I will have spring honey and more bees for sale ! A few weeks ago small hive beetles destroyed five nucs and their combs. I managed to take one surviving nuc from an inner chamber of my queen castle, while the other 3 had been killed by the beetles, and I put them in a clean nuc box and just prayed for the best. With no eggs present, no queen cells, and only a few bees, they were doomed. But I was wrong.
Yesterday I had time to prepare for a larger apiary, move two hives and inspect them. I started with the nuc that apparently survived the beetle attack. I was thrilled to see 3 frames of bees.
I noticed traffic at the nuc box had steadily improved over the course of three weeks. That's not what should happen to a handful of bees with no queen. With more bees in there than I put in the box 3 weeks ago, I knew they had a laying queen. I apparently overlooked a virgin queen in my haste when saving these few frames from the beetles 3 weeks ago. I looked as I put them in, of course, but didn't see her. Virgin queens are slim and easy to miss. Yesterday, when I opened them up the first thing I saw was a beautiful, tight and full brood pattern. And then I saw her highness, fat and busy, laying eggs, and showing off her beautiful amber color. And oh, yeah, this nuc was the calmest bees I've ever worked. This stock is the kind you want in your apiary, and to offer others. After I get this one to full strength, I'll take some eggs and workers, and make more new colonies from this beautiful new queen to propagate these genetics. I am thrilled to say the least.
After the beetle attack, and seeing some of my hives weaker than they should because of the resources used and ultimately wasted when taken from them to start the nucs, I had given up hopes of honey. I made a split off of Boris, my original hive, a "dirty split" where you don't try and find the queen but just split one box from another, put it in a new location, and leave it at that. Boris' bees have been amazing survivors. But this year they are pissy, and I am fed up with pissy bees. Time to requeen. So far my local and Russian-local hybrids have been calm, easy to work and great expanders.
Noticing traffic on the one box from Boris I moved has been increasing steadily since I made the split over a month ago, I assumed the new queen was in the original location. The Boris split's new queen began laying around April 27. When I opened up the original box, they were super pissy. That box most definitely has the original queen inside. The new queen was the top box I'd moved to the other end of my apiary. I'm excited, because heavy traffic there means a new queen is laying fast and furious, building up wonderfully. The original Boris box also has had an increase of traffic lately. Russians are slow starters, and the original queen is now two years old. It's common that they tire out, lay fewer eggs = a weaker colony, and I suspected I may have been sold an old queen when I bought her in 2011 (not cool). Now the original, pissy bees are expanding in number, and expanding my chances of honey this year. When I opened them up to repeated attack, I saw a 9 out of 10 frames of bees. They hadn't really begun to travel up to the medium super I put on top of them, which is where I'd hoped they would put their honey. Judging from last year with this same hive, I suspected the honey was down below, what we call "back-filling the brood nest".
Boris is, indeed, back-filling with honey, and lots of it! I saw five frames of honey, half of them capped.
Regardless, a ton of honey is in that box. I realized that after I picked up the box, separating it from the slatted rack I'd built for it and the bottom board, so I could move it. My back instantly said, "there's a lot of honey in this box!! In the next couple weeks I will be taking off about 50 pounds of honey from this one half-hive alone. The tulip poplars have just opened up so that flow is on, and white clover has been booming for a full month now, as has dandelion for a couple of months. I will have honey, and some for sale!!! It looks I will have more than I took in last year, which was my goal. So far this one small colony has 5/7 of the entire honey I took in last year (which was 70 pounds)! And this year I have many more colonies bringing in the precious spring nectar.
In the next few days I'll start pulling honey frames from Boris, and replacing them with empty frames for them to draw out. If I don't, a back-filled brood nest of honey will lead to swarming. Keep the brood nest open no matter what, the golden rule to prevent swarming. She must have room to lay.
This year I'm using starter strips of foundation at the top of each empty frame. They draw out empty frames very fast. I want to see if they draw out frames with starter strips even faster. Previously I'd put a frame in for them to draw out. I'd put it in a wrong position, all the way against the side of the box. I should've put it closer to the center of the broodnest, or at least in-between two fully drawn frames. I removed that frame, slid 3 over from the middle and inserted an empty frame with a starter strip of foundation. Boy, those bees were PISSY! It took me a while to get that new frame in there, dodging all kinds of attacks. After removing the empty frame on the side I put a starter-strip empty frame in the middle of the brood nest, and it was quickly covered in bees. Time to get to work, girls, and give your queen room to lay eggs! Once I'm satisfied with my new queens, I'll execute or "pinch" this old queen and put in a fresh one to make nice, calm bees.
I moved both the nuc and Boris over to the left by three feet each. I'll be putting in larger stands very soon and leave space between the hives so it'll be easier to work them. While I was at it, I installed my homemade 2-inch shims and beetle traps on top of the nuc and Boris. The bait I made is one they love: cider vinegar, sugar and rotten banana peels.
_ I also put in a Corex beetle trap just inside of Boris after I removed its entrance reducer. The corex traps are pieces of corex, with the cavities filled with diatemaceous earth and capped with shortening. They love the shortening and will eat through it, and try to find a lovely place to hang out away from the bees who are chasing them in the perfect-sized cavities of the corex. Hopefully the diatemaceous earth will do its part and kill those evil beetles. I know the "Sonny Mel" traps I put on top work, at least a little.
Hopefully the corex traps will, too. Most beekeepers put boric acid inside the cavities, but since I run a chemical-free apiary, I went with diatemaceous earth. I'm also a treatment-free beekeeper. But trapping is not the same as treating, so I'm still keeping any contaminants off my bees and the hive itself, since the traps are self-contained. We'll see how the corex and diatemaceous earth works out. I have no idea if it will work, but heck, I'm gonna try!
Also this weekend I practiced drawing Bullwinkle, and then decorated a hive body with the hilarious moose from the 1950's "Rocky and Bullwinkle Show". This one was in color, and for painting on a box with a handle cut-out, I think it came out pretty good. tI can't wait to transfer one of my strongest colonies, a double-decker overwintered nuc, into what will become Hive Bullwinkle. Now, onto Rocky!
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Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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