’s just with a few hives. Hives, however? Now that is something we can count, and our numbers are growing.

A queen castle with three separate nuc chambers.

After the excitement of the swarm earlier this week (yes, all our bees are back home, in a new hive box, and doing swimmingly!) we decided we needed to be a bit more proactive in what we are doing. As we said last time, we ended up with the swarmed hive back as a new hive, we used some of the other swarm cells in that same Mellow Yellow hive to create two new nucs, and we had already split one hive because it was getting too full and we had a spare queen. That put us four ahead.

A Queen cell without the protector.

Today, we added 10 new queen cells, to create 10 more new hives! That would mean we went from 7 to 21 in two months (if they all work). We definitely can’t complain about that! We had hoped to be able to just add some new queens, but there is a shortage of queens. They are definitely a hot ticket item (and one that we will have to research more so we can start to create our own queen cells). The advantage of adding a queen, as opposed to a queen cell, is that when you purchase a queen, she is ‘proven’, meaning she has taken her maiden flight, and has already started to produce eggs. We could also purchase ‘virgin’ queens, which have been hatched and are alive, but still have
The Queen cell with the protective cover in place.
to leave the hive to do a maiden flight, so could fall prey to a bird or other hazard. When you get a cell, although much less expensive, there is no guarantee of what will come out of there when she finally emerges. The supplier for our queen cells, however, is local, and has a very good success rate with his queens, so we are fairly comfortable trying this route.

While some beekeepers are comfortable just dropping a queen cell into an established hive, we didn’t want to do that, especially since we have just added some new queens to the hives. Instead, we went a different route, taking some capped brood from some hives, some honey from others, and, of course, a smattering of bees to attend the queen, the honey supply and the eggs. They are the elongated cells just like you would see on the frames of brood, but they are alone. We put them into little cages that allow the queen to emerge, but that will prevent anyone else from hurting her, should a queen somehow have slipped past us.

Putting the Queen cell into the Queen Castle nuc.
For practicality purposes, we do not want to use one of the big hive boxes (’10 frame deeps’) for this, because it would give them way too much room to be rattling around in. That much space is hard to keep warm if the temperatures drop, and has too much space inside to cool if the temperatures outside spike. Temperature is very important in the production of bee cells, but fortunately the bees know what to do to maintain it where it should be – we just want to make it as easy as possible for them so they are able to do other things, like make honey and tend to brood. For this reason, we need to start with smaller hives and/or smaller frames. Our compromise to that is to use the same sized frames, but to use only three of them per nuc and to separate the box into three equal pieces (called ‘queen castles’). This means we can put three frames into each nuc. One frame will have food on it – syrup, pollen, honey. This is important because we have to lock all the bees in for five days, ensuring that the foraging bees will not just return to their old hive. One frame will have some capped brood, so that the new brood will hatch and strengthen the hive. We will also include all the bees that were on the frame of brood. This will give them plenty of time and potential to establish a strong hive. 

Closing the lid on one of the three Queen Castle chambers.
Once we open the doors again, the foragers will re-orient to their new hive, returning to it with their provisions. The queen should have hatched by then, and will go on her maiden flight, and within two weeks from today, we should have hives that are abuzz with activity and life. That’s the plan, anyway.

We’ll know in two weeks if it worked. An 80% success rate (meaning hopefully for us 8 new hives) would be a huge win. 

Always have the smoker handy! 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


Our FlowHive, ready to go. 
This blog was going to be about setting up our hives in our second bee yard, or about the new boxes we created that will house three nucs in one, or we were going to talk about setting up, yes, the new Flow Hive that comes complete with honey tap on it... but apparently our bees had different plans for us.

There are a LOT of bees and honey in that hive!

First, we should say that all the hives are doing well. The new queens we added seem to be very happy and very busy. We are watching new orientation flights happening outside the hives daily. The bees are producing honey, and our raspberry patch is absolutely abuzz as they work there, drawing pollen. They were doing so well, producing so much honey and so many news bees that...

Queen cells. 

Yes, today the Mellow Yellows were feeling less mellow, and decided that, after three days of rain, they would take advantage of the sunshine – they swarmed. For those of you not familiar with bees, in the spring, when the hive gets busy and strong, healthy queens start to produce a maximum output to keep up with the demands of the honey production, the hive will get too crowded. When that happens, those pesky nurse bees will pick out some of the best newly laid larvae and will start to pack those cells with lots of royal jelly, making the baby bee grow into a potential queen. These are relatively easy to spot on the frames because they are very long cells.

Mellow Yellow hive... very very full!
The idea they have is that if they make enough of these cells, the one that is the strongest will hatch first, kill the other wanna-be queens while they are still in their cells, then go on the hunt for the reigning queen. No hive wants two queens, but it is thought that the reigning queen knows what is happening, is aware of the new queens being produced, and starts to work gathering her loyal workers so that they will leave together to start a new colony. In this way, she leaves a legacy – another hive. She has opportunity to kill the forming queen cells, but she won’t. Isn’t nature amazing?  

The swarm starts! All those little yellow dots? Bees!
When we looked out the window late this morning, and saw a cloud of bees hovering over the bee yard, we knew exactly what was happening! It was exciting to see how they started and what they did (after reading about swarms and having a swarm land here several years ago), but it was infuriating and a bit disheartening to know that all those bees, and the value therein, were leaving. Fortunately we were able to watch where they went, and once they started to gather and beard around the queen, we were able to shake the tree branch they were on, and get the bees into a bucket then into a new hive. It took several trips, but we ended up with most of them tucked away. We’re not sure we’re out of the woods on this one yet, but tonight the hive was active, so we slipped in a frame of larvae for the bees to tend to. It will help to keep the bees in there, because they will not abandon uncapped larva, but is also a bit of insurance in the event the queen was injured, stressed or killed in the move (damn, those birds and their appetites), because the hive can now use those larvae to create more queen cells.

The swarm rises higher and starts to move. 

On examination of our other hives, we found more ‘swarm cells’ – new queens in the making – in the Mellow Yellow hive. The new queen hadn’t yet gotten around to killing them, so we pulled those frames, added some other frames (with honey and pollen) from other hives, and set them up as nucs. In a week or so, we will know if this worked as well.

The swarm gathers on a branch about 14' in the air.
So, to recap, we will write about the other bee yard and the Flow Hive later (we promise) but today we got to see a swarm actually happen, got to capture (recapture?) a swarm, and may have come out three hives ahead. It was, all in all, a memorable day in our beekeeping world.  

The new hive. The bees are flapping their wings, signalling to
other hivemates, letting them know where their new home is.
(at least, we hope they are right about this!)