May 31, 2012 – Hive Check and New-bees from California

Things took a downturn this week after I realized that either my queen has disappeared or she has only been laying drones.  I have looked several times and can’t find her and realize that I may not ever find out what happened, but at this point, I think the colony is down to just a few workers and ultimately on its way out.

Last weekend, after noticing my troubles,  I ordered another package of bees and a new queen.  They shipped from Oroville, California on Tuesday and arrived at the Friday Harbor post office today.  I didn’t wait to install these, but brought them home and put them into a new hive right away.  Oh…and with these gals, I didn’t even suit up.  No gloves, no smoker….nada.  I can’t see a thing with the screened veil on and they seemed okay with a few spritzes of sugar water.

Since I was only planning to have one hive and one colony of honeybees this year (for new beekeepers, experience is telling me to recommend that you start with at least two & more on that later), I only had on-hand a deep super and two shallow supers, along with the bottom board, inner cover and telescoping outer cover and an extra Country Rubes bottom board that came after I got my hive set up.  In order to make things work with the new package, I had to improvise.

The other problem I faced today was continued uncertainty as to whether my first hive had a queen or not.  I originally thought I would combine the new package of bees and the new queen with the first one.  However, IF the original queen was still in the colony, she could cause chaos with my integration idea.  The old queen could end up killing the new queen and I’d be right back where I started…with a queen that needed to be led to the guillotine!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with honeybees, the fact that my queen was only producing drones means that there are not enough workers to go out and bring home the bacon…I mean…not enough girls working to collect the pollen and nectar necessary to sustain the hive.  The drones (or the fellows), fat and fuzzy, just hang out and wait to be fed by the gals.  Sure they are needed to fertilize the queen…just not THIS queen.  So, having them around is like a ball and chain dragging my colony into demise.

Yesterday, after collaborating with my friend on the island and the best bee-mentor ever (her name is Colleen), and reading over emailed recommendations from my Apiculture professor at the University of Florida, Dr. Jamie Ellis, instead of combining the two colonies, I have them set up separately.  My hope is that the new colony will have time to accept the queen that arrived in the package with them, and my original colony will sustain itself just a few more days….and then I will combine them together.

After examining the old hive today and looking at the frames, I see some evidence of queen cells started which could mean that the workers realized the original queen was failing and used her worker eggs to start a new queen.  These cells aren’t finished though, so possibly, there just isn’t enough of a worker force left to complete them.  In any case, I don’t think there is a queen in this colony anymore.

Beginning of a queen cell

The last few workers

Uncapping the honey that was stored

My supplies were sparse….I had only one deep super that I was using for the original colony and this is why I recommend that you set up at least two hives when you are starting.  The initial expense was what limited me in my initial investment, but in hindsight, if I’d gone ahead and spent the extra money up front, I’d have been more prepared for what I am dealing with now.

For my new package of bees, I was forced to use two shallow supers stacked together.  I pulled out about 6 frames from the shallow super on the top and instead of shaking out the new bees, I gently laid the package in this space, so they can exit on their own.  The queen I left in her little cage, after attaching it to one of the frames.  I will go back in a day or two and let her out.

The new gals

Colleen loaned me an inner and outer cover and thankfully, I had that Country Rubes screened bottom board in my closet.  This will work in the meantime and it will be interesting to try the screened bottom with the new bees.  So far I haven’t noticed any varroa mites, but Colleen said typically you won’t see them until later in the summer.

Summer?  What summer?  Tomorrow it is supposed to rain again and maybe reach 60 outside.  They’re calling it “June-uary!”  Hoping for warmer days and sunshine soon!


About "BUGGING" YOU FROM San Juan Island

I love beetles and keep bees! In my free time, I enjoy photography (mostly bugs) and documenting insect species found on San Juan Island. I have limited availability for local, onsite beekeeping consultation and hive inspection, honey bee removal/swarm collection as well as phone/skype consultation. Contact me at Member Washington State Beekeepers Association
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