Busy as a bee

Springtime is always a busy time for a beekeeper.  I’ve been so busy keeping bees and keeping life, that there hasn’t been time for me to collect my thoughts for a post in over a month!  For those who may have been wondering why I’ve been silent (you know who you are), rest assured that things are good, I’m just busy as a bee!

In the last post, I was trying to do a split, but ended up catching a swarm.  Since that time, I did split BnB2 and caught 2 more swarms!  I’m back up to 6 hives, which means more time watching these new colonies grow – despite my intent to be more hands off this year.  So here’s the rundown.

BnB1

After a slow start where I didn’t think this colony was going to make it, they have rebounded and are making comb faster than all the other hives.  I have a bucket of water close to the entrance, and I watch the bees going from the hive to the bucket and back in a steady stream.  For me, that’s a sign that they are doing well and expanding their domain.  I think this queen knows that if she has a slow start with very little brood, it will keep the mites at bay.  If they keep going at this rate, there will be some nice comb honey to harvest.  Here’s a comparison from early in the season to later on for the amount of brood she’s laying.

Not much brood in BnB1 earlier in the season

Good brood in BnB1 later on.

BnB2

After a failed try at a split because I couldn’t find the queen, the next weekend, I tried again.  BnB2 had plenty of queen cups, but still none had larvae in them, but, I made the split anyway. This time it took me while to find the queen, but then I did and moved her over to smaller hive with some brood comb and some bees.  Unfortunately, she was on a comb that had the newest eggs which would have been best for the old colony to use for a new queen.  But, the deed was done, so now I just had to wait.

Bees reorienting after the split

I checked a week later and they had obviously found some eggs or young larvae to make some queens because there were 8-10 queen cells.

Queen cells, BnB2

I waited another week or so for the queens to emerge,  but the queen cells were still intact.  As someone once said, “Things take time”.  Another week and all the queen cells were opened.  That meant that either a queen or two had emerged, or none were viable and the workers opened them.

Opened queen cells in BnB2

Now it was time to wait to see if there was a new queen and whether she got mated or not.  I’m never good at waiting long enough for this to happen.  On top of that, we had a a lot of rainy weather and even a snowstorm while she should have been out getting mated!  It was so wet, a pair of ducks came to check out my yard!

Ducks in the back yard

Finally, after a couple of weeks, I found some eggs in the hive, so that means I have a mated queen.  Now, I’ll wait a couple more weeks to see how well she does at making new bees.

Sarah’s Hive

I put the first swarm I caught into Sarah’s empty hive.  I’ve been checking on them only occasionally, but went over yesterday for a peek.  This was a pretty big swarm to start with, but they are really filling up the hive.  They are only a few bars from filling up and haven’t even started making honey yet.  I think I’ll need to split this hive.

Brood and Bees in Sarah’s hive

Laura’s Hive

The split with the queen from BnB2 eventually found it’s way into Laura’s hive.  I moved the nuc down to Laura’s yard in the evening after doing the split earlier in the day.  Even though it’s only a few houses down the block, moving a hive full of bees is no small task.  Rather than carry it, I loaded it into my truck and drove it down the street, then placed it on top of it’s final resting place of Laura’s hive.  It went pretty smoothly.

Nuc hive at Laura’s, ready to put into the big hive

After a week, I moved them into the larger hive.

Transfer complete (almost)

I checked on them a couple of days ago and they seem to be doing well.

Swarm #2/Hello Kitty (aka Duncan’s) Hive

Swarm #2 was found in a lamp post on a cold, wet afternoon.  This was a little trickier than swarm #1 since I couldn’t just shake them into a box.  Ideally, I would have had a bee vacuum (new project!) to suck them out of the light, but I just brushed the bees from the outside into a box hoping the queen was on the outside.  I also scooped as many of the bees from the inside as I could with my hand.

Bee swarm on light post

Cap off, now to get the rest of the bees

After I got most of the bees in the box, the stragglers started flying in which made me feel good that I had captured the queen.

I left the box there until evening and when I picked it up, it was raining.  Most of the bees had gone into the box, but there were still some stragglers on the lamp post.  I brushed as many as I could into another box and took them home.  I immediately dumped the bees in Duncan’s hive so they could cluster up and keep warm.  I had some old comb and honey in the hive to make them feel like it was a home they wanted to stay in.  Just as I got back to my house, we had a snow shower, so I got them in there just in time.  I felt sorry for the bees that I wasn’t able to get into the boxes.

I checked on them yesterday and they are building up their numbers.  They had a little bit of cross combing but the queen is not laying a very good brood pattern.  I think I’ll need to requeen this colony.

Swarm #3/Left Hand Hive

My third swarm came from a hive that had already swarmed a week earlier.  Since the original queen should have gone with the first swarm, this one should have a virgin queen.  It was another easy capture – they flew to a branch resting on the ground a few feet away from their hive.  

I lifted the branch and shook the bees into the box and then scooped up another clump that was on the ground and put them in the box.  There were bees fanning at the entrance and then most of the rest of the bees started marching in, so I figured I got the queen.

After most of the bees were in, I was looking around on the ground and saw a clump of several bees lying around.  When I looked closer, I found that there was a virgin queen there!  Crap!  She was barely moving and wasn’t looking too good.  I tried to coax her into the hive, but then I just picked her up and dumped her in.   Now, the question was whether she’d recover, or if not, whether there might be another queen in there.

I got the swarm home and put it in the Langstroth hive.  I wanted to make sure that I had a viable queen before moving the hive out to the Left Hand farm.  Just to make sure, I took some brood and eggs from Laura’s hive (which was the most productive of my stock at that point) and put them into this hive so they could raise a new queen if need be. 

Since Laura’s hive is a top bar hive, it required that I wire the bar into a Langstroth frame (fortunately my bars from this hive are the perfect width).  The comb was too deep for the frame, so I had to cut the bottom off (which is where the best eggs were) and wired that into another frame.   After a few days, I peeked inside again to see if they had started making queens, but they hadn’t so either the queen I found survived, or there was another queen in the swarm.  A couple of weeks later, I found some eggs in the new comb, so the queen had been mated and was on her way.

Eggs in Left Hand Hive swarm – look like grains of rice in cells in the center of picture.

I finally moved the hive out to the Left Hand farm last week.  When I checked on them the other day, the queen was laying nicely, but they didn’t have much in the way of honey or nectar, so I dropped in a couple of combs of honey to jump start their development.

So, another beekeeping season is well under way and now I have six hives.  For the first time, I didn’t have to buy bees to increase my colonies. I did it all through swarms and splits.   – using survivor stock which hopefully will be hardier than bees shipped in from California.  I’ll probably make a split from Sarah’s hive and be back up to the same number (7) I had last year.

 

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One Response to Busy as a bee

  1. Julie says:

    It does my heart good to see all the swarms you’ve caught! That’s wonderful! The lamp post swarm must have been a fun one! Can’t believe Sarah’s hive has to be split again already. That must have been a massive swarm!

    Love the before/after photos of BnB1. It always amazes me to see how quickly a weak hive can build up when there is a flow on. Bees are so clever. They know to be patient and act when the time is right.

    Glad all is well!

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