Monday, April 18, 2011

The Buzz Word

The buzz word right now is bees.  The hive we installed several weeks ago is flourishing.  Last Sunday we opened it and found several queen cells.  We were pushing the bees to fill out the frames with comb before we added another hive body, but apparently they felt crowded, so they started developing queens to split and swarm.  We use medium hive boxes, so to remedy the overcrowded feeling, we added a second hive body on top and removed all of the queen cells.  One of the cells was very beneficial for us, but more on that in a minute.  Adding another hive body opened up more space for the queen to build her population.  We first made sure she was present and accounted for before we destroyed any queen cells.  That was our mistake last year.  We destroyed a queen cell that we really needed because our hive no longer had a queen.  Lessons learned, so now we are over cautious when it comes to queen cells.  Yesterday, we checked this colony, and they are going like gang busters.  There were several frames full of capped brood, and our queen was easily found with her blue dot.  Our population should really increase once that brood starts hatching.  In another week or two, we can add our first honey super!  Of course, they will still have to pull out comb on those frames, so that will eat up some valuable time, but we are on our way. 

Also, last Sunday, our mentor brought over a swarm for us, and when he opened the box, he noted that it did not have a queen.  He took one of the queen cells we removed from the other hive and, for lack of a better word, molded it into the comb of the second hive.  When we checked this colony yesterday, I noticed several things.  We had a queen cell along the bottom of the frame, and the one our mentor had inserted had deteriorated.  We also notice some larva in some of the cells.  My initial thought was we did have a queen after all, so we did not really need the developing queen anymore.  Nate and I thought we should cut out the queen cell.  But, if there is one thing I've learned with beekeeping, it's that you have to be in the moment with no distractions.  One of the worker bees was really buzzing me, and she was very irritating and distracting.  I kept walking away so she would leave me alone, but she kept buzzing right in front of my face.  I really couldn't concentrate.  I knew I wasn't really paying attention to what I was doing, so I told Nate to give me a minute to let that bee stop annoying me.  After a few mintues, I could concentrate once again, and I had Nate pull out each frame again.  We really looked for a queen and couldn't find one, and at that point, I noticed the larva was all over the frame, very patchy and random.  It didn't look right.  I showed this to Nate, and I first thought a worker bee was laying eggs, which they can do, but the resulting bees are always drones.  I pulled out my book, and it said it could be a failing queen.  We decided to leave the queen cell alone.  Whether it was a failing queen or a worker bee laying eggs, we still needed a queen.

So, I called our mentor this morning and explained everything we saw and did.  He said he could come by later in the week to look at it.  A few minutes later, he called and said one of his hives swarmed and he could deliver a new queen within the hour.  Now, we have a new queen but we have kept the queen cell for the time being.  We want to make sure the new queen is performing before we take out the developing queen.  Of course, the danger is that the new queen hatches and we will have a swarm on our hands.  We'll have to check this hive daily for a few days to see what's happening. 

Keeping bees has been very excting, very nerve wracking, very educational and an exercise in the here and now.  Once you get engrossed in working with each colony, you really do lose yourself in the task and everything else fades to the background.

Happy homesteading,



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