These mid-spring days are magical, filled with the amazing scent of Confederate jasmine. The tulip poplar flow is on and heavy now but recently something "changed" in the mix. I could tell by the smells in the apiary. I'm pretty sure it's the jasmine. Magical.
I was checking in on 5 new nuc's I was hoping contained newly mated queens. Only two were found, so a 40% success rate. I was hoping for more, but be thankful with what you have. I couldn't help but dwell on that 60% negative. But it was beautiful to see this girl moving about, another amber beauty (she's in the top center portion of the frame). It's a lot of moving pieces and parts around, timing and sheer luck. Oh, and I found this one on an end frame in the box. Everyone loves to say how rare it is to find queens on end frames. This was the third or fourth time this year.
When I opened up this little nuc, I was greeted with this, an excited worker bee surprised at my intrusion, exuding wax scales from two of the eight wax glands on the underside of her abdomen. Here you can tell the scales actually come off in a geometric form, pretty close to the hexagonal shape their comb takes. I confirmed another new queen has safely returned and online, laying wonderfully in another new nuc.
That's a good thing, because my favorite queen, the 2014 White Dot Queen? Missing! Not only missing, but no eggs found in her colony, which had exploded in just a month. Only capped brood was found and lots of nectar and pollen, so they're backfilling under the heavy flow and the queen has been absent for at least 10 days. Not good. But then my eyes caught this. Hard to see from the untrained eye, but you can see bees covering two queen cells. I parted them with a little breath of air.
This is a couple days later, but the view was the same: two queen cells that had emerged. So, either the colony had swarmed with my favorite old queen (unlikely since the number of bees has only grown) OR they superseded her and a new virgin queen is somewhere in the hive (OR, the beekeeper inadvertently killed her on his last inspection, but I swear I didn't). Another "failure". But something happened. And maybe the bees know best? She was two years old and has given me daughter queens and other colonies and honey as a result. So no, not a failure, just her time.
To make best use of time, I gifted them a frame of eggs and larvae, and two swarm cells underway from another hive. Wait, SWARM CELLS?!! Yep, my best honey production hive filling top to bottom with bees and honey, the first new queen of 2016, was getting ready to leave! She was TOO full and prepping to swarm. A couple of days later I successfully found that queen and artificially swarmed her and a contingent to another box, where I am keeping them confined for a few days. Another nuc has begun. So I removed one frame that had beginning swarm cells and gifted it to the White Dot Queen colony just to make sure they weren't queenless. It doesn't hurt to help the bees hedge their bets. If they don't want the swarm cells, they'll tear them down, but if they do they'll be much happier I gave it to them.
So back to the 2016 Queen-A group: they had just one other frame with beginning swarm cells on it, two, and some eggs left, so they should make yet another new queen. Things are going F-A-S-T here in the super heavy nectar flow. It's making my head spin!! One big boomer hive will stay, hopefully, and continue to put up honey while making a new queen, provided I free up space for a new queen to lay in once she's online.
I happily saw this beautiful site looking in on one of the new nuc starts I was attempting. See her? Look in the bottom right corner, hiding in the crease between the bottom bar and the fat honey comb above. There you'll see a gorgeous long light amber queen!
Here's a better view. You can also see the eggs she's begun laying in a gorgeous tight brood pattern. Another success! Two out of five isn't all that bad, I told myself.
But uh-oh, here's why I'm finding swarm cell preparations in my whopper hive with a two-month-old queen. They'd drawn out combs, filled it and distilled all that nectar into honey in just a month. It was mind-boggling. But it was also a problem. A honey-bound hive will swarm and that's a big no-no for a beekeeper who wants to keep as many of his awesome queens as possible.
To add to my previously perceived troubles, I found this in another nuc that was trying to make a queen, an emergency cell. Not sure what the story is there, other than they didn't like the new queen very well and instantly started prepping to supersede her. Always trust the bees is my motto. I gently set this back and will gift them some eggs when I check back after a long-awaited vacation.
Remember when I said perceived troubles? Well the mind's a funny thing. It and your eyes will play tricks on you. I checked back in on another nuc that had "failed". But I gave them another shot, gifting them some eggs and brood. Time passed, and I was happy to see this new queen running about. So a previous "failure" was actually a success! It was just a matter of time, and now makes me super excited to check back in on the remaining two colonies that I thought didn't make a new queen. So far, 3 new queens are online and laying happily, and possibly more. My success rate was now 60%. Time to stop letting the mind play tricks on me. Oh, and yes, this was an end-frame, too! Fifth time this year, and counting. A word to the wise, be gentle when you pull EVERY frame, including the end frame, because you just never know where she might be.
Having averted a swarm, it was time to take off honey from these hives to open up the brood nest as well as give them lots more empty comb to put even more honey in. A lot of extra work I hadn't counted on, but so bee it! You've got to act when they need you to, or slightly before if possible. The nectar flow is only halfway done and should last, Lord willin', another 6 weeks or so. Didn't I say things were moving fast? Sure are. Here's what a gorgeous super fat frame of honey looks like uncapped and ready to extract.
It was glorious to see the liquid gold running once more. This always makes a beekeeper happy, but his customers will be even more happy. They've been quite anxious to get a taste of this year's raw, local honey! I don't blame them. It's amazing.
I had a bright idea to speed up the filtering process. Tried it out and it worked. The honey is passed through a series of filters, but the weight of the honey bogs down the filters one atop the other, making for a LOOOOOONG draining process.
Here's the tip of the season: a wine cork cut in half. Once I separated the filters just a bit, the honey filtered and flowed into the harvest bucket pronto. I love me some low-tech solutions! And drinking the wine to get the corks also is a nice treat.
This year I had several goals. One was to start selling bees, which I successfully have. It's my favorite part of beekeeping, the raising of the bees. But I'm often told I can't do both, raise bees and harvest honey. So I had a modest honey goal of 75 pounds. In just my first harvest this year I took off 77 pounds, possibly more once the cappings tank finishes draining out. So goals achieved, and the season is still underway! Time to really look at successes for what they are, instead of constantly perceiving failures where there are truly only blessings. Enjoy the season. This is my favorite one so far.
My nucleus colonies, the ones over-wintered from 2015 and my new spring 2016 nucs, continue to amaze me. The beautiful virgin wax they are building on all my foundations is a sight to behold, but even better is the ever-expanding amount of honey, the different colors of pollen mixed down into bee bread, royal jelly and eggs galore. This shot is a wonderful capsule of an amazing spring so far. Just two weeks ago this was only foundation.
Same for this frame. In just two weeks, this and two other frames of Duragilt foundation has been drawn out beautifully, laid top to bottom with worker eggs and honey around the edges. You can't ask for much more than this. I was amazed at this new queen's production. And it's something I must manage (and will, thanks to Hive Tracks).
This was one of my production colonies which had threatened to swarm. Instead I artificially swarmed it's queen and 3 frames of workers and food. I kept their door screened closed for 3 days to prevent the workers from drifting back to their original stand. After 3 days, they were READY to get out. I loved seeing them flood the open air at once as soon as I removed the screen, and begin re-orienting to their new space.
Quickly they settled down after stretching their wings, as sundown was only a few minutes away. But they seemed thrilled. I certainly was.
My time was very limited thanks to the approach of twilight and a healthy to-do list. This hive I inspected the bottom brood chamber just a few days prior. This was the same nutty hive that keeps building comb on its screened inner cover. (See that solid inner cover in the background? That replaced the screened inner cover!) To be efficient I also did a quick inspection of its top brood chamber by looking at the bottom of the frames. You can tell a lot without pulling a single frame. I cleaned up the brace comb they'd built and looked for swarm cells.
No swarm cells yet, but I did find 2 or 3 queen cups. So they're thinking about it and staying in practice. I knocked these down as I saw them.
This colony is currently queenless (remember that artificial swarm I mentioned earlier?). I expect to find a bunch of capped queen cells made from eggs when I go back into this hive in just a few days from now. But I learned in seasons past that large queenless hives will put up a ton of honey during a nectar flow. So it was time to take advantage. I gave them their first honey super to draw out, using Plasticell medium frames up top.
Speaking of Plasticell, one of my nuc's quickly took to drawing out a beautiful frame on the black plastic core which I bought pre-waxed and added more wax to it (see my previous post on that here). Well, they are LOVING it and drawing out a gorgeous black frame. It is so weird and cool seeing the beautiful fresh white comb being drawn on the re-usable plastic core. They were working both sides of this frame, and the queen can begin laying in it already.
Speaking of, here is the queen in that same nuc. Quite a beauty, another of my young productive queens from this year's bevy of new queens. And hopefully one of many yet to come. Another color of spring I love: queen amber!
The first of our bramble berries have bloomed, and the winner is: Blackberry! An ant eagerly works one of the new blossoms set to open. Pollinators come in all sizes and shapes, and not all are winged.
It was time to inspect the colony containing my first new queen of 2016. This colony also gave me my first sting of the year when I tried to remove the outer cover. I was a bit dismayed to find this, but prepared and lifted the outer cover with my hive tool instead of my fingers. See all that wax? I scraped it off the underside last time I was in here, hoping that would discourage the bees from trying to attach it to the frames underneath. But no, not these crazy girls. In fact, if you look close you'll see that tell-tale behavior they're up to something, Nasonov fanning.
Bee buts up in the air, alarm phermone going to town. "He's trying to stop us from filling up this top screened inner cover, attack attack!" Good LORD these bees are nutty. I will definitely switch them to a solid inner cover on my next visit, and try and figure out how to remove the wax from the screen.
Time was of the essence as the sun was going down. Hefting the top chamber, which was very heavy and full of bees and honey and I'm sure brood, I went to the deep below. The first frame I pulled out contained this beauty, her royal highness 2016 Q-A. She was a beautiful site to behold, just like the first bramble blossoms of the year. Like brambles, she's running out of space soon. In fact this hive is jam packed and it's time to add honey supers ASAP before I encounter a SNAFU with this fabulous, yet nutty, hive.
Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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