A pandemic year has passed, but the bees do not care. They are simply the honey bees, and quite simply remain magnificent, marvelous and as mysterious as ever. I've been fortunate to have another 100% over-wintering success this past season, and now the work begins.
My first business was selling two over-wintered nucs, one a tiny swarm that landed in my apiary in mid-October, and the other a late summer increase, both of which were booming. The two nucs exhibited beautiful top to bottom brood patterns, another testament to using oxalic acid glycerin sheets as my method of Varroa control. That stuff simply works, and I'm not looking back. I called my friend who'd lost all of his bees, asking to buy bees in the early fall. I refused, and told him to wait until spring and let this beekeeper carry the risk and burden of over-wintering. He did, and was rewarded. Their laying patterns and queens were both beautiful, and slightly dark. Then, I went fishing.
The next day I finally got into the one hive that's made me nervous from looking at afar. Already bearding up outside in 60-degree weather, I knew they were over-crowded and swarming was around the corner. Sure enough, on the first inspection I found queen cells, but thank goodness also eggs, so I cut them all down and moved on. After expanding the nest by half, and adding a super, I made my first split increase of the year. I hope I've done enough to avert a swarm from this beautiful colony, but if not, at least I'll get two hives out of the equation, God willing. After smashing one too many small hive beetles escaping propolis jails, I marvelled at the brood patterns this beauty bestowed.
So far, so good on 2021. This is a year of hope and promise. Let's pay it forward. Teach others, and yourself, how to be and how to beekeep, and leave the rest up to God.
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.
Carolina morning colors to send one off on their way is a happy palette.
Orientation flights remain one of my most favorite things to witness and experience in the bee yard. There's nothing like the sight, feel and sound of it. Here's a video of a Friday afternoon's orientation. Right now it's occurring around 3:30 each afternoon. When someone says, "your bees are swarming" they usually mean this. It's something mentees aren't used to and wonder "what's happening?" All good things, as young bees orient themselves to their home and learn to fly.
It was time to say goodbye to some over-wintered nuc's that I'd used to make even more colonies. It was bittersweet loading up these spectacular queens and nuc's for sale and travel. I used the Brushy Mountain "superior design" nuc box. It's heavily waxed. But it does not secure itself, meaning the bottom will fall out unless you secure it. But tape on a waxed surface doesn't work well, not even duct tape as you can see here. Still, clear mailing tape on the outsides did the trick. This nuc was the largest I said goodbye to. It is MONSTROUS. When I started out 6 years ago my two Russian nuc's were teensy in comparison, not even a third of this size. I do believe in providing my best to the customer.
A third nuc was finally all settled in, and showed off a nice group of bees. The next morning before the temps rose high enough for the bees to start flying I shut the entrances on the nuc boxes so the customer wouldn't lose the field force.
Goodbye, sweet 2015 nuc's. You've been amazing. I kept the screen raised on each with a wine cork. After inspection with the customer, we lowered the screen mesh sans cork and they were ready for travel. They rewarded me with a single sting as I carried a nuc to his vehicle. Seemed like a perfect parting gift.
After those goodbyes, it was time to say hello to my next round of queens in the making and nucleus hive starts. Here's a beautiful frame with several queen cells, the last of which is being capped (you can see the tip of the queen larvae inside the open cell).
I made sure to put at least two frames of bees in each, and opted for a third in the long run just to be sure. A frame of food and a frame of capped brood went into each start.
More beautiful queen cells on a gorgeous frame mixed with worker brood and honey. A perfect frame to make a start with. All in all, I took one hive and hopefully will end up with five when all is said and done (the old queen with her contingent making up one of the nuc's, so 4 new colonies plus an artificial swarm with the original queen).
This same hive that generated such beautiful queen cells was also generating lots of honey. Queenless bees in a populous hive during a spring nectar flow will put up some honey. Just two weeks ago it got its first honey super. The frames were half drawn and filled with capped honey. Fresh honey on fresh comb is also one of my favorite things.
While mowing the grass I stopped to literally smell the flowers. These little tiny flowers of "weeds" (or survivor plants as I call them) were one of the first flowers to greet them as they came out of winter. So I let the plants flower before I cut them.
The grand old red tip tree is in full bloom now, as are the tulip poplars around our neighborhood. Morning sun on their fluffy throngs of blossoms was also a beautiful way for me to say hello to a new day and week as I said goodbye for now.
Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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