Tag Archives: queen bee

Bee Addition and Subtraction

It’s been a long time since my last update.  Been a long lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely time.

For a while, I planned on a new blog post about once a week.  But as it often does, life kept getting in the way.  So, for the next handful of updates, I’ll try to recall all of the special details from past geek-off-grid-iness situations.

Months ago, I got a message from a friend in town who had honeybees in his porch ceiling.  And he needed them gone.

Sweet!  It just so happens that I want honeybees, so this seemed like a win-win-win situation.  I already had most of what I needed: extra hive bodies and the proper equipment need to peek your face into a bee colony.   I bought a couple other things (a queen cage and some lemongrass oil), gathered all of my stuff, and planned on making a day of it.

Sure enough, when I rolled up, there were tons of bees going in and out of the porch ceiling.  Keith said that they were pretty calm and they only sting Jehovah’s Witnesses in the six or seven years that he’d known they were there.  Add me to the list, though, because while I was invading their space (before I had my veil on), one got caught in my hair.  After it panicked for a a minute or so between the forest on my head (i.e., it was nowhere near my bald spot), I thought I’d try to help it get unstuck.  It wasn’t a fan of that, and died in order to let me know.

keith-porch

I forgot to get many pictures, but you can kind of see the hole that they were using as an entrance in the corner.  So I removed the soffit, hoping to see a glorious amount of honeycomb, considering they’d been there for so long.  Here’s what I saw instead:

keith-porch2

Yup.  Nothing.

Apparently that was only the gate to their courtyard.  I walked through his house, putting my ear to the ground (literally) and walls, and determined that the glorious honey was somewhere in the floor joists between two bedrooms.  This was above my pay grade, so I packed up and left.  Sad day.  Sting and no honey.  (Which would have been a much better backup band name for The Police)

Since that produced no extra bees for me, I decided to go with phase two: splitting one of my healthy hives.

It’s not rocket science…  Nature does this all the time, and as a colony grows a beekeeper must make sure to give them ample space to continue to store honey.  If they outgrow their house, a new queen is reared and the old queen takes about half of the bees with her to find a new home.  Or – the ’emergency’ situation is that nurse bees start rearing a new queen if the old one dies, disappears, is sick or just not laying eggs like she should.  Splitting a hive is pretty much just forcing a bunch of nurse bees to make a new queen because they’re cut off from the old one.

I’ve watched YouTube, folks.  I’m an expert.

I took five frames out of my strongest hive – three frames of larvae, one frame of honey, and one empty frame so they could have room to grow – and put them into one of my original Nuc boxes.

healthy-nuc

There are a lot of different methods online – but it seemed like the general consensus was that the existing queen simply needed to stay with the old hive.  Of all of the bees that came over to the new hive, a bunch of them would go back to the old hive (just because when they leave the Nuc, they’d fly back based on their memory) and the nurse bees would stick around and make a new queen.

split-hive

Easy peasy, right?

Well, I came back maybe a week later, and the Nuc was pretty low on honey.  I still had a lot of wax from when I extracted my first harvest of honey, and it was probably actually a 1:1 ratio of honey to wax.  I had planned on heating the honey wax to separate them, possibly to make candles or something (and of course eat the honey) – but instead I decided to give it to the honey-hungry Nuc.  Over the next few days, I left this honeywax at the top of their hive, as well as at the entrance.

If I haven’t said it before, bees do not waste honey.

wax-dust

Each time I gave them a clump of sticky-sweet-waxy goodness, I returned to find that they’d sucked every ounce of honey out of it and turned it into dust.  The above picture has just a little bit of honey left (the darker spot by the bee).

Here’s a short video of them incredibly focused on the task at hand:

Anyhow, it was all for naught.  I realized at one point that it was a losing battle, because no queen cells were starting to form.  And as the hive grew weaker (no new bees to take over as the older ones died off), wax moths and other jerks started taking over.  It was a complete loss.

At least the chickens took advantage of the situation, though…

So I tried again!  Exact same method, but this time I noticed three or four in-progress queen cells when I transferred the frames over to the new Nuc.

And the same thing happened.

jerks

But, even worse: apparently, in all the commotion in transferring frames, the healthy hive’s queen was lost.  I should have thought of that when I took literally all of the potential queen cells out, but I didn’t.  So, when I went back to check the Nuc two weeks later, a once bustling hive was now almost completely empty.

empty-hive

I wish I had good news to end on, but I don’t.  I completely dismantled the hive (it had wax moths and other critters as well, so I didn’t want to combine it with my other still healthy hive) and left it out for the chickens.

dismantled-hive

Perhaps the tiniest bit of silver lining is that the other hive found the now exposed honey, and stored it for themselves.  But, they’re not nearly as productive as the hive that I lost, so I’m not even sure they’ve gathered enough to make it through the coming winter.  Hopefully I’ll have good news later!

stealing-honey

candled-egg-banner

You Win Some, You Lose Some

A lot has happened over the last three weeks!

First – The Bees

At the risk of sounding confident, I’m actually getting a hang of this whole beekeeping thing…  I guess about two weeks ago, I decided to remove the top feeders in both my hives, because both hives had a decent amount of “honey” stored up.  (I put quotes around honey, because a lot of the honey was made from my sugar syrup rather than nectar)  I figured that, while flowers were blooming, it would be better for them to go out and gather rather than lazily assume that food will always be raining down over their heads like manna.  That way, when I put my first medium honey super on, I’ll get pure honey rather than sugar water.

I put my second deep brood boxes on both hives about three weeks ago, before removing the top feeder.  The last time I poked my head in, they hadn’t drawn much of the new frames out – just starting on the center frames – but there were a good amount of bees exploring it.  I’m going to be checking in today – so it probably would have been better for me to wait to post with a fresh update, but I just wanted to post everything that has happened lately.  (Or I won’t – because it started raining as I was writing this)

Two deeps deep!

Two deeps deep!

I also removed the entrance reducers for both hives, which are used to simply reduce the size of the entrance so that a small hive can defend itself.  If they have a wide entrance, then robbers (bees from other hives that are low on honey stores) could come in and steal honey without encountering a lot of bees.  The first hive (the one with only one mark on the entrance, and the one that I thought had no queen for a while) pretty much immediately covered the entire entrance board, which proved that the reducer was getting in their way.  Later that day, the second hive, however, only had a few bees around where the entrance used to be, and seemed even less active than when I took the reducer off.  I put it back in, but somewhat awkwardly diagonal, so that bees could get in almost half of the whole entrance.  I checked on them a couple of days ago, though, and removed the entrance reducer at that point, and they’re defending like champs.

Strong defense of second hive entrance

Strong defense of first hive entrance

You can kind of see how I awkwardly placed this entrance reducer

You can kind of see how I awkwardly placed this entrance reducer on the second hive

The picture is above is fairly late in the day, so there are a lot more bees hanging out than mid-day.  I saw both hives bearding the other evening, and I thought I took a picture, but apparently I didn’t.  “Bearding” is basically when all the bees are home for the night, and a whole bunch of them cover the front of the hive because it’s hot inside – way more than the picture above.  If they’re bearding mid-day, then you’re probably about to have a swarm (half of your bees will leave, if not all) – or at least that’s how I understand it.  If I’d seen a hive of bees bearding before I learned all of this stuff, I probably would have assumed they were plotting to kill me.

Here’s a little zen bee moment for you…  Their buzzing is actually calming to me these days, because I’m continually in awe of them, and of the design that they are following perfectly (that results in honey for me!).  Around 1:40-2:00 you can see the queen (bottom right at the beginning, then bottom center when I turn the frame around.

Second – The Chickens

Two weeks ago Holly and I went up to Kentucky to see my family for Father’s Day, as well as go to Hasting Plants (my aunt’s greenhouse) for her annual season-end blowout.  (If you’re in the southern Indiana/Illinois area, you should check them out.  But – next year.  Season’s over!)  My brother was originally planning on giving me some eggs from his meticulously bred Delaware chickens, but the roosters up and died not too long before he started breeding them, so I got a mix of 15 Delaware, Ameraucana, and Black Copper Marans eggs.  I promptly put them in my incubator upon getting back home, and they’ve been sitting there for almost the entire time since.  I’ve opened it a few times to add water to keep the humidity up, but I’ve been trying to simply leave them alone.  For the first day or two, I constantly looked in on them – as if my eyes would make the process any faster…  I’ve calmed down since.

Chicken Incubator

I candled the eggs a few days ago, which is taking them in a dark location, and putting a light behind them to illuminate the inside of the egg.  A few of the eggs are blue-green, and I couldn’t see through those shells at all, and I think I need a few flashlight because the others still didn’t give me a great look.  The image at the top of this post is what a candled egg looks like – though that is not my image because I could barely see inside even when I wasn’t trying to get my camera ready.

I candled them again today, because there were a few that looked to me like they weren’t developing.  I didn’t take them out of the incubator early in the week, because I didn’t want to make an assumption and throw away good eggs.  When I did it today, though, 5 eggs still looked completely undeveloped, so I pulled them.  I cracked them open to confirm, and four of them looked like they never started developing, most likely because they were jostled too much during travel (all of those yolks were broken).  The last one started developing, but died probably on day 7, based on how the embryo looked.  I couldn’t tell at first, because the eggs had a large shadow ring inside it, which I thought might be a big crack in the shell messing with the light.  I called my brother and he told me it was probably a blood ring, which basically is a sure sign that the embryo died – and that was confirmed when I cracked it open.

I’ve still got about a week before they start hatching, which means I need to get on the ball in terms of preparation.  The first living arrangement won’t be too difficult, but building their long term home will take some time.  I figured if I actually got the eggs first, I would have some hard deadlines to make sure these things happen!

NewBee Mistake: She’s Alive!

Last time on our program, our hero discovered no signs of a queen in one of his hives, so he took measures into his own hands.

Whelp, I checked the frame of brood that I transferred into the “queenless” hive a few days after I placed it, expecting to see a queen cell.  No luck.

I checked again a few days later, and still no queen cell – but I magically saw a bunch of eggs!  And upon further inspection, I found my queen!  I don’t know why I was having so much trouble finding eggs or the queen previously, but she seems to be doing her job.  There I go trying to be in control, and they let me know that they were just fine on their own, thank-you-very-much.  I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that they know about what they’re doing a lot more than I do…

I was planning on opening up my hives today to get a picture, but it started raining just as I went outside.  I’m going to have to actually start paying attention to the weather, since it directly affects the things I do now.

In other news, though, I’m ready for chickens!

incubator

 

Well – maybe not completely ready – but I’m ready for eggs.  (At least in this case, the eggs are coming first)

My father-in-law’s college roommate gave the above incubator to my mother-in-law to give to me, and I picked up an egg turner from some folks on Craigslist last night.  Also got another heat lamp while I was there.  (I asked them why they were getting rid of all their hatching gear, and they said they went vegan.  Yup – it would make sense to get out of the chicken game if you won’t eat meat or eggs…)  I thought about doing without the egg turner, but my brother wisely encouraged me to get one – otherwise I’d have to turn them manually at least twice daily.  I told myself it wasn’t a very big commitment, but he shed light on the fact that for three weeks I would not be allowed to be gone for a day or two.  Plenty of people have friends feed their dogs/cats while they’re on vacation, but I’m not sure folks would understand the need if I said “Hey – can you swing by on Saturday morning to turn all the eggs, and then come by in the evening and put them back to how they were originally?  And Sunday, too?”

I’m hoping that I’ll be getting my eggs this weekend from my brother (some from him, and some from another farm that he orders from).  I’ll then have 21 days to figure out exactly what I’ll be doing for their different stages of life after that.  The immediate need of a space for the chicks is not a concern – there are a hundred options for that.  The thing that will keep me working is building a coop and run.  I’m also considering trying to build a chicken tractor (small movable coop/run), that would both buy me a little time on the big coop, and could act as a quarantine if I’ve got some sick birds.  And it would also allow them to eat some of the goodies in my yard.

I’ll have some land flowing with eggs and honey soon enough!  Though, I’m not sure I really want to see eggs flowing through my land…