Surprises in the Bee Yard: Two Weeks Is an Age in Beekeeping

With my two weeks at the corporate headquarters behind me, I was looking forward to seeing what had happened in my apiary.  As I mentioned in my last post containing more bee musings, I missed my hard-working ladies!  There are many updates to share including some significant surprises.

My absence meant I was unable to really know progress towards new queens.  I have much news to share about the bee yard!

Hive Updates – Lots of Surprises

Hive Acquitaine

Watching the activity and witnessing the growth of this colony has been quite an experience.  If you remember, this colony got its start as a split of one of my original nucs.  In fact, the original colony initiated my first nuc purchase to house it.  Containing one of my two Italian queens, this colony has really put on growth in the two weeks I was away.

Italian Queen
Eleanor has taken control of this colony and is putting on a significant growth spurt.

Eleanor has started to put together an impressive growth spurt.  There were actually a large number of workers hanging out in the empty hive top feeder.  The bad knees was that they were being accompanied by four or five small hive beetles.

Along with the beetles, there was a boiling mass of small hive beetle larvae trapped in the wells of the feeder.  As you might understand, I had a great time crushing those beetles and destroying the larvae!

Since my last inspection, the colony has grown considerably.  They have drawn at least partial comb on 9 of the 10 frames in the deep brood box.  And, Eleanor is consistently providing a solid brood pattern!  Eggs, larvae in all instages, and growing quantities of capped brood are present on the frames.

The colony has also produced a significant corp of foragers who have been quite busy bringing in significant pollen stores.  Other workers have been busy working on honey production.  The colony is beginning to produce significant honey stores.

Because of the quickly accelerating population growth, I placed a second deep on the colony with ten empty frames.  Everything really looks great in this colony.  And, Eleanor was searching the frames for new places to lay.  Now, as soon as the worker bees draw comb on the new frames, she will have plenty of space to expand the colony.

During my inspection, I took time to attempt another sugar roll test.  And this time, I got the process right and got an actual count of Varroa Mites.  I found 5 mites in my test.  That means that there are 1.67 mites per 100 bees.

I have read that you should likely double your results to more accurately reflect mites in the capped brood.  If that is the case, my count would be 3.33 mites per 100 bees which is within the treatment thresholds.

Nucleus Hive – Hecate Lives!

When my bee mentor checked this small colony last week, he found and marked the queen.  If you remember, this was the colony for which I purchased the Italian queen.  I had installed her right before I left for Portland.  He found and marked the queen, which was exciting news from afar.  But, when I returned and did my own inspection to see the marked queen, big surprises were in store.

The Carniolan Queen
She’s Alive! Hecate hitchhiked to the nuc!

I found the empty queen cage and began work inspecting this newly formed colony.  Eggs, larvae in all instages, and a fair amount of capped brood were present on the frames.  The colony had begun drawing comb on one side of a fourth frame.

But surprises doesn’t even begin to describe my shock when I found the marked queen!

I expected to see a rather beautiful Italian queen picked up from Paul Lott.  But, what I found was none other than Hecate, my beautiful Carniolan queen.

Now to say that I took a double-take when I saw her is the understatement of the year.  I remember rather going through this inspection and nuc installation in a fog.  Exhaustion reduces your dexterity both observationally and physically.  So, with my powers of observation reduced, Hecate just hitchhiked along to the nuc with that extra queen cup.

I wondered for two weeks why it totally disappeared.  Mystery solved!  Naughty girl Hecate!  Very naughty girl!

Just like her work in Hive Olympus, Hecate ramped up production and that impressive brood pattern has made its reappearance!  Carniolan queens really are a marvel in my opinion!  I will have more news about Hecate a little later in this blog post.

Hive Olympus – Have the Queenless Re-Queened?

If you remember, I posted pictures earlier last week of the multiple really large queen cups my bee mentor found in this hive when he inspected it for me.  So naturally, I could hardly wait to get in this hive and see if they had re-queened themselves.  The volume of bees in this colony is still incredible, even without a queen for two weeks.

But my inspection revealed lots of surprises.  These workers had raised more than four queens.  They raised eight queens!  What’s more, it certainly looked like all eight emerged as every queen cup looked like what an emerging queen does when she leaves her cup.  Each of those queen cups were some of the largest I have seen in my hives.

I wish I had been around to possibly capture and save some of these queens!  But, eight queens – and not one remained in the colony.  It was disappointing to see that result.

So, a quick aside, the pine trees from the neighbors lot are a congregating zone for five or six crows on any given day.  So, faithful reader, if one of you has any ideas, please enlighten me.

Is it possible that the crows are eating my queens as they make their mating flights? I think that is exactly what is happening but wonder if anyone else has personal experience to share.

Reuniting Hecate with Hive Olympus

On Tuesday of last week, I decided to reunite the nucleus colony containing Hecate with Hive Olympus.  Given that the colony had not successfully requeened itself, I figured this was the best course of action.  Reading a number of resources, I decided to re-introduce her using the newspaper approach.

I opened the hive and placed a single sheet of newspaper atop the medium box.  Additionally, I put a few small slashes and punctured a few holes in the newspaper with a nail.  I closed the hive up with fingers crossed.

Two days later, after a rainy day, I checked around the hives and noticed what looked like white sawdust all underneath Hive Olympus. It took me a second – remember I had been suffering from food poisoning so my thought process were not up to par. But then I realized what I was seeing, absolutely finely shredded newspaper.

So I figured they were at work reuniting with Hecate.  When I opened up the colony on Saturday, sure enough the newspaper was completely gone with only a remaining outer layer at the box edges.

So what is an intrepid new beekeeper to do, FIND HIS QUEEN!  HIS FAVORITE QUEEN!

So searching through the frames, I never located Hecate.  There were eggs in the frames that came from the nucleus hive but nowhere else in the entire hive.  Now, I may just have missed her.  The volume of bees in this colony is monumental and at any given point they were three and four deep on some of the frames.  They very well could have been shielding her from my prying eyes.

So I am going to tentatively say that the reuniting effort worked and that Hecate is hidden somewhere in the colony.  I will be looking next Saturday to determine if this is the case.  This beekeeper will be a very angry beekeeper if they killed his favorite queen!

Hive Florence – Queen Acceptance?

Hive Florence is quite serious about requeening itself.  If you remember, last week I discovered about eight queen cups but no queen.  So, on Wednesday, I took a trip to the local bee shop and purchased a new Italian queen to help them out.  This hive has been close to a month without a queen which is too long.  I installed her the next morning.  So I was looking forward to seeing if she had been released.

The workers had eaten all but a thin layer of the candy in the queen cage so I decided to go ahead and assist them.  I set the new Italian Queen aside while I examined the frames for any emerged queens.  I do think I found one and got her in a queen cage but she escaped and flew away.

Meanwhile, I had set the queen cage on the edge of the bottom deep box while I was checking the frames.  The workers could not get enough of the pheromones coming from Beatrice II.  They were all attempting to feed her through the cage.  So, I released her onto a frame and let her settle in, while I continued my inspection.

Queens, Queens and More Queens!

Surprise - A Queen Cup
An Occupied Queen Cup

During the inspection I located another 8 queen cups.  I told you these workers were intent on a queen!

I wish I had had the right equipment because I had a potential queen bonanza.  But, since I didn’t, and I wanted no fights to the death, I systematically combed through the frames culling queen cups.  I felt terrible participating in active regicide!

While culling queen cups, I accidentally culled out a few drones.  My mistake was advantageous as I found two to three Varroa Mites in every drone cell that got opened.  It was both fascinating and irritating to see these little maroon beasties crawling on my drone larvae. Needless to say, they are dead!

Prior to putting the hive back together, I located the frame where Beatrice II had been released.  And there was that beautiful Italian vixen surrounded by around 12 to 14 attendants.  So, any doubts that they were ready to accept her were cleared up.

I took out my yellow queen marking pen and marked her thorax with the telltale yellow dot for queens installed in 2017.  To say I was a little proud of myself successfully marking (and not killing) my first queen is an understatement.

Everything looks great in this hive!  Other than the lack of a queen and brood, there really were no real surprises during my inspection.  I already knew I had Varroa Mites but I also already have plans to treat in August.

Nucleus Hive Repurposed

After I installed Hecate in Hive Olympus to reunite her with her colony, I decided to repurpose the nucleus hive. Since Hive Florence was receiving a new mated Italian queen. I took four frames containing queen cups and plenty of pollen and honey and installed them in the newly vacated nucleus hive with one blank frame.

I am experimenting to see if I can successfully raise and get a mated queen out of my bee yard.  When I performed my inspection on Saturday, I found two capped queen cups and a number of queen cups that will be capped soon.  One of those capped queen cups is a nice large cup that should contain a fairly decent sized queen.

The frames came with a really nice complement of bees, probably numbering a few thousand so there are plenty of foragers hard at work bringing in both nectar and pollen.  If my experiment is a success, Mark will get to sell me my fourth hive stand, bottom board, deep box with frames, inner cover, and top cover.

How did I go from two hives in April to the potential for four in August??

Surprises in the Bee Yard – Observations

Not every surprise we might experience in our bee yards is necessarily a negative experience.  This week, the things that I found that were surprises were actually informative and a great learning experience.

Since I found during my inspections that the three colonies that still are being fed had drained their sugar water somewhat, I made a new batch of sugar water on Saturday evening and set it to cool.  But, I noted something important during my inspection.

Sugar Water – Please Let Me Stop Mixing It

After every one of my trips through June and July, the top hive feeders were entirely drained.  But I noted that this week after refilling that all three colonies (Hive Acquitaine, Hive Florence, and the Nucleus Hive) had only partially taken their sugar syrup supply.

Hive Acquitaine was the closest to completely draining, which makes pretty logical sense.  This colony is just now beginning to put on a growth spurt and has ten fresh new frames in a deep box on which they need to draw comb.  They need the extra nutrition for wax production.  I will continue to feed them as usual.

The nucleus hive had drained about a third of their top hive feeder, which is actually pretty respectable for such a small colony.  They need to draw comb on that remaining frame and are still actively feeding uncapped queen larvae so they too still need the additional nutritional source.  Until this colony gets established, I will continue to feed them.

But, Hive Florence is showing signs that they have enough nutritional resources that they no longer need the sugar water.  This colony has shown a proclivity for draining the sugar water in less than a week.  However, this week they have proven what my bee mentor and my own study has said would eventually happen.  When they no longer need it, they will stop taking it.

In a week, they had nearly drained one of the two reservoirs in the top hive feeder but even that nearly drained reservoir had about a half inch of sugar water left.  I believe I will likely be able to stop feeding them until I start fall feeding.

Becoming the Bee Whisperer

Now before you start laughing (because I already am), there is a certain comfort level you gain working your bees over time.  Remember that day you installed your first colony of bees?  I sure do!  For me, I wouldn’t say that I was frightened so much as in awe of holding that many thousands of bees in my hands and finding the queen crawling on a frame.  I was captured that first day by a passion that I don’t see subsiding anytime soon.

But even in awe, there is a bit of caution and fear that each of us as new beekeepers bring to the bee yard.  We have been taught to fear bees, primarily to fear the sting of bees.  And by bees, what we are usually referring to are not “bees” but “wasps”.  So I was suited up like I was a gladiator about to enter the arena with this ferocious lion.  Full bee suit and gloves, smoker lit, and let’s do battle!

And, don’t get me wrong, I still believe in wearing the suit because there are dangers in the bee yard.  When a colony isn’t queenright, the workers are easily riled and they will fight back!  Don’t believe me, read my post on when things go wrong in the bee yard.

But, over time, I have become more willing to take off the gloves to get a picture or to mark a queen.  But, taking the gloves off carries the risks of stings.  The chance is well worth the benefit.  And I even get to sneak a taste of the honey!  Yum.

So this morning when I went out to replenish the top hive feeders, I went without smoker, suit, or gloves.  Opening the hives early in the morning before the sun has hit them, I learned that they are a bit sleepy and oh so gentle.  They let me push them back to recover the hive and not one offered to so much as an attempt to sting me.

I truly think they sensed my trust.

Communing with these social insects is a never-ending thrill.  To watch the interaction of these small social insects, watch a waggle dance, see a new bee emerge from its cell, watch the development of a new queen, see a queen and her attendants, and watch that queen laying eggs.

Working like a marvelously well-orchestrated machine, a colony of honeybees is more powerful as a whole because each individual plays its role happily and with no dissent.  And when the bees let you into their world and don’t take umbrage at your bumbling attempts to care for them, it is a truly remarkable and wonderful thing.

Queenright or Queenwrong

Yes, faithful reader, I just made up a new word for the beekeeping lexicon.  We speak of colonies with a healthy, functioning queen as queenright.  Queenright colonies are more docile and generally a much happier colony of bees.

But a “queenwrong” colony is a beast of a different color.  Queenless hives exhibit specific hallmarks including general irritability.  A queenless hive can become downright mean if they go without a replacement long enough.

But, watching Hive Florence go for a few weeks without a queen, I started noticing some real patterns with behavior changes.  Not only did the colony become more surly, but a certain sense of indolence began to set in.  Over the past few weeks, I have begun to notice less activity at the hive entrance and an increasing proclivity for a mass congregation of workers at the hive entrance throughout the day just “hanging out” seemingly aimless.

Over the past few days, I have noted a further change in the demeanor of the hive.  After installing the caged queen, within a day I began to see fewer bees massed at the hive entrance each evening.  It seems the pheromones from a mated queen quickly began to permeate the hive.

To my thrill, after her release yesterday, there was no massing of workers at the entrance.  I will be curious to see if the previous high levels of activity for this colony return by the end of the week with a functioning and hopefully by then laying queen.

The Future

Having watched both Hive Olympus and Hive Florence prolifically raise queens, my interest in queen rearing has only increased.  I definitely want to learn how to optimally raise queens and possibly become a local provider of quality queens.  One thing we lack is an easy and ready supply of queens in our area.

In addition to queen rearing, I would like to try running a hive with a Russian queen as well as a VSH queen.  Introducing a quality line of VSH queens in our area would help fight an ongoing battle with colony losses due to Varroa Mites.

Had I had the proper equipment, I believe I could have successfully raised more than a few queens this summer in my bee yard.  I know I’m a new beekeeper but I don’t approach anything I do in normal progression.  It always been the case that I’m a fast learner, I decide what I want to do, and I act.

I do believe that to be successful with a queen rearing program I will need to find a location with a heavier population of drones.  Successful mating flights require a relatively high concentration of drones.  There are not enough apiaries near enough to give me a strong concentration of drones.  At least that is what I believe to be my problem.

Coming Next Week

Next week, I will let you know what has happened in Hive Olympus.  I also want to talk about my choice to treat my bees for Varroa Mites.  There are lots of choices and a rationale for choosing a number of options.  So, stay tuned as I’m still researching and deciding.

Until next time, happy beekeeping!