It is good that I have a little bit of experience when it comes to a hive raising its own queen. Not because I have some great wealth of knowledge to fall back on, but because I am not afraid to experiment a little.
At times, doing something, even if it's wrong, is better than doing nothing.
It may be useful someday.
As we came into spring, my original hives were really large. One of my biggest fears, next to not being able to find my queen, is having a hive swarm. I did not do all of this work so one of my hives could decide that they want to go live somewhere else. Also, there were news reports of swarms already being captured.
Awful early in the season for swarms.
I even had the pleasure of seeing a swarm myself. I have a friend that lives in town and he gave me a shout when he noticed a swarm in one of the trees in his back yard. I immediately jumped in the truck and went over there. I had never seen one before. It was about twelve feet up in a tree. A tree that was swaying back and forth in about 30 mph winds. The even more interesting part was that the actual ball of bees was swaying back and forth from the limb that was swaying back and forth.
A little intimidating.
I only considered capturing it for about two seconds. For one, I did not have a box to put them in. I am currently building boxes for what I have, I couldn't really justify stopping and trying to add more to the list. Second, I am certain my ladder was not tall enough. Funny, but in this type of situation, if you want to have a little fun, ask a non-beekeeper if they would be willing to hold a ladder while you try to grab them. The Man in Charge, a flat-out, "No." My friend that gave me the call, no answer at all, he just looked at me, as if I was speaking another language. The hive these particular bees were leaving was right next door. They collected on this tree branch for a very short time, then they were gone. I wouldn't of even had time to grab a ladder if I wanted to.
I spend a lot of time trying to expand my knowledge concerning bee keeping. I listen to speakers. I take classes. I learn from the guys that are making a living at it. I watch webinars on the Internet. I read books. You name it. Luckily, this pays off at times. Back at the beginning of March, I had sat through a lecture, and the gentleman said something that I had never considered. Being a small bee keeper allows some freedoms that the guys on the commercial level can't consider. He encouraged us to be willing to try new things and take some risks. Like experimenting with splits and letting them raise their own queens. I had only been considering what the pros were doing, trying to duplicate most of their techniques.
After listening to this lecture, I was out working my hives and it was becoming very obvious that they were getting out of control. I knew that I had queens on order to split both hives, but I considered doing something else. I actually did a split on one of my hives, but it was a rather small split. I only removed five frames from the brood box. There were various stages of brood, plus some honey stores to keep them fed. The other thing that I did, that is not always recommended, I placed this hive at the front of my property. Not really moving them a considerable distance away from the original hive could be risky because the worker bees may abandon the brood and just return to their hive. I made the decision to take the risk because the hive was so large I was afraid it would swarm. Having some brood die was worth the gamble.
Luckily, that did not happen. The worker bees stayed with their brood. I then started feeding them a little pollen substitute and some sugar syrup. Anything that I could do to make things a little easier on them. I also left them alone. Meaning I did not open the box. In a colony of bees, the worker bees will make queen cups on the brood frames. These cups are made ahead of time to use if necessary. In the event that they find themselves without a queen, like when someone picks them up and moves them like I had done, they take a larvae from a worker bee cell and place it in a queen cup. The queen cups are larger than worker cells. They actually will move more than one larvae. They then start raising a new queen by feeding all the queen cups royal jelly. From the time they cap the cells, to the time that the queens hatch out is sixteen days. This is pretty amazing considering that it takes a worker bee 21 days to emerge. Upon emerging, the queens will fight to the death. They do have stingers and they can sting multiple times, unlike a worker that can only sting once and then she dies.
I know the whole queen dieing thing is probably still fresh on your minds, but to me this is completely different. For one, it is something that occurs naturally and it has nothing to do with me. For another, it is a survival of the fittest sort-of-thing, and I want the strongest queen I can get. Once the dual to the death is over, the new reigning queen will spend a few days getting herself acclimated to her hive and letting others get used to her, then she is off to make her mating flight. In one flight out to the local drone bee hangout, she can mate a dozen or more times. You may all remember that this is less than ideal for the drone bee, considering he immediately dies. If you missed the lecture on drone bees, you can catch it on the post Never Stop Learning The interesting aspect of the mating flight, one that I have never considered, mating is an in-flight operation. This may not sound like a big deal to most, but it becomes a very big deal when you consider that they are trying to hook up in 25 mph-plus winds.
Once this task is accomplished, the new hive is on its way. The queen starts laying, then it is 21 days until the first worker bees start emerging. This, in my opinion, is where it could start getting interesting. For one thing, I really have no control over the genetics of this hive. Upon mating with whomever she mated with, we may or may not have some aggressive bees.
Just have to wait and find out.
The good news...
So far, so good. I have checked on this hive a couple of times since the new queen has taken over and I have some pictures for you. I also have switched to a new style of feeder for my hives. I took some pictures because I just thought they were so dang cool. Probably won't have as much of an impact on you, unless of course, you are a beekeeper.
You should know two things before looking at these shots:
1. I did not plan for this hive, so as of right now, they live in the ghetto. They will get new boxes soon, but these were thrown together out of necessity.
2. Taking pictures of bees, by yourself, is harder than you may think. I only have two hands, and while I am juggling the bees and all of my tools, I am also trying to keep honey and wax off of my camera.
This box is old and unfinished. This lid is made of scrap pieces of wood, thrown together.
Here is the queen, trying to dive under the workers to hide.
If you look really close at the picture below, you can see the white larvae curled up in the bottom of the cells. This is proof that she did make her mating flight, and she was obviously successful. The drone population has gotten a little lighter around here.
For those of you with allergies, here is a good look at the pollen that may be causing you grief. This is the edge of a frame and it is a good example of what you should see in the brood box. The brood will be concentrated in the center, then along the outside of the frames, you will find cells of pollen and honey stores that are used to feed the larvae and the bees as they emerge.
Take another look at the shot above, and you will find the queen in the bottom center of the shot.
Below is a look at the new feeder in place. It holds one gallon of syrup and it is placed inside the hive. This insures that only my bees are eating my syrup. It also allows me to go four or five days without having to worry about them while they are building up their hive.
As you can see, this hive of a few frames of bees has turned into something on its own. They will be out of the ghetto soon, and living in their own wonderful world. This will also free up this junk box to use for the occasional swarm.
Now, if I can just find someone to hold my ladder.