I guess you know you're a beekeeper when you dream of having all your frames cleaned and organized, and having hung up several bait hives. This past weekend I realized those dreams. Yep, I'm a beekeeper alright. I'd cleaned and organized half of my frames. It's a tedious task. But when Linda Tillman visited our bee club she gave a huge tip, and dang if it didn't work perfectly well: boil off your frames. That way bad stuff is taken care of, along with old comb debris and comb tracks, and the frames end up brightened and coated in an amazing sheen of wax and propolis. From here on out I'm coating all new frames. Linda swears her bees draw off her wax-coated frames like crazy. Having held and smelled them, I know she's right. Thank the Lord I'm finally done with cleaning up my old frames. Hallelujah!
After that, I moved on to tons of yard work, clearing out what used to be a jungle along a fence in our back yard. Once the jungle was cleared ( find out more about that at http://tyveggiepatch.blogspot.com/2015/04/yep-still-green.html ) I realized I had several locations for swarm bait hives. So I quickly installed foundation in 3 of 5 frames, alternating foundationless frames with the wedge inverted (or starter strips) in-between, for 4 bait hives. Fortunately I had lots of nuc boxes ready to go. Perfect use for them. So 20 of my re-conditioned frames were put back into use in the apiary.
I took some 1x4 pieces of lumber I had and cut them down to 15-1/2 inches tall. Then I cut a 1-1/2 inch hole near the top of each. These became the easy install arm for my bait hives. I got this idea from McCartney Taylor.
Then, using 5 deck screws I attached each arm to the sides of each nuc box.
Then it was time to bait the boxes. I dispatched my first queen last year, dropping her into a jar of alcohol. All queens I dispatch will go into this jar. Their pheromones leach into the alcohol, and voila you have swarm lure. I used a cotton ball to soak up a bit of the queen juice, and added about 4 or 5 drops of lemongrass oil to sweeten the deal (lemongrass oil smells a lot like queen pheromone).
Each nuc entrance got dabbed with the swarm lure.
Then I dabbed a bit on 3 interior walls of each box.
Then each cotton ball lure was placed into a partially open Ziplock bag that was put in the bottom of each nuc box. The bag helps delay the evaporation of the lure, is the idea.
Our loyal and always curious dog Honey helped me install the boxes. I placed two of the bait boxes on cedar trees that are along a fence line at the back of our house. Bees use landmarks such as tree lines and fence lines when scouting potential swarm sites, I'd recently heard.
Just a couple of 3-1/2 inch nails in each spot (I used a backup on each for added strength), and the bait hives were ready to hang. The brilliance of the "swinging arm" system is that each box is a pendulum, so if wind or anything disturbs the position of the hive it will correct itself just like a pendulum swings. I am all about doing things "easy" versus "hard" as I wisen with age.
So, what could be easier than a bait hive you can easily take off a tree and put right into your bee yard, ready to go? Apparently, getting hit on the head by a brick. A day after installing the bait hives, I removed all of the bricks and secured the lids with a single deck screw on top that I can easily unscrew without getting brained by a brick in the process of removing a baited swarm.
And before you knew it, up went my bait hives, easy peasy!
Four! So the first two go alone the fence line, the third is at a nearby tree out from the fence line, and the fourth is straight ahead in a line from that near the house. I eagerly await the day I look out the window to see a swarm has moved into one of my bait hives!
After all of that work, it was time to do some inspection. Beekeeping is a lot more than just inspections, but you've got to do those, too. In fact, I knew I needed to see how a queen I'd installed into one of my hives was doing, as well as re-arrange combs in my big hive, consolidating brood combs and putting them lower to the brood chamber and putting honey combs up top. While doing that I checker-boarded drawn honey combs with new frames they'd yet to touch. This should convince the bees to draw out those frames as well now that the tulip poplars are beginning to bloom. The honey flow is majorly ON! Time to get crackin'. Joining me on a chilly Sunday inspection was my 2014 mentee Rod Caverly, who lives just around the corner from me. It was GREAT having a second pair of eyes and hands who knew what they were doing in the bee yard with me. We found that the big hive had put up some beautiful capped honey frames already. Wow, what a greeting!
We each got stung once. It was a chilly, misty Sunday afternoon. My bees decided to sting me on my middle finger, appropriate enough I suppose. They'd made some gorgeous fresh comb on new deep frames I'd given them recently. Here's a great view of them spinning comb, festooning on each other's legs, from a starter strip.
Never hold a foundationless frame horizontally. Always hold it vertically and rotate it along that axis to see each side. That way the fresh comb is being held by something to which it is attached, at all times, vertically as you inspect the frame. First one side, held vertically ...
And then rotate the frame in your fingers to see the other side. Man, look at all those bees in this big hive.
We also found about half a dozen empty queen cups through the hive on the bottoms of frames and on a small bit of cross-comb. Using a bread knife I corrected the cross-comb. Also, while Rod was there I saw fit to bump a frame I was holding so that a bunch of bees fell to the ground around our feet. Now, that's one SMOOTH mentor, I tell you! All I could do was own it. Yep, I do a lot of stupid things. But at least along the way I see a few of my dreams materialize. Fortunately, we shared a good laugh at my expense, and Rod was relieved to know he's NOT the only one in the "why did I do THAT?!" category.
Aside from a couple of stings the big hive had a surprise in store for us: Rod found the queen! She is a BEAUT! I L-O-V-E these bees and this queen. It is the first hive of bees I have fallen head-over-heels in love with. We quickly put her aside for safe keeping, as I wanted to consolidate her in the brood chambers of the one deep box and one shallow on bottom. We put an excluder on top so it'll be easy work for me to find her on my next inspection. Why do I want to find her? Well, for one reason it's because of this ...
Yep, a supercedure cell allright, and a gorgeous one at that. This one had a larvae in it and lots of royal jelly. Workers were busy packing it full as we inspected. For some reason the hive has decided it's time for the old queen to go. SO, to maximize her use I plan on removing her with a couple frames of bees to the top of the hive, excluded from the bottom for safe keeping as a backup plan while the hive raises this, and possibly some other queen cells for me in the meantime. This is a gorgeous supercedure cell. Always trust the bees. But don't let opportunity pass you by. Once this new queen is raised and with luck, successfully mated, the old queen will be executed in a ball of worker bees if I leave her roaming about. If I put her aside for safe keeping she will continue to add to the colony, from which I can make other queens off of, or at the very least I can simply dispatch her and use her body in my queen lure potion. Make the best use of what the Lord has provided, is what I say.
They'd done a great job of drawing out the deep frames, and the queen had been fast and furious in them. Why were they replacing her? Beats me, but the bees know best. It was getting chilly and the bees honery on this misty Sunday with the sun quickly setting.
We moved onto my double-nuc setup. Yes, I am running a 2-queen hive and plan on more. I am now convinced that the way forward for T's Bees for both increase in hives plus increase in honey are double-hive setups. I became convinced after recently reading Frank C. Pellet's "Practical Queen Rearing" (1918). So I began by putting his decades of first-hand experience and research to the test. I bought a new queen from Garry just down the road in Albemarle and installed her, along with several frames of brood and food, on top of my over-wintered nuc. I did this on April 18. On the bottom level is my deep and a half of my over-wintered nuc that is going gang-busters this spring. Next is a queen excluder. Then a honey super with checker-boarded drawn shallow frames and new ones for them to draw during the honey flow. On top is a deep with the new queen. I took 3 deep frames from the bottom deep and gave them replacement frames with starter strips. I added my last two drawn frames I had in reserve to the top box (one broken but rubber-banded back into place). Last on was an inner cover with a entrance notched into it. Just push the telescoping top forward, and the entrance is open. Push it back and it's closed. It's homemade but I picked it up on my one successful swarm call last year. It's brilliant and simple and easy, and the bees love it. I'm going to make some of those myself since it negates the need for a shim by incorporating the inner cover with the entrance. So my one colony now became two, IF the bees released and accepted the new queen. Here's the hive set-up.
And here's the queen I bought from Garry. Now THIS is next to impossible. She's gorgeous, but dang it all to heck she's solid black AND unmarked?!! I am S-C-R-E-W-E-D trying to find this one from here on out. I am doubly convinced I must learn how to catch and mark queens myself, because this, folks, is utterly insane, trying to find one solid unmarked black bug in a sea of tens of thousands. Good luck with that! But, ain't she a beaut (she's the big one on top; the others are attendants)? I wonder if she'll make really dark bees? She's a 5-banded dark one!
The bees were definitely interested in her, but didn't mob the cage like I expected. Here was their greeting. Bear in mind that these bees smell like the queen from the bottom chamber. If successfully introduced, they'll all smell like both queens. This means I can use frames from one with the other to help as needed, plus I have a built-in backup queen system. And two queens laying in one hive configuration means more workers occupying the same space, which will increase honey production. At least, those are my hopes. It's definitely economical: only one bottom board, beetle trap, inner cover and telescoping top required to house 2 colonies. On with the greeting.
I removed the cork on the candy end. In the past I had left that on for a couple days, then removed it to give added insurance the new queen would be accepted. But Pellet says in his book that the 2.5 days it takes for them to eat through the candy to release the queen is more than enough time for an introduction and that he always had success in that. So I did the same. Definitely easier. I simply put the queen cage facing down in the center on the top bars, and added a shim on top, instead of hanging her cage in-between two frames. Why? It's easier! :-)
Fast-forward to one week later when Rod visits to help me on April 26. We opened the bottom deep to find this. Just LOOK at this gorgeous, newly drawn deep frame, in just one week. These bees from my over-wintered nuc on the bottom are wonderful. I do love them and their queen. I do plan to make new queens off of her. They had made great progress on three new frames with starter strips in just a week, and she wasted no time in laying in that fresh comb. Here is a frame still being drawn and you can see the workers have started capping brood off.
The new black queen was off to a slow start but had started laying nontheless as of Sunday. So we gave her a couple more combs of nurse bees and larvae from the bottom box ONCE we found that marked queen. It was WONDERFUL moving bees from a different colony in the same hive configuration up to the top level and not having to do a newspaper combine, which means you must return in a couple of days to remove the paper. No fighting, as the hive shares worker bees between the two colonies.
I also spotted the un-mated queen I THOUGHT I'd dispatched the week prior when I put in my new black queen. Like an idiot, I tried to flick worker bees off the queen catcher she was in once I caught her. All that did was open the catcher so she could fly out and right back into her hive, which was the middle section that's becoming a honey super in-between the two deeps on top and bottom. Thank goodness I found her, because I had to admit to Rod, yep I am kooky. As a kook, I tried to make a 2-queen hive and ended up having a 3-queen one! After a less-than-graceful capture she went into the queen lure jar as well to help save future bees by attracting swarms.
We ended our inspection Sunday with a beautiful sight indeed, another queen I've fallen in love with. This girl from Albemarle in 2014 over-wintered and is filling frames wall-to-wall brood. I have high hopes for this hive and plan to make queens out of her eggs as well. My, oh my, what a beautiful sight.
Thanks to the long spring days, I did an inspection on the top box on Tuesday the 28th to see if the black queen really WAS in there. Would I be able to find her? Nope, not that day. They were still working steadily and had even continued drawing out comb for their new queen, always a good sign.
So I didn't see the queen on my second look in. But I did see THIS, a wonderful sight to behold, and it was all I needed to see: fresh eggs laid in every available cell on freshly drawn comb that's still being worked. (The eggs look like grains of rice, pointing up from the bottom of the cells.) My two-queen hive is working. Another dream realized. Onto the next!
Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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