Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Queen Bee Raising

Queen cells cut off of combs and pressed onto a top bar to consolidate them. Possibly we should have sliced out a bit more surrounding comb to have more material to work with and reduce the chances of damaging the cells.
The bees have been booming (apparently, it's an unusually good spring for them, with better than average weather and nectar-producing plant flowerings). Populations built up, with the consequence that some of the hives starting making new queens, in preparation for swarming. Swarming means that half the worker bees leave with the old queen, and freshly hatched virgin queens fight it out to see who will take over the hive and/or also take off with their own swarms. The beekeeper wants to discourage swarming but still have a strong colony to make honey, and so has to try to achieve a delicate balance where the colony has just enough open space in the hive and the population hovers barely below the level where it tries to spawn a daughter colony.

Recently hatched virgin queen, soon to be added to a small, queenless "split."
Girlfriend Devan and I (well, mostly Devan) have been discovering swarm cells (queens being raised in preparation for swarming), and dealing with it by pulling out the cells, along with frames of bees. This weakens the colony a bit, discourages swarming, and also creates new colonies that can be added to the apiary or sold. The split colonies with queen cells or virgin queens have been going to various outlying locations to get established and the queens mated: bees are weirdly inflexible about the location of their hive, and if you move a split within the 2-3 mile radius where they might recognize some landmarks, most of the bees that had ever been outside of the hive will abandon their new home and fly straight back to their original colony.

The first of the new mated queens this spring.
The first successfully mated new queen actually wound up getting put back into one of our original colonies, to take the place of a queen from last year that was going downhill (laying not enough eggs, in a spotty pattern). The later splits are getting established now, and I'll know in a week or two if they worked out as well as the first one.

The main point of all this: five pounds of delicious local wildflower honey.
The strongest of the hives is producing a lot of honey, at the moment probably mainly from clover, black locust and multiflora rose. There's one medium super (hive box placed on top of the main colony) full of finished honey, capped with wax in the comb. That's about 50 pounds right there, plus a second super the bees are working on filling pretty quickly, and a couple of other supers on smaller hives that are starting to see some comb getting built and nectar processed into honey. So yeah, I already know what friends and family are getting for Christmas this year, unless they express strong, preferably medically-based objections.

Swarm about 40 feet up in a Pitch Pine.
Two swarms have gotten away from the apiary in spite of our efforts at swarm prevention. I have some bait hives up in the area to try to catch swarms, and a few scout bees showed interest in these, but in the end the swarm pictured here took off for parts unknown, only a couple of hours after leaving the hive. It was a shame to lose the bees and their queen, who was quite productive, but the hive they came from is still plenty strong, and it was fascinating to witness the swarming process.


Julie said...

This is fascinating!!! Neat photos and post!!! I hope everyone enjoys their honey this year!!! :)

Matt said...

I've sampled the honey and it's delicious!