Thursday, July 11, 2013

Thorough Inspection = Queenless Hives

Please remember, we are very new at this.  This is an account of what we're observing and doing, NOT a recommendation of what to do.  Only time will tell if we're on the right track.  So in the meantime, read along, look at the pictures and appreciate all the amazing skills that the BEES possess.

Two Saturdays ago (the Saturday after all the "swarms"), while the kids were at my sister's, Jamey and I spent some quality time with our hives.

The small hive beetles are still around but seem to be in check.

We abandoned our former method of putting hive legs in motor oil (to keep the ants out) because the rain kept replacing the oil and bees kept falling in them (and dying, of course).  Instead we're trying Vaseline brushed around the legs.  We'll keep you posted on how it's working.

Disgusting, isn't it?  A mixture of motor oil, rain, bugs and bees:-(.  No more.

The divide (Hive #3) is doing great.  The queen is laying splendidly and the bees are building new comb as quick as we add new bars.  It started at 5 bars and is now up to 13 four weeks later.

The lower hive which was doing perfectly ten days before, left us bewildered.  There were no eggs and no young larva = no evidence of a laying queen. There were a few older larva still present and plenty of capped brood, but clearly the beautiful light-colored queen that was so easy to find for weeks and weeks was gone.  What happened to her?  We have no idea.

a little bearding on a warm day

The upper hive, which was to be raising a queen, was full of capped honey, unripe honey, pollen, drones, workers, lots of empty queen cells but no queen and no eggs or larva.  So either...

1) our grafts didn't take,
2) they did but they swarmed,
3) the new queen wasn't back from her mating flight or
4) she hadn't started laying yet and we didn't see her.

We don't know which, so we took a brushed (no adult bees) comb of eggs and larva from the divide hive (the only one with a queen at this point) and transferred it over.  Our hope is that the brood pheromone will suppress the worker's urge to lay eggs and/or give the workers another chance to raise a queen from one of the eggs.

Two hives were queenless.  We figured we had three choices.

1) Do nothing and hope that the bees would raise themselves some queens.

2) Try grafting more eggs into empty queen cells again to get them started.

3) Buy two queens and introduce them to the hives.

We put in a call to the apiary we bought the bees from to see if they had any local queens available.  While waiting for a call back, I looked online to see if I could find any apiaries in our state (or neighboring states) who had queens available.  All were sold out until spring of 2014 or were charging outrageous prices.

Miracle of all miracles, the kind folks we bought the bees from called back to say that they had two capped queen cells that we could HAVE which were due to hatch out in a few days.  Sweet!

These are the plastic queen cups which were grafted with young bee larva by the local beekeeper.  The bees fed and then capped the pupa, soon to (hopefully) emerge healthy and happy queen bees.

So, that very same day, Jamey picked up the capped queen cups that were grafted by the beekeeper and pressed them into combs in our queenless hives.  Now, we wait 2-3 weeks to see if the queens emerge, mate and begin laying.

queen cup pressed into comb in hopes she'll make this her new home

We are in awe of the roller coaster ride beekeeping has been after these few months.  While it's a tad more exciting than we would have liked, we sure are learning a lot.  If you're considering bees, keep this in mind.  Seriously.  Actually getting honey from the hives this year?  It's the furthest thing from our minds:-).
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  1. Bees are a wonderful hobby and surely are necessary for any of us with crops. We live in Penna., and had a hard winter this year and actually lost 2 hives. We combined two of the weaker hives in hopes they would be strengthened into one strong hive, but even with the best procedures, it hasn't happened. However, our oldest and largest hive is doing wonderfully, and are ready to add our 3rd honey box. You just have to thank God for what nature gives us and be patient and understanding of the little bees.

  2. I'm enjoying reading your blog after becoming aware of it by reading Herrick Kimball's blog. Your pictures are fantastic!

    During my lunch break, I'll be working my way through older posts to learn as much as I can from you guys. We have a small homestead farm and have the same philosophy.

    Keep up the great work! God Bless you!

  3. Bees are on my list, but I think I may sit back and watch your adventure for a little while!:)

  4. We had a similar experience over the past few weeks, though we've had swarms, lost all of our queens, jury-rigged our top-bar, and added a purchased queen - only to then have robbers find the stored honey! I knew things could be challenging with bees, but goodness are we learning a lot about bee behaviour :)

    We will be going in for an inspection on Sunday, and hope that our last efforts to save our very first colony of bees in a homemade top-bar hive haven't ended in a very expensive sweetener. Fingers crossed that the queen has been laying, and the colony will be strengthened.


Just a friendly reminder, if you know me personally please try to refrain from using my name. There are those who may try to locate me, break into my pantry and steal my pickled beets. Thanks:-).

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