Monthly Archives: April 2013

Swarm!

Only six days ago, we split our hive, putting a queen and a queen cell in the new hive. We had a couple of recently hatched queens and many queen cells still in the original hive. Whew, that should hold them, right? WRONG!

There were two groups of bees, both from the same swarm. This cluster joined the other a few minutes later.

There were two groups of bees, both from the same swarm. This cluster joined the other a few minutes later.

When I got home this afternoon, I suited up to take a peek in the new hive. In the bee yard, there was an unusually high level of activity outside the big hive: by unusual I mean it seemed as if every bee from the hive was outside! I watched for several minutes to see what all the hullaballoo was about. Then I noticed the cluster of bees in the tree. It was huge! My hive was swarming – AGAIN! Here’s a video of the swarm.

I made a batch of sugar syrup and put it in the freezer to cool it as quickly as possible. Then I went to work on the craziest beekeeping experiment so far: I was going to catch the swarm and add it to the small hive. But that meant carefully cutting it from the tree.

I sprayed them with the sugar syrup to calm them and keep them distracted. Next I cut the small stems and branches in the way. Finally, it was time to cut the branch on which they were suspended. But my clippers were to small to go through the branch! I carefully used the large loppers to cut partway through the branch, but when I removed the blade, the limb broke, bringing the swarm cluster crashing down. Of course, it missed the waiting box and fell inches away on the ground. I grabbed it up and put it in the box.

swarm

I had already prepared the hive body to receive the swarm by putting a sheet of unprinted newspaper between the hive body and an empty deep. The paper will make a temporary barrier, through which the bees will chew from both sides. By the time they chew through, they’ll be used to each other’s smell and make one happy hive. Well, that’s my hope anyway. I think we’ve thoroughly established that I’m working on a steep learning curve here and not entirely sure what I’m doing. 

I also checked all the frames of the hive body to see if one of the queens was still there, but there was no sign of any. If there is, the queen buried in the midst of the swarm will duke it out with her. 

So, the swarm is in the box, the hive body is ready. Now to get the swarm INTO the hive. I whomped the box on the ground to knock them to the bottom, and quickly dumped them into the hive. Next I had to get some frames in there without squishing the mass of bees on the bottom. A few more squirts of happy juice (sugar syrup), some careful sweeping of bees crawling on the outside back in, and I was ready to put the lid on. Of course, there’s no way to get ALL the bees in, but there are thousands anyway. Easily as many as my first box of bees, which was installed in my first hive just one year ago.

I went back to the landing spot under the tree and sifted through the bees still crawling around, carefully picking up one handful at a time to see if the queen had fallen, but I didn’t find her. Part of the swarm’s job is to keep her safe, so I’m fairly sure she was held in the ball of bees through the transfer from tree to ground to hive. If not, I still have a queen coming in a few weeks.

I hesitate to think of what can happen with these hives in the next few weeks!

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Spring Hive Split

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed drones hanging on the bricks under the hive, so I did some research on why they do that. It’s because they were waiting for a virgin queen to emerge from the hive. What?! Why would I have a virgin queen if my queen was still around? I did a quick check of the hive and found a swarm cell, which is a queen cell used to requeen the hive so some bees can take off with the old queen and start a new hive. I removed it, naively thinking I could stop, delay, postpone, or in some way influence the bees. Silly human.

I cut this queen cell from the hive, and minutes later she hatched! She was in a bucket, so it was too late to put her back.

I cut this queen cell from the hive, and minutes later she hatched! She was in a bucket, so it was too late to put her back.

newly hatched queen

I watched for a swarm, but never saw one, and with several days of rainy weather this week, I thought I had lucked out. Today was the first full inspection we’ve done since last fall. I know now I should have been checking the hive on nice days during the winter, but I didn’t want to risk chilling any brood, so I waited. Since discovering the queen cell, which is also called a swarm cell, I knew I was going to have to split the hive earlier than planned.

Some of the supers were still almost full of honey, so I removed those for extracting.

Then the fun part started: inspecting the deep hive body and brood chamber. There was no uncapped larvae anywhere, which I found odd. The first sign something was amiss. Then I found a queen cell… and several more.

An unhatched queen cell

An unhatched queen cell

On the same frame were several more queen cells

On the same frame were several more queen cells

While I was looking, one of them started to hatch, so I quickly put it back in the hive in case my queen was no longer there. After more looking, I found not one, but two young queens. I put one in the new hive and left the other in the first hive.

A new queen

A new queen: she’s the larger bee in the center. Notice she doesn’t have the dark banding the workers have.

I also put frames with unhatched queen cells in both hives. When they are all hatched, the queens will fight to the death and the survivor will become the new queen of that hive and be ready to mate with all those drones that have been hanging about.

We checked every frame and the old queen was not there. So, despite all my efforts, she took off with some of the hive to start a new hive elsewhere. Hopefully they survive and are able to make a strong hive in the wild.

While both of my hives have queens, neither are mated yet, which means no eggs and no new brood for probably a couple of weeks. I have a mated queen still on order, so if one of the queens isn’t laying by the end of April I can replace her with a mated queen and the hive should be fine.

I’ve come to realize I’m more of a bee observer than a beekeeper. They seem to take no notice of my efforts or desires and will continue to do exactly as they please. But I love watching them do that and certainly enjoy the perk of deliciously rich honey. The weather has been kind the past two summers, so hopefully my young hives will continue to grow and thrive. And I’ll continue to learn about what makes them buzz.

The new hive

The new hive

 

These are festooning bees: wax makers

These are festooning bees: wax makers – notice how they are stuck together in a string.

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