It was time to do a little maintenance and take a quick peek on my biggest hive that's put up the most honey, the 2014 swarm hive I've fallen in love with. Still haven't made nucs off this one, yet. Sure hope I get a chance to before she swarms out, dies or is superceded. Well, it was time to see how many more frames they'd drawn out in the additional super I put on (I checker-boarded frames, drawn versus undrawn), and put a queen excluder on so that over the next month she wouldn't be laying in the honey chambers, everything can hatch out and they can back-fill those combs with whatever honey is left to come in. Always good to have a plan.
On my initial "it won't take but just 15 or 20 minutes, honey" visit, I found an indicator that things wouldn't go as planned (read, this will take MUCH longer than 15 minutes).
Well, they hadn't touched any more of the undrawn frames in the supers. And, then there was a bit of a surprise when I lifted out my first brood frame on this visit.
But what's one surprise if you don't get at least another? So, what the ... SWARM CELLS??! But I just saw supercedure cells on the previous frame?! I was instantly confused. Nothing quite like feeling stupid in the bee yard. Was that a veil I was wearing or the proverbial dunce cap?
Annnnnnnd, yet another frame with a queen cell on it. So 3 frames with queen cells (so far). Goooooood, night in the mornin'!
Had I noticed a reduction in bee traffic at the front door? Yes! Was the queen in there? Didn't see her. But I did see a few eggs, some larvae, a nice tight brood pattern, so she HAD been in there. I was convinced they were superceding the old queen. But after sleeping on it a night, I realized I'd seen a beautiful frame of SWARM CELLS. (I checked the forums at beesource.com and the concensus was that the NUMBER of queen cells, not just their position on the frames, indicates the hive had swarmed out.)
So I went back and did what I could to make the most of out the situation the day after. Still, I hadn't gone into the deep chamber. Yep, it was time to take the hive apart and go all the way down and complete the inspection. On my way down I checked progress of the queen cells (none had hatched yet), and put the one frame and a couple of shallow brood frames aside. Then into the deep chamber I went. One honey comb was dry. More evidence of swarming, I think (honey removed from the brood chamber). So convinced it was swarm cells I'd seen, I found this.
Good grief, what do I know? Only so much as what the bees teach me. I do know this: often, in the bee yard things go SOMEWHAT different than they say in all the text books. Here, I thought you got either one kind of cell or another. Nope, I got both. But you have to take in EVERYTHING to get the whole story. I realize now that at least I wouldn't have to split the hive up after taking off the honey supers. I'd planned on breaking up this hive into attempted nuc's to a) break the brood cycle so that b) Varroa destructor mites would perish and c) I'd end up with more, younger laying queens in the process. But the bees always teach me that THEY are in charge of their schedule, not me. Fortunately I had time to adapt. AND, I did end up making an attempt at making increase off this once booming hive, which I hope turns out to be two wonderfully successful nucleus colonies, each with their own newly mated 2015 queen. SUCCESS!
Then it was time to check in my one nuc where I believed I had an accepted, newly mated laying queen in my make-shift mating nuc setup with feed bag inner covers.
So this was a beautiful sight. It does look spotty, but there was only a frame and a half worth of bees in this chamber just 4 weeks ago, with a queen cell I'd given it. Now we DO have evidence of success, two weeks into egg laying for what I'm naming Q15-A (Queen 2015 A). And all available cells were filled with eggs or brood.
And then a beautiful sight to behold:
So, my "I'll only be 15-20 minutes, honey" visit on a Sunday turned into yet more work, and more like a couple of hours over two days when all was said and done. Even though my biggest hive has most likely swarmed out, I still have honey to harvest from it (SUCCESS!), a break in the brood cycle to halt Varroa mite reproduction which means healthier bees going into winter (SUCCESS!), and now 2 more new queens under way (SUCCESS!). Catching the cells before the hatch gave me time to set the stage for another "top nuc". I put a couple of brood frames alongside the frame with the swarm cells on it to draw up enough nurse bees to form a nucleus colony on top. There were still a good number of bees in this hive. I love that I get a chance to make two hives out of the 2014 swarm queen's fabulous genetics. Sweet, gentle bees that put up lots of honey, survive harsh winters, don't ask for too much and always have something to teach this backyard beekeeper.
So I successfully made 2 queens in May. So what now? How about a simple inspection on my Top Nuc last Wednesday. Obviously a nice tight brood pattern. And, WHAT, more queen cells? Yep, for whatever reason, they ain't happy with the new laying queen (the Top Nuc INSISTs on top quality, I suppose). Bees also love backups. So do I. So when I saw this frame I was delighted. No rest for the beekeeper: I knew instantly I would immediately turn around and make up two new one-frame nucleus colonies. I'd give each nuc a queen cell, and leave the third one for the Top Nuc to requeen itself. This frame had 3 capped QC's and one queen cup underway. This photo was taken on Day 9 or 10.
I started the following Thursday after work and close to sundown, stirring up the big hive underneath the Top Nuc. I had to steal 4 frames to make up two queenless 2-frame nucs (remember, I'm leaving one queen cell for the Top Nuc to requeen itself with). I had to steal 2 frames of brood with plenty of nurse bees and capped brood that will emerge in the coming 3 weeks, and not too many eggs left for the nurses to take care of, and 2 frames of food, both honey and pollen. I was honored with one sting that night for my efforts on my right arm.
The queen cells were all capped by Friday morning. This lets me know how old the cells were and therefore how the queen calendar will unfold on this cycle. I will leave the starts alone until the calendar tells me they should have laying queens in them, 14-18 days later (I'll probably wait 18 days to give them plenty of time).
The following Friday morning, it was time to harvest 2 of the 3 queen cells. Like an idiot, I wore the same smelly beekeeping clothes I'd worn all week so I smelled like a forest fire by Friday morning. Bees rewarded me with two more stings, another on the right arm inches away from the first sting and one on my ring finger (do NOT wear jewelry in the apiary). Also, queenless nucs are ORNERY! They have no queen, for crying out loud!
And HEY, it was time for me to use my brand new QUEEN CELL PROTECTOR CUPS! They make it easy to place a queen cell on a frame (just push it in) and there's no worry of it falling and damaging the queen. Also, the cups prevent the bees from chewing out the sides of the queen cell if, for some reason, they see it as a foreign invader. This allows the queen to mature and then hatch. They can chew out the bottom of the cell to help release her when it's time, though. It's my first time using the protector cups, can't you tell?
I took down one of my swarm traps and used that nuc box as one of my next places to make a start. I do need to make up some more multi-chambered "mating nucs" or "queen castles" as they're called. But use what you've got, and I am. Meanwhile, the bees were aflutter and had LOTS of things to tell me come Friday morning.
The girls bruised me while stinging me (no kidding ... guess they were pretty ticked off!). Swallowing my pride and gently proceeding, it was time to move on to my one mating nuc that already has a successful start in the left chamber. I put the queenless frame of nurse bees and frame of food in the right chamber Thursday night.
For some reason, I managed to push both queen cell cups in a little crooked. BUT, I wanted to get in and get out; the girls were CHASING me out! Still, all in all a success. Now, I cross my (somewhat swollen) fingers and toes, and hope that all 3 new queen attempts work. If so, I'll have 3 NEW NUCS in just two and a half weeks, in addition to the 1 new nuc I'd made in the left chamber last month. Say your prayers. And yes, girls, I will let you bee for a while, promise!
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Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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