Monthly Archives: May 2014

Laying-Worker Hive Successfully Requeened

It took about a week to go from a hive with laying workers to a hive with a proper queen. After shaking out all the bees and separating the field bees from the eggs, brood, and nurse bees I took from another hive and introducing a queen cage, I waited about a week to see if it was successful. Patience is not my strongest virtue, which made it hard to wait the recommended time to check the queen, and I admit I peeked a few days ago.

Today, I checked again and not only had the queen been released, but she’s already started laying eggs and some have grown into larva, so she was probably released the same evening I peeked. What a relief! The other good news is the bees on both sides of the paper have chewed holes and are passing through from one side to the other. I felt like that was a good sign it would be ok to merge the two parts into one deep hive body. I removed frames with no wax on them and moved drawn frames to the outer edges. I carefully moved frames of larva and brood from the top box to the bottom, waiting a bit after each move to make sure all the bees were getting along. Finally, I moved the frame with my Cordovan queen into the box. I waited a bit, lifted the frame back out to see if any bees were attacking her. But all was calm. I did it again, and still all the bees were calm. They are one happy family now and will hopefully thrive through the coming months. Considering how fast she started laying, combined with the availability of drawn comb, I believe the hive will increase rapidly.

The queen in this hive is very dark, with an abdomen almost black. I’m curious to see what her offspring will look like. I’ll post pictures when they begin to emerge in about three weeks.

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Queenright and Humming

Although it is very windy this morning, the sun is shining and the temperature was perfect to introduce the new queens. Hive one was grumpy, not unexpected considering we kidnapped their queen yesterday, but the tone changed immediately when we put in the new Buckfast queen, going from an agitated buzz, the roar typical of a hive that’s lost its queen, to a gentle hum. I’m a bit fumbly-fingered with the thick gloves, and dropped the queen cage to the bottom, but Hial quickly retrieved her. I made space between two frames of brood and gently pushed the cage into the wax, stapled the string to the top of the frame, and closed up the hive. I won’t open it again for about a week. In that time, they will get acquainted with her, eat through the candy plug, and free her from the cage.

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The queen cage is gently pressed into the wax.

The queen cage is gently pressed into the wax.

The queen in hive three wasn’t marked, which makes a queen challenging to spot when the population grows over the summer. It’s a good thing we opened the hive to look for her, because I discovered my experiment with foundationless frames was going awry. I put a frame with no foundation between two frames that were already drawn with comb. The idea is they will draw out the empty frame from top to bottom within the space provided. Right.

On one of the frames, they drew out comb, and connected it to the frame next to it! The wax was still quite fragile, so it broke and fell into the bottom of the hive, so I had to remove two frames to get the chunk of comb. It is beautiful comb and it made me sad to have to remove it, especially since it had eggs in it, but there’s no good way to reattach it. I left the partially drawn frame at the edge of the hive body and replaced the other empty frame since there was no comb there yet. That’s why I only tried it with two frames and only in one hive.

Comb drawn without foundation to guide them.

Comb drawn without foundation to guide them.

Capped brood, larva, and eggs.

Capped brood, larva, and eggs.

We found the queen in hive three and marked her. She’s much darker than other queens we’ve had, and she’s laying very well. This split hive should grow very strong over the summer. In about a month, they should be ready for their first honey super.

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The queen in a special catching clip.

The queen in the marking tool. It holds her gently so a dab of paint can be put on her thorax.

The queen in the marking tool. It holds her gently so a dab of paint can be put on her thorax.

The last task was to introduce the other queen to hive five. She is a Cordovan Italian queen, shipped all the way from California. I’m concerned this hive may not survive, but perhaps with the emerging brood, the uncapped eggs and brood I added yesterday, and a mated queen, they will be able to recover. In about a week, I’ll  check the hive again to check the queen, remove the remaining paper, and rearrange the frames in the top and bottom hive bodies into a single box.

A brightly-marked queen in a cage, ready to be introduced to the hive.

A brightly-marked queen in a cage, ready to be introduced to the hive.

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Ready for Royalty

This afternoon, I prepared hives one and five for their new queens, which both arrived safely by UPS over the past two days. Our delivery driver, Lynn, was not too excited about having bees in his truck and both times, when we opened to the package to make sure the queens were alive, he said, “don’t let them out!”

Hive five has no early-stage larva and not many bees because they lost their queen. We carefully went over all the frames again to make sure, but all the signs point to a hopelessly queenless hive – no queen and no way to raise a new one. The next step was to get rid of all the laying workers. There aren’t many, based on the small number of drones, but having any without a queen present confuses them into thinking the queen is there and they’ll try to kill any new queen I introduce.

The laying workers are younger bees rather than foragers, which means they haven’t ventured outside the hive. We took the hive body to the next pasture, about 100 yards from the hive. There, I shook all the bees off the frames. After really bruising my hand by whacking the frames to shake the bees loose, I realized the tree would work much better. The foragers will fly back to the hive, but the young laying workers won’t return because they can’t find their way back. After just a little while, the foragers were returning and a clump of young bees remained on the tree. I feel horrible to force them out, but there weren’t many solutions if the hive is going to survive.

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There were only 4 frames with capped brood ready to hatch soon, which are remaining from the split a few weeks ago. I put one in a hive body with a few empty frames with drawn comb. The foragers will return and the brood will hatch soon, ready to work in the hive.

On top of the mostly-empty hive body, I put another deep box with the remaining capped brood, and added a frame of open brood and eggs from hive three, along with two frames of bees to care for the brood. I stapled paper between the two boxes. Over the next few days, the bees will chew through the paper, getting used to each other as they do. I used this paper-merging method last spring and it worked very well. Some people use a fancy double-screen board, but I don’t have one and paper is cheap.

Bee eggs

Bee eggs – click the image for an even closer view.

The last thing on my list of things to do before the queens can go in was to remove the queen from hive one. Easy to do since she’s quite large and marked with a bright yellow dot. I’ll keep her with some attendants in a screened jar until I know the new queen has been accepted.

old queen

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New Queens and New Challenges

Around the end of April, I discovered hive one had swarmed, even after I split it in early April. I had about 8 capped queen cells, so I made an even split between the two hives and ordered mated queens to replace whatever queen each hive hatched. Since I had no expectation of any new eggs for a couple of weeks while the virgin queens waited for their mating flight, I left the hives alone to forage for nectar and pollen. This week, my queens are due to arrive and I’m beginning to prepare for their arrival.

I  checked hive one. From the outside, they are quite busy: lots of pollen going in and plenty of activity at the entrance. Inside the hive, there are lots of bees: much more than in hive five, despite being the other half of an even split. It didn’t take long to discover evidence of a laying queen. There is plenty of uncapped larva on several frames. Then, I saw the new queen and she’s huge. I wish I could let her stay, but that’s what I did last year with hive two and it did not turn out well (remember the angry hive?) There are too many Africanized colonies in Central Texas to allow queens to mate naturally. So, I carefully caught her in a queen clip and marked her with a dab of bright yellow enamel, which will make her easier to locate in a few days when a replacement mated queen arrives. I wish I had pictures, but I was working solo and it’s not possible to catch and mark a queen AND take pictures , all while wearing the necessary gear.

Hive five is a different story. From the outside, there are only a few bees going in and out. I looked in hive five for the queen Tuesday, but saw no sign of her, although there is a smattering of uncapped larva. I checked again Wednesday, but still didn’t find the queen. Somebee has been laying, otherwise there would be no larva at all. Since her twin in hive one is very large, I would expect the queen in this hive to be just as big and bright (light brown abdomen with no stripes). Then I saw something odd: a worker bee wandering around, dropping the tip of her abdomen into a cell as if laying an egg. Then, I saw another bee do the same thing. Uh oh. Laying workers and no queen. For whatever reason, the queen raised in this hive appears to be gone. I started doing research on how to introduce a queen to a laying-worker hive and learned that if I try to put in a new queen, the bees will kill her because they think they already have a queen based on the pheromones from the laying workers. That means, I have to get rid of the laying workers before I can introduce a new queen. It’s not a terrible process – not like shaking down and requeening the angry hive a month ago. There aren’t as many bees in this hive and they are quite calm.

I’ll continue looking for a queen in hive five and shine a light into the empty cells to see if they have the tell-tale evidence of laying workers, who lay multiple eggs in a cell. If I still can’t find the queen by Friday, by which time I will have both mail-order queens, I will have to shake all the bees out in the grass so the laying workers will be removed. The foragers will return because they can fly and there are still unhatched bees in a number of frames, but the laying workers will not be able to return to the hive because they’re younger and not flying yet. I’ll also take at least one frame on uncapped brood from one of my strong hives, then introduce the new queen.

 

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