Swarm control using the Taranov board

 

Rusty, over at honeybeesuite, posted about the Taranov board a few years ago. I was fascinated by the idea and made one which has been patiently awaiting its day of glory.

I normally can control swarming by being pretty aggressive with checkerboarding and stealing brood for weaker hives or for a new nuc. But sometimes, the bees’ plans don’t match mine and they get ahead of me…

I thought I could get away with using one deep brood box and then just super over it, but when I went into the two hives with that set-up, I found the entire deep loaded with brood and almost no more room for the queen to lay. And we know what happens when that happen…swarm prep! I didn’t have anymore deep frames so I found mediums with the small cell foundation (I had these to make up nucs in case I sold any) and placed those over the deep to expand the brood nest and hopefully forestall any swarm plans they may have.

Thankfully I decided to check the hives last week only to discover the so-called “nuc” (it was a nuc last year, not anymore!) had at least 12 queen cells filled with larvae and 2 of them were close to being capped. My strategy of adding the medium apparently worked for one hive but not the other.

So, what to do? Do I split them, giving each half queen cells? Let them swarm (I knew I couldn’t do that)? By this point in their swarm preparations, there was no stopping them. My only solution was to “fake” a swarm thereby decongesting the colony. I don’t know that you can “fool” the bees into thinking a swarm occurred, but they’ll certainly recognize that there are fewer bees and the old queen is gone.

As an aside, once I started the process of using the Taranov board, the sheer number of bees in that “little” hive was truly staggering.

The idea of the Taranov method is to mimic a swarm by removing the old queen and the nurse bees that would normally accompany the swarm. Since the nurse bees have never left the hive, they don’t know how to get back to it. Also, the queen is generally too heavy to fly back to the hive. (she hasn’t stopped laying yet in anticipation of swarming). The Taranov method essentially uses these factors to separate the bees by using a short gap…yes, just a small gap. This gap is surprisingly effective as you will see. So if it works as planned, the nurse bees and queen stay put while the foragers just skip over the gap and go back to the parent hive holding the queen cells. Really, really interesting to watch.

Here’s what I did–at 5 pm after work thank you very much–with the Taranov board:

The instructions tell you to set the board such that gap between the end of the board and the hive front is 4″ but mine was more like 12″. As I didn’t have a staple gun handy to staple the sheet to the top of the board (just behind the blue rag) I decided to drape it on the grass and set the ramp on it. The sheet prevents the bees from becoming entangled in the grass.

Then each frame was taken out of the hive, shaken or brushed (upwards!!) to clear the frames of bees. The frames with queen cells were definitely brushed, not shaken, to protect the queen larvae (click on each picture).

 

Once that was done, the frames were replaced in the parent hive and it quickly began to refill with the foragers as they made their way home:

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Watch the video–so cool!

They didn’t cluster under the blue cloth as they were supposed to. I believe that was a function of the sheet being under the ramp. In general, the queen is expected to find the dark place which in this case would be under the ramp, on the blue cloth. The nurse bees then move to her to cover her. But as you can see, the queen moved down to the bottom of the ramp, where it met the ground and formed a little dark haven for her:

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This video shows the bees moving toward her at normal speed.

So far it has been about 45 minutes since I shook the bees off the frames. I’ve got the new nuc ready for them and all I have to do is pick them up and dump them in. The image with the board in the nuc is after that large clump of bees you see above has fallen from its own weight:

Now for the fun part: watching the bees move to their new home.

Marching in…freaking LOVE this.

Exposing their Nasonov glands and beating their wings to spread the scent of home telling their sisters “This is home! She’s in here!”

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The whole process took about 1.5-2 hours before I moved the nuc to its new location. I counted about 12 dead bees at the end of it. I found none on the grass, the sheet helped tremendously.

This is a great technique if you can just wait for them to sort themselves out. One thing that surprised me was their calmness. I was fully veiled but I’d say only 3 bees ever came close to my head to investigate. They were remarkably peaceful considering what I did to them. I can’t decide if doing it late in the day helped me or not. Even though I was tired from working all day and then coming home to the stress of finding swarm preparation, I think it went surprisingly smoothly. Maybe the sun getting low on the horizon was an incentive for them to finish the job.

I gave the new nuc a jar of food and a pollen patty. I plan to go into one of the hives and still a frame of honey and pollen tomorrow.

Bee week

Wow, what a week. Let’s start with the mason bees. In the last few years I had noticed that areas under my deck were being used as nesting sites. It started with the pile of unfolded blue tarp which formed creases that ended up filled with pollen pellets and eggs. These fell out when I decided to clean up the space and finally FOLDED the tarp 😦  I felt so bad as I saw those pellets of planning and hope come tumbling out.

Then there was the folded top of a bag of peat moss–(crevices are popular apparently)—and then came the wheel wells of a garbage can holding firewood permanently parked by our back door. All nesting sites used by the mason bees.

Last week, as I entered and left the back patio, I noticed chubby bee activity (mason bees are easy for me to identify because their abdomens end in a blunted shape versus a honey bee which has an elongated abdomen) by the wheels. As I bent down to look there arrived a female carrying pollen on the underside of her abdomen and disappeared into a wheel well. The nests next to her showed chewed out holes indicating the previous brood had emerged and now the current generation was obviously working on the next….a never ending cycle (I hope!)

Hmmmm…what to do? Every day there were more bees in that area and though I had set out a pile of paper straws in a can, they were completely ignoring them. Were the straws too small? I didn’t know. When I saw a female entering and exiting my SMOKER (!!!) I knew I had to do something. She was leaving the little hole at the base of the bellows and there was NO WAY I was going to let her set-up house in there.

So I found an untreated block of wood, used a drill bit that was the same size as the straws but when drilling I twirled the drill to carve out a bit more wood. I was able to keep most holes from poking through the block of wood. I then set it by the back door and waited. And waited…and waited. While the females kept investigating the cardboard boxes, the ash bin, etc., I was crossing my fingers that they would settle on the block of wood. Check it out:

See the bee butt on the left? And a little head poking out to the right? And then they filled the holes!! YAY!

But it gets better!! They started to finally use the straws:

Nesting in straws

Mason bee buzzing

Those straws have been under the deck for a long time, I even moved them over next to the wheels to try and expand the bees’ options to no avail. But once that drilled wooden block was placed in the area, it’s as if their eyes were opened to the possibilities…and the straws became worthy as well. I am very thrilled.

As to the next neat bit of bee news…I had to do some rapid swarm prevention last night. I’ll leave a tantalizing picture for the next story I need to share:

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Queen piping

Last week, my husband helped with my colony inspections. As we were looking at my strongest colony (Pink), he looked at the queen excluder and said “That’s an interesting looking bee.” I quickly looked and discovered a virgin, trying to make her way through the excluder, she was likely newly mated as she could no longer fit through the slats.

There were a few supers above the excluder and an imrie shim which allowed super access for the foragers. She very likely made her exit via the imrie shim and then struggled to get back into the brood chamber. I had no idea how long she may have been there. I marked her on the off-chance she would be the reigning monarch.

I kept her caged as we went through the colony. We found lots of queen cells, they appeared to be for swarm prep as, in my brief experience, they don’t make 20-30 queen cells for superseders.

I left them as is, released the newly marked queen and closed them up. [Likely swarmed]

The next challenge came in the Orange hive. It was apparently queenless but had polished cells that appeared to be waiting for a queen. But they were markedly unhappy. I saw queen cells that were opened, thought I saw closed queen cells and polished brood cells but no eggs and they were clinging to us and head-butting incessantly. We closed them up as they were obviously unhappy with our intrusion. [Likely queenless or waiting for a queen to mate]

The Purple hive appeared to have eaten through everything they had so I gave them a quart jar of sugar syrup (had one conveniently in the freezer from spring feeding!) That was emptied in 2 days so I’ve been feeding them to get some stores for them. [Hungry]

The Orange hive was bothered again on Wednesday as I had decided to take one frame of queen cells out (that I thought I saw in there) and make another nuc. They were even worse tempered than previously! I decided to give them a frame of eggs to see if they were queenless or waiting for a queen to mate and lay. I pulled a frame of eggs from the Aqua colony next door (very calm–markedly different reaction to being opened).

I rechecked the Orange hive yesterday–still no queen laying that I could see, no queen cells on the frame I gave them and no evidence of a laying worker. Their temperament was better so I’m crossing fingers that there will be a laying queen next weekend. [More likely a queen needs to mate]

Now for the fun part. I wanted to see if the Pink hive kept that virgin I marked and whether she had destroyed the remaining queen cells. I checked all 20 deep frames and found 17 neatly opened (from the bottom end) queen cells. In addition, as I checked the first few frames in the brood chamber, I found 2 queen cells still capped. I heard this tiny squeaking and thought some little bug was flitting about my head or that I was hearing a new bird far away in the woods. As I picked up another frame, this one also with 2 capped queen cells, I heard the sound again. As I looked at the cells it hit me! The queens were piping! They were either challenging a queen I couldn’t see or each other while they were still in the cells. What to do? What to do? Can you hear the hand wringing?

I quickly decided to make queen mating nucs, these queens would be emerging very soon and I wanted them alive. I used my queen castle to put one frame in each. This queen castle was already housing the blue laying queen (she’s a laying beast) from the Pink hive, and will now hold her 2 daughters in neighboring chambers.

ETA: found an audio of queen piping: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYecvVhkpKI

Extra queens are always handy to have on hand. I much prefer using queens the bees have decided to raise rather than creating a tiny nuc with few resources and expecting them to raise a good queen.

I’ll check next weekend to see how they’re faring. I hope to be marking 4 queens. Mind you, I have another queen on order that should be coming soon.

To keep my brain straight, these are the queen genetics currently:

Queen castle, Pink and Aqua colony same lineage. Orange colony is distant VSH. Purple colony (still original from Peter’s? Bjorn Apiary over 15 years ago.)

 

 

 

 

 

Brief update

Sorry folks, no pictures on this one as I was working alone and tried to do this quickly. I spotted walking drones last weekend and usually, that is a good indicator that you can soon make splits or nucs. Once I spot them, I like to wait a week or two before making a split. Drones are needed to mate with virgin queens so there’s no sense in making splits if there are no drones to mate with! I am making a split for myself and another beekeeper who is buying a nuc from me. A key principle to making good queens is to have many bees that can tend to the larvae. If you take out a couple of frames of eggs and capped brood and put them into a nuc, you can expect to have a poorly cared for queen larva and as a result, she may not last as long as a queen. However, if you move the already existing queen out of the parent hive and place her in a smaller nuc, you leave the parent hive, which has A LOT of resources — bees, honey, pollen, open and capped brood — to make the new queens. You are then increasing the likelihood that the queens made by the parent hive will be very good queens. It takes many bees to make good queens, so letting the larger hive make the queens is the preferable way to go.

I’ve been toying with buying the Nicot queen rearing system but I think I’m going to hold off. It involves having many queen cells in one hive that are cared for by the nurse bees. That requires A LOT of bees and I do not have the space for mating nucs or for the equipment at this time.

So this was the plan I came up with: take the laying queen out of the purple hive (which looks overstuffed with bees at this point) and put her into the defunct orange hive. I would add a frame of nurse bees and brood from each hive and thus start a new hive for myself to replace the orange one that died. By stealing a little from each hive, I lessen the impact on any one hive. The queen will keep laying; the open brood, capped brood, many frames of existing honey and pollen and adhering nurse bees will continue to grow the new hive. Any foragers that may have been on the frames will return to the original hives leaving the nurse bees and house bees. My only concern is that the foreign bees not kill that queen, I added more frames from her hive to increase the likelihood that her bees would protect her. We’ll see. I had to go through the Purple hive 2x to find her. Turns out I have 2 new queens and one queen from last year in my hives. The Pink hive still has their queen and the Aqua and Purple hive both have new queens, from this year. I hope they emerged during good weather…

Oh, I almost forgot the most important part! Once the parent hive makes the queen cells, I will cut them out gently (I use wax foundation so this should be fairly straight-forward) and place them in nucs with capped brood that is added. Once the queen has mated and has started laying, I will mark her and then sell the nuc. I try to prevent swarming by taking brood out and decongesting the hive. Making nucs is a good way to do this. I hope to make about 4 nucs a year, so far I’m making 2 and I may make a 3rd one for someone who wants to start keeping bees.

ACK!

The black locust has started to bloom and the bees are going nuts. We have been extremely fortunate to have remarkable weather: most days have been sunny with temperatures in the 80’s and below. A little rain to supply the plants and the reservoir, the vegetables and fruits.

I had added honey supers a few weeks ago and the bees had diligently started filling them up, drawing out the foundationless frames.

But when I saw my first black locust bloom last Wednesday and then progressively more black locust, I knew I needed to check the hives this weekend and man, was  I right! Oh my gosh, what was supposed to be a full inspection turned into a rapid honey super check with a mad dash to add supers and frames.

There were unassembled frames I was able to put together on Saturday, but I had to drive down to Jim’s on Sunday morning to get more supers and even more frames. A friend and I assembled frames and supers, I put small-cell foundation in the deep frames while she was given creative license to paint the supers at will. She seemed to enjoy that and I loved how many supers and frames we put together: 3 supers and one deep box, 40-50 medium foundationless frames and 30 deep frames. And everything was painted! What a relief, a crazy and productive weekend.

But I haven’t even updated you on the nuc! After aborting full hive inspections I wanted to look at the nucs. Hoping but not expecting to find queens, I pulled a frame out and hot-damn, found eggs! Also found the queen and marked her with a neon green dot.

Checked the other nuc, it still hadn’t built out one of the frames, whereas the other had biult out all of the frames. I wasn’t sure about it but when I pulled it out…eggs! Then I found that queen and marked her as well. Four strong hives and 2 good nucs!

I think I’m going to donate a nuc to a local nature center if they need it, otherwise, I may sell them. This may be a nice way to offset the costs of beekeeping, selling a few nucs every spring. This is an expensive hobby but I have to say, I just love it.

Adventures in the land of nucs…

So remember how I thought I maimed Connie’s queen? I’m not sure if I did or not, but if I did, they must have already had a new queen in the works. Because get THIS: there was a laying queen in the hive, about 2 weeks ahead of schedule. What do ya think? Crazy isn’t it?

If I maimed the queen on May 26th, assuming they used a 3-4 day old larvae (the last day that the larva is fed royal jelly before switching to worker bee bread), she would have emerged June 7th at the latest and June 6th at the earliest. So we checked Connie’s purple hive (appropriate that her purple hive houses bees from my purple hive!) and guess what?? A ripped out queen cell….eggs….and (drumroll please) FAT LARVAE!!!! Ready to be capped! So if there was a virgin she’s been laying since last weekend. Clearly anything I may have done to the queen, did not result in those queen cells since there wouldn’t be any eggs until the end of the week at the earliest.

So I figure these are the 3 options:

1. I did NOT maim the queen and they had a queen in the works the whole time (how could we have missed it???) and they just replaced her.

2. I DID maim the queen and they had a queen in the works and they just replaced her with a queen in waiting.

3. The old queen is still there, she killed the virgin and has kept laying. This is my favorite theory but Connie didn’t see eggs or larvae last weekend.

In either case, she has a laying queen a lot sooner than I expected.

The other hive (a green one) is a new nuc she installed 2 weeks ago and had loads of swarm cells. Swarm cells people! It was a nuc from HTKrantz in Frederick and it looked really good. Lots of bees that wanted to swarm… We desperately tried to find the queen to no avail (she was not marked, mind you if she was marked it would not guarantee that we would find her). I wanted to take her out and place her into a nuc and dump lots of bees to make a “fake swarm,” this would make them think a swarm had occurred and hopefully stave off an actual one. But failing that, we took out frames of eggs that we thought she would be on, shook some bees into the nuc and called it good. The parent hive didn’t have frames of only nectar/honey for us to shake forager bees off of so we settled for taking whatever bees we could get.

The plan at this point is to recheck the hives either Wednesday or Thursday; Connie will look for queen cells in the nuc, if she finds them she’ll know there’s no queen in there and she’s still in the hive. She will look for the queen as hard as she can and IF the queen is located, the queen will be moved into the nuc, any frames with queen cups FROM the nuc will go TO the parent hive, effectively switching them. Our goal is to avoid a swarm, for various reasons. Whether or not she finds the queen, the hive will be given LOADS of space via new frames. 

I’m going to start bringing my camera with me.

We’re keeping our fingers crossed. Oh, and my VSH queen will be ready for me on Monday!

This all started…

After the chickens came. We (really “I”) wanted chickens, so we got chickens. I suggested getting bees and Mr. P said “No!”

Lo and behold, some 8 months later he says to me “What do you think about getting bees?”  I reminded him of his previous answer and like any good man said “I don’t remember that.” Turns out one of his co-workers, Peter, was a beekeeper and offered to make a nuc (short for nucleus). He also had some equipment he could bestow upon us and a friend that was getting out of beekeeping and ready to sell her equipment too. Well, how can you say no to that?

Beekeeping was added to chicken keeping.

A nuc consists of a couple of frames of brood (larvae), couple of frames of pollen and honey and one empty frame (to give the bees something to do). If you buy a nuc from a supplier, a queen comes with it and you need a queen to get more bees. If you make a split (essentially dividing a hive into two), the queen stays in one part and the other part is left queenless.

The division that is left queenless MUST HAVE EGGS for the workers to make a new queen. Peter and I made a nuc from his lovely bees but when it was delivered on June 5th it was quite obviously queenless. There were very few bees in the hive though they were not very aggressive which a queenless hive can be. No queen means no new bees which means that the old ones dying (bees live 4-6weeks in the summer) are not being replaced. This is BAD. So we went back to his place and made another nuc, I was home by 10:30 that morning with a nuc box in my car. Peter had dumped a slew of bees into the nuc box and we were not watching for the queen. So that afternoon I just had to check the new nuc to see whether I had Peter’s queen and if not then at least eggs from which the bees would make a new queen. I did not have the queen but I found eggs, lovely, lovely eggs. They look like very small grains of rice and are a translucent white. Beautiful.

Now the story divides, old nuc and new nuc:

OLD NUC:

The old nuc (now in an orange hive box) was queenless. I really wanted to have 2 hives for various reasons, least of all for situations like this. You have a problem in one hive? Pull help from the stronger one. Anyway, my quest to save this hive began and I was not feeling optimistic. After what seemed like a million calls, I got a queen from a local breeder, Marc Hoffman. I met another one of his customers, Hank, and he has been a good person to share some of this story with. Plus Hank has 2, now 3, of his queens from Marc and they are all doing well. I like that they’re local queens.

I introduced her the 11th of June, she was caged since the 8th and was kind of small. On the 12th Peter and I went to his hive and dumped out a bunch of bees (that was interesting) and I added them in a newspaper combine. I checked on the 13th and the queen had noticeably plumped up so they were obviously feeding her. I released her the 13th and did a few checks until the 24th and saw no evidence of her or of eggs/larvae/brood. So I went in this past Saturday fully expecting to do a combine of the self-queening nuc and the queenless hive. Well, what a surprise!

I hadn’t completely given up on the hive but I had arranged to pick up a nuc this upcoming weekend to fulfill my quest for 2 hives. I guess I won’t need that! There were 2.5 frames with brood on them, most were quite small, likely due to the small number of bees available to care for them when she started laying. Some bees forage and some nurse.

NEW NUC:

The new nuc had queen cells built out within a week and I tore one when I was checking for them 😦 But there were at least 3-4 cells present. If they used 3 day old larvae then she should have emerged June 17th or 18th. She hardens up for a few days, orients, makes her mating flights over several days, returns to the hive and waits about 5 days for her ovaries to mature and then starts laying. So according to Bee Math, she would start laying about July 4th weekend. We were on vacation and so I waited until the 9th and 10th to do my first inspection.

Within a week, they had drawn out a sheet of 5.1mm wax foundation I had given them and they had this on July 10th: