Ten days ago, the trap-out colony in Fort Mill, SC, at Cory & Nolan's swarmed. This cone of bees bent the tree branch down and was over three feet long. I estimated about a 10-pounder of bees, or about 50,000 that had just departed their house with the old queen. The clock was ticking for me to complete the trap-out!
So after one year and many trials, mistakes and getting over my fear of heights, I completed the trap-out, an hour away. I walked home with about 12,000 bees in a nuc box chock full of these mostly black survivor bees. Last year I managed to take one frame and an emergency queen cell from this colony, and they ended up being my best hive. I was excited on Tuesday to finally complete this. With the trap door closed, about 75% of the hive had swarmed and the new virgin queen was out of the house. It's a done deal. All others will abscond as we leave this box open and with no frames inside. Woo-HOOO! :-)
When I first arrived, I didn't expect a lot of bees since the swarm took most of them. Then I saw this.
The bees had chewed a bypass entrance yet again through a previous sealing off to force them into the box. Nolan Great Stuff'ed the heck out of it just a few days before I arrived. I was happily surprised when I lifted the lid off. I shook these girls off into the nuc box I brought.
With the bypass sealed and the trap door open, the bees had begun using the box as their entrance and exit. I'd left 3 frames in last year, one empty, a drone frame that had one side drawn out with comb and another frame partially drawn on both sides. They'd started drawing out that frame in addition to the drone frame.
I saw the virgin queen on the drone frame. As I was delivering that frame to the nuc box, she flew away right by my head. I quickly ascended the ladder, and as I neared the top I saw her again. She corkscrewed off again. I hope she returned. I immediately closed the trap door, and then the bees inside the house started pouring out of the one-way screen cone exit built onto the trap door. Here you can see the effect of closing off the trap door.
I waited a bit and this frame went into the nuc box, before I put in the bait frames. I should've left this one in the trap-out box, but I wanted to get as many bees as quickly as possible into the nuc box.
The bait frames of capped brood, larvae and freshly laid eggs I'd taken from two hives that morning (I had to brush off the bees ... this time I used a turkey feather, which seemed to help ... no stings on my bare hands!). I let them fill up those frames over the next hour, as one by one the bees exited the tunnel and one-way screen cone built onto the trap door box inside the hive. The wonderful thing about this box, and it's adjoining tube that Nolan and I built is that I can reuse it on future trap-outs. The box could easily double as a deep in a pinch, also.
I'd gotten over my fear of heights on this job. I scurried up 17 feet to the next-to-the-last rung on the ladder to get this trap-out done. I had a bucket to raise and lower the frames if I wanted to but opted to just walk the frames up and down the ladder as I removed them. BTW, note the black bees on the top of the frames. This colony had a LOT of solid black bees in it. I think their genetics definitely includes the German Black Bee that was predominate in this country until the late 1800's when beekeepers got sick of their defensive nature and brought in gentle Italians. The queen was beautiful golden. This colony's bees run the gamut from gold to black, but overall the hive is quite dark. It's either got German or Russian genetics, along with Italian, swimming around in there. I LOVE THESE BEES! They are true survivors and I couldn't wait to add them to my apiary.
I was ecstatic! Queen gone. Trap door working. Another 10,000 bees or more removed. I now had a strong nuc box overrunning with these survivor bees. With one frame from last year becoming my best hive, I have high hopes for this 5-frame nuc of feral bees from Fort Mill, SC. I'm naming this colony Hive Rocky, 'cause they fly high and rock. They're unstoppable. A welcome addition to T's Bees Apiary!
The rest of the bees piling up on the front porch, foragers coming in, and those exiting the house through the one-way trap-door exit, were pretty pissed off as I left. They chased and head-butted me quite often. I estimate there were about 2,000 or so bees that I didn't get as I left. I left the top off the box, and no frames inside of it. Over the next few days these bees will die off and/or abscond into the wild blue yonder. The trap-out is complete, as the house empties out of any remaining bees over the coming days. In just two days Nolan said the traffic had greatly reduced. They did manage to give me my first sting of the year, WOO-HOO! I always look forward to the first one, to get it over with. This one was on the leg, as I forgot to tuck in my pants. I left the venom sac in so I could get as much venom in as possible. I now don't swell when I'm stung, and I noticed the itching was minimal on this. I'm on my way to getting my body adjusted to the venom so it's no big deal getting stung. Plus, I love the endorphin rush I get after each sting. :-)
I returned home with the new Hive Rocky, putting them on a cinder block and leaving the screen closed on the door for the night. The nuc box also had a screened off vent hole on the opposite side. They were happy when opened the screened door the next morning and are jamming in my apiary. After I put them on their stand, I noticed NO ACTIVITY from my nuc's made from splits. Uh-oh. My heart sank as I opened up the Queen Castle to find it had become a Small Hive Beetle Castle instead.
_Three out of four chambers were destroyed. Two more starter nuc boxes with three frames each of food, eggs and bees (along with two empty frames) were also destroyed. I had to clean this mess up, with a heavy heart knowing I'd let my bees down, not realizing how furious the small hive beetles are hitting my apiary this year. I hope I keep this happening from the rest of my hives. The frames were slimed, smelled sour of fermented honey, and were full of SHB larvae eating their way through and pooping out slime. Wax moths had also taken up residence. I had to cut all the precious comb out and throw it away. What a waste. Mother Nature has the last word. Now, I'm putting in place all beetle control measures I can think of in all of my hives. I've got to keep them strong. The smaller splits and nucs are especially at risk. I had to cancel my nuc orders, offering my customers discounts on future purchases. Fingers are crossed my chemical-free IPM pest control measures work the rest of this spring, and I can enjoy and share honey and bees. I'll be learning along the way, for sure. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. I was humbled by the beetle attack, and realize it's up to me, the solitary beekeeper, to keep this from happening again.
Not wasting any time, and with what limited time I had left in the day, I quickly spread a ton of Crisco shortening on the corex inserts to my screened bottom boards. I then sprayed a small hive beetle bait I'd made earlier in the fall on top of the shortening. Hopefully the beetles, which love Crisco and this bait of vinegar, sugar and rotten banana peels (mmmmmm, smells GREAT!) I blended up, will entrap themselves in the shortening and die a miserable death. I'm going to pull out all of the beetle-control stops in the coming days.
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Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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