Archive for June, 2012

Lots going on in my hives this week. Monday I opened Themyscira hive to inspect for signs of swarming. This hive is the touchy hive and also the one that has been receiving honey for its supplemental food. After I was stung through three layers of clothing last week, including through my bee jacket, I emailed my beekeeping group asking for ideas about why this hive might be so irritable. I know that in part they were doing what good bees do, which is protecting their brood from intruders. I’m a mom, so I get that! However, while Gallactica gets upset when I mess with the brood, they have never responded the way that Themyscira did. Those were some angry bees.

An experienced beekeeper, Dave, suggested that Themyscira could be getting ready to swarm. Since the bees are from a new package, I haven’t really been expecting a swarm this year. Next year, yes! This year I figured they would be too busy settling in to decide to split into two smaller hives. However, since this hive is receiving honey they may not be acting as typical new bees act. Receiving honey that’s already made means that they don’t have to work as hard to build their colony. Which is part of the point of feeding them honey. I am trying to build a hive that is strong and not overly-burdened by having to start from scratch.

However, since it’s been such a mild spring with good foraging and since they have had access to plenty of supplemental honey, it’s possible that I have made life too nice for them. They might be thinking to themselves, “We have plenty of resources! Our queen is laying like crazy! We are going to be too crowded soon so it’s time to divide.”

What I know that they don’t know is that it’s likelier that they will overwinter if they remain one nice robust hive instead of heading into winter as two smaller hives. I also know that they can have all the space they want since I can keep adding boxes to the top of the hive. It’s possible I should have added another box already, which is what I needed to determine by inspecting this week.

I have been debating the timing of adding new boxes. While it hasn’t been terribly cold this spring, it has been wet and cool. The bees self-regulate the temperature of the hive by fanning their wings and huddling together or spreading out. In cool, wet weather, an empty box is a heat suck. Full boxes act as insulation and help the bees stay warm. Brood needs to be kept at a fairly constant temperature of 91-97 degrees (33-36 Celsius) in order to develop properly, so it’s important not to make accomplishing this too difficult for the hive, especially when they are new and don’t have a full set of workers to assist.

It was recommended to me that I add a new box when 80% of the frames had been drawn out. I had been anticipating needing to add a third box to Themyscira in the next week or two. I hadn’t expected that they might have already reached capacity and needed to be given a new box lest they decide to swarm. Hence the thorough inspection, which included looking for queen cells.

I found that the hive had built out 80-90% of their frames and that they were indeed considering swarming. I found at least eight queen cups, which are enlarged cells on the comb that can be used as the foundation for a queen cell. Queen brood cells are so large that the bees must build them specially, at the bottom of the frame or over the top of several worker-sized cells.

Queen cups at the bottom of a frame

All of my queen cups were located at the bottom of the frames. Apparently this is an indication that they are thinking of swarming. If bees are simply replacing their queen, or superseding, they will build the queen ells in the middle of the frame in place of several worker cells.

To try to keep them from swarming, I quickly added the third box and moved some of the brood frames around. I placed three brood frames into the new box to attract bees to that box and to get them working on drawing out the new comb. I also popped out foundation from those frames so that they will have to build the combs entirely from scratch rather than onto a template. It has been my intention to do this anyway, and the threat of swarming spurred me to action! In the box from which I removed the three brood frames, I gathered the remaining brood frames to the center of the box, flanked them with empty frames and kept the existing honey frames on the outside. This will hopefully trick the bees into thinking that there is plenty of room for brood and they won’t think about making new queens. They will be too hard at work drawing out the new comb and getting it ready for laying.

There is debate in the beekeeping community about whether or not to remove queen cups. Some say not to bother as the bees with just built new ones. Others recommend removing them to prevent the queen from laying in them and triggering a swarm cycle. I left them intact with the intention of snapping them off a couple of days later when I went into the hive again to see if my tricks were working. Interestingly, when I opened the hive again on Thursday, the bees had already removed most of the queen cups and repurposed that wax into worker comb. I think they got the message! They also weren’t as cranky. I think they were too busy. I am cautiously optimistic that I have averted the swarm, though I am watching them pretty closely for the next couple of weeks.

Fun find of the week:

Ceanothus, aka California lilac

Bees carrying purple pollen! My bees were really heavy with pollen this week and I enjoyed watching many of them doing the waggle dance to tell each other where the good stuff was. Most of them had lovely golden pollen sacks but one bee was carrying a load of purple pollen. It was beautiful! I suspect it was from a nearby ceanothus, or California lilac, which is blooming all over the neighborhood right now.

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Queen Cells…Eeek!

6 queen cells on this frame.

Two more on this frame. They look empty at this moment.

My hive was really angry last week (Thursday…5 days ago) and also overflowing with bees. A fellow beek suggested it might be trying to swarm, which I was not expecting since it’s a new package, only installed 6 weeks ago. I inspected specifically for queen cells today and found 8. Eek! I have heard you can’t stop them from swarming once they get the idea in thier heads. Now what. Just wait for it? 



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