Swarm season

Lots of swarms this year. I’ve only ever had one swarm (helps to mark your queens so you know this!!) which I was able to hive. But this year was different.

The bees had built up quickly, did not suffer from a late cold snap that came after a warm-up, they had food (I had to supplement because you would be AMAZED how quickly they can eat 3-4 lbs of food when brood rearing has begun).

I had located all of my marked queens during a mid-April apiary inspection.

The Taranov method was used for my so-called “little” hive when I saw swarm cells. Little did I know that the other colonies were making similar plans. The issue was the weather. Since I work and really only have weekends available for inspections (and that time can be restricted to because of family activities), I try to take advantage of nice days by checking one or two colonies after work. Unfortunately, it was either rainy, windy, or cold, or some combination of that on most days I’d have time to check them. But then we would have decent mornings, less pleasant afternoons. Seemed like I couldn’t win.

But the bees still collect their food, raise brood and if they get congested they make swarm prep regardless of spring weather. Two weeks before the swarms started was the last time I was able to go into brood chambers. All of the marked queens were found, I saw a couple of queen cells in the colonies that still had  2015 blue queens, and figured they were superseding and that was fine with me.

Notes for self:

To date there have been 8 swarms, majority with virgins. Unfortunately, we had quite a bit of rain and I worry that the virgins weren’t able to mate.

Swarm dates:

April 27, April 30 (orange hive), May 1, May 4, May 8 (landed on elderberry, from pink colony based on scale–saw eggs), May 9(two swarms–one from pink again, gave to Brad), May 14 (aqua hive-gave to Larry T.)

May 14:

Checked the colonies (all but the orange one) and cut out all swarm cells. Capped queen cells were given to the new swarm colonies if no eggs were found.

Pink (scale hive)–left one capped queen cell, did not see a queen or evidence of one.

Aqua hive- Two virgins, all capped queen cells removed

Taranov swarm on top of Aqua–laying yellow queen

White hive– no eggs, added queen cell (there was a queen here before, maybe out mating?)

10-frame nuc–no eggs, added queen cell

Purple hive–had marked this queen before saw eggs–she’s no longer there (bad move on my part?) –added capped queen cell.

Chicken coop–2 queen system, each with a laying yellow queen (woo hoo!)

2 cardboard nucs– no eggs, added queen cells, threw in a virgin into the nuc closest to chicken colony.

I have 3 laying queens: in the two queen system by the chicken coop and the Taranov swarm on top of the aqua hive.

PLAN: 1. Check orange hive

              2. Recheck of colonies with no laying queens and combine as needed next weekend.

Queen cells

For the new beekeepers: don’t cut these out! There are posts all over the forums from new beekeepers who have cut out queen cells but gosh darn it, they can’t find their old queen or any eggs. What do you think these new beeks have done? Made the hive hopelessly queenless. Not a smart move.

A safe rule of thumb for anyone: if you don’t understand what you’re seeing, don’t do anything, close them up and leave them alone. The bees will sort it out. You can always ask for advice from your local beekeeper’s club.

A hive! A hive! My kingdom for a hive!

Goodness, what would you do if you found out you had 4 reigning monarchs and only 3 hives?

That’s exactly what we found at Connie’s bee yard on Sunday. The uber-mini nuc we made last weekend came from the green hive. We had taken the frames that had eggs in them hoping (with fingers crossed!) that we got the queen and MAY stave off a potential swarm. Before looking at the nuc, we checked the green hive which Connie calls Pistachio and found a lovely fat queen. I used my new queen marking cage (a less terrifying version of the British one): here and it worked very nicely. It doesn’t hold the queen firmly so she keeps running around but at least she’s confined to one area. So we marked her royal highness and two frames later find ANOTHER one. A little fatter this one I thought and I marked her too.

As we were starting to look at the frames, I noticed the brood cells (the bees were emerging) were surrounded by honey. In a normal brood frame the brood is clustered in the middle in an oblong shape, like an American football and the honey is along the top edge, with pollen in a band around the brood:

Capped brood surrounded by honey at EDGES, pollen is between the honey and brood. This is the way a brood frame should look: brood touching brood.

But this frame had uncapped honey in all the holes left by emerging brood. This is what is referred to as “backfilling the broodnest.” This may indicate swarming intent, or it just may mean they need more space for stores. What made me think they were NOT preparing to swarm was the presence of over 2 frames filled with eggs. I think I remember 3 frames of eggs but I can’t be sure. Usually a hive won’t swarm when there is a lot of open brood, there may be some but not several full frames-worth I would think…

Anyway, we saw lots of capped queen cells and open cells:

What a perfect picture: capped queen cell on the right, looks like an elongated peanut and an open queen cell on the left, you’re looking right into it and there is larva right inside! As always, click to make bigger.

After looking at Pistachio, we went into the nuc and found lots of queen cells, some closed, some open. I removed them in preparation to drop the sole 2 frames into the purple hive and as I was double-checking to make sure I got ALL of the queen cells, I spotted c-shaped larvae, the kind that’s 3-4 days old. I thought “Oh my lord” and looked for eggs, and there they were. Not a lot, but clearly at least a few dozen of them, they were perfectly placed in the middle of the cells and only one per cell. Oiy. Clearly the nuc had a queen too. But based on the fact that there were just a few eggs, I don’t think we took the old queen (she would have had more frames laid) but rather, a virgin had just mated and started to lay. There were supercedure cells in there though and so they were not happy with that queen for whatever reason. After debating what to do, we decided to pull the 2 frames back out and put them back into the nuc. If there STILL were supercedure cells on Sunday, I’ll try to find the queen and take her out. Here is a queen cell that I removed from the nuc, before the final swipe, you can see the larva right in the middle:

See the little larva? It’s surrounded by royal jelly which the bees secrete to feed all larvae for the first 3 days, after that they feed bee-bread to the workers but only the queen continues to eat royal jelly. That is what she will consume for the rest of her life. It’s a bitter, white jelly-like substance.

I didn’t have time to look through the purple hive completely so I’ll do that on Sunday. We’ll mark the queen if we see her. The plan is to let the green hive sort out which queen stays–this is not something you can decide for them as they will invariably make the best choice for themselves and you have no idea how they do this. Don’t mess it up for them!

I wanted to include a super-cool picture of festooning bees we captured:

No one is quite sure why bees festoon but one idea is that they do this during wax-building.

How long before…

You’re not a beginner anymore? I know I’m still a beginner. As my husband says tongue-in-cheek “Jeez, Anna, you’ve been doing this for a year now, shouldn’t you know everything by now?”

I write this as I experience the phenomenal guilt that comes from maiming someone else’s queen. Remember last week? Connie and I looked at the nuc I made for her and she did a great job finding the queen? I tried to mark the queen using the queen marking tube, it was a bust so I just did it while she was on the run? Well, Connie did her inspections today and guess what she found?? Capped queen cells. Yes, you read that correctly, CAPPED QUEEN CELLS. Do you want to take a guess why? Because of ME! I maimed the queen! I…can’t….handle….the…guilt. Wine helps.

I feel awful because this sets the hive back a few weeks and their awesomeness has been affected. Because these bees are awesome!

By coincidence, I was at Jim’s this morning and asked him about marking the queen: he picks her up by her wings and then puts her in the marking tube to mark her. He said he has actually ripped the legs off a queen when attempting to hold her on his pointer finger (non-dominant hand) and holding the legs with the thumb and middle finger, as is often pictured. I didn’t rip her legs off but I must have damaged her forelegs which the queen uses to sense the size of the cells and lay the appropriate eggs.

Let me update you about my orange hive: I just ordered a queen! Last week I saw the frame of capped brood that was added 2 weeks ago, Queen Maria had laid eggs in the middle of the frame. Today those eggs were larvae but every cell around them was empty. Nothing being used in the top deep other than those larvae, NOTHING!

Medium below the deep: 1/2 the frames were brood, the remainder were honey and pollen. I saw the queen and watched her for several minutes: she just kept going around to the same cells, which were already filled with eggs, pollen or honey. Queen Maria just seemed…slow. I don’t know how to describe it, something just was not right.

The bottom medium was about 70% brood, actually there were cells with no eggs in them, larvae in some cells but no eggs near them. This hive just hasn’t done as well as I expected it to. I sent an email to VPQueens placing an order for either a virgin queen or a queen cell.

Another thing, they have no stores. Where is the honey? I hope they have better luck with a different queen.