Each spring here in Carolina is something to behold. I found myself doing some things better this year, and repeating some past mistakes, namely getting caught up in the rush of things and forgetting to take some time to literally smell the roses (or dogwoods, as the case may be). Life can be a wondrous thing to behold. But if you're too busy, you'll miss it. And with a new spring and lots of new bees, that's something that can happen all too easily. Fortunately I've got a major hand up with so many new colonies and queens this year, and that is Hive Tracks software. I thought I'd raised (so far) 4 queens and had a potential 5th one. Nope, I've got 6 new queens raised so far this year, and yes I did spot her this weekend! Thrilling, exciting and humbling all at the same time.
Do you see her? She's on this frame. This gives you an idea of what it's like as a beekeeper trying to spot a queen. But, with years of experience, your eyes actually do adjust (the trick is to not actively look with your eyeballs for that one bee, but to take in the entire frame and allow your eyes to spot the one bee that is larger than all others). Mentee Chris Odom snapped this and a few other photos for me. We were trying to button up after a couple of hours in the hives, but I realized I needed to check this hive which should have a new queen online now. And she's right there there, happy as can be, laying away. Have you spotted her yet? Hint: She's almost at the direct center part of the frame (look for her shiny black thorax).
Well how about now? Just to the right and off-center a bit you'll see her dark, long caramel amber body with just one stripe at the tip, unlike all the other bees here (she stuck her head in a cell when this was taken). Another new queen success! So wait, is that 4? 5? 6? Thanks to Hive Tracks and vigorously labeling, I confirmed that she is a 6th new queen for 2016. Hopefully there will be more. Sunday was to be a simple endeavor: a few inspections and give Chris his practical field exam, the last step in becoming a certified North Carolina beekeeper. Well, the bees had other plans! Simple quickly turned to complex.
My now-largest hive, which started out as an over-wintered nucleus colony or nuc, was putting up honey and drawing combs on its first new honey super of the season. I'd left this one alone, tending to all the other nucs, and had given it a honey super last week. In the past 3 weeks, this hive decided it was running out of space and was preparing to swarm. Fortunately, we caught it in the nick of time. Here you can see swarm cells. "What is the difference between a queen cup and a queen cell?" I asked Chris. A cell has a larvae in it. A cup is empty. This hive had lots of cups it was building on the combs. Most were empty, until we found these two cells.
So to prevent a swarm and save the bees and honey crop, Chris and I removed the queen and a deep frame of bees and capped brood in an artificial swarm into a new location. I'll leave them screened in for 3 days to prevent the bees from leaving the queen and returning to its old hive location. We then took this shallow frame with two capped queen cells on it and added it to a queenless group in the queen castle that I'd intended to combine with an adjacent single-frame nuc that was queen-right. Hopefully there wasn't too much fighting between those queenless bees and this group preparing these swarm cells, but regardless I wanted to make use of what the good Lord hath provided.
Meanwhile, the old hive received some blank frames to draw out, in addition to the honey super it was working on. And now without a queen and queen cells removed, it won't swarm just yet. Now, it will raise more queen cells from eggs on its many frames. So in another week I'll check back to see if I can make two or three more starts off this group. So this one hive will have become 4 or 5 if all works out well!
It's a juggling act, because if I take too many bees away they won't be strong enough to put up honey. Had I not acted I would've lost my queen and 65% of the hive and some of its honey stores in the near future. So that one large hive would have become just one small hive with no honey and only queen cells. Hopefully I'm playing my cards right. So far the results are saying "yes".
In just 7 days this group also had drawn 5 of 10 of Plasticell medium foundations into combs. Putting that additional wax coating on Plasticell seemed to really work. Chris and I rotated the center frames they were drawing to the outside edges and the untouched end frames to the center to help them fully draw out this chamber.
Here is a deep Plasticell frame on my newest queen's colony. This cluster of bees was busy drawing out this new frame. You can see excess wax on this frame, too. When finished, with the black plastic core it should be so easy to spot eggs!
I eventually realized that I was talking out loud to myself, even though Chris was there, just trying to keep everything straight. We chuckled about it. My neighbors must think I'm a complete loon, someone who messes with bees and constantly talks out loud to himself. But it does help to verbally repeat out loud what it is you are trying to do, what it is you need to do, and what it is you have done step by step to make it all happen. And FORTUNATELY there is now Hive Tracks, to keep you better organized and on track as it all evolves.
Previously in the week I came home to this pitiful sight: homeless bees. I moved this colony, my 2014 White Dot Queen, last week to a larger spot just a couple feet away. But foragers coming home found an empty chamber. They positioned in little clumps to withstand the weather and were very sluggish. I realized they hadn't been able to offload their nectar and pollen stores because all the bees and combs had been removed. So using a feather I gently brushed these bees into a pan and dumped them back into their colony in its new location. They seemed quite relieved! It had only been a couple days. And this now empty location became the spot for my latest artificial swarm!
It was truly a pitiful sight. So I resolved to not let this happen again when I moved a colony. The bees lined up in little V formations to withstand the elements, consigned to their fate. Fortunately they were saved.
Truly this spring is glorious. Seeing its beauty makes me realize how much I've missed over the years when I was just to busy. Now I take at least one bee-free weekday and weekend day off each week. We can all get too crazy-busy and lose sight of it all.
Each new day brings new adventures, and new chances to take in everything it has to offer. Make sure you do.
Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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