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So, either the colony had swarmed with my favorite old queen (unlikely since the number of bees has only grown) OR they superseded her and a new virgin queen is somewhere in the hive (OR, the beekeeper inadvertently killed her on his last inspection, but I swear I didn't).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.
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Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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