July 12, 2012: Bee-wildered! Queen Cell and Deformed Wing Virus.

I am trying to check my hive at least twice a week to monitor how things are going, especially after seeing the varroa mites since installing the second package of bees and new queen.  The temperature here on the island has finally warmed up with highs in the high 60’s and low 70’s, and I’m definitely seeing much more flight activity around the hive.  It feels really hot for me wearing my full bee gear, so I’m down to gloves and my inner calm as it’s so much easier to view them without the veil.

Last week I was somewhat concerned when I went to change out the Hopguard strip and check the sticky paper again below the screened bottom board.  I don’t see any mites dropping, nor do I see any on the bees, so that could “bee” really good news!  What I saw instead were a few undeveloped bee pupae at the hive entrance and one poor little gal (newly hatched) with deformed wings.   Image

In case you don’t know this, Varroa mites are dreaded because they transmit bee viruses and are thought to contribute to Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD in this way.   One of these viruses is called Deformed Wing Virus.  Naturally, I worried that all my new bees hatching from eggs the new queen has laid will be affected.  Maybe I’ve handled the varroa problem in time.  Alas, only “time” will tell!

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Worker bee with varroa mite

The other thing I saw when I opened the hive was that my frames hadn’t been spaced properly and the bees are building chunks of comb in between those “too-far-apart” spaces.

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frames with “too-far-apart” spacing and comb build between

When I pulled out a frame, a piece of comb came loose.  I picked it up off the ground, along with the little bees that dropped off with it, put the bees back into the hive and carried this piece of comb back into the house to look a little closer at what looked (to me) like a queen cell.  Here is a photo so you can see it too and a photo of a developing pupa I opened to take a peek for for mites inside.

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Chunk of comb that fell off when I removed the frame

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Queen cell?

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bee pupa

Opened cell (Queen cell?)

After inspection and a few photographs, I put the comb back into the hive to see what might happen.  Maybe the new queen I put in last month has some sort of problem that the worker bees had already sensed.  Bees are really good at detecting when things are not as they should be.  They can even hear the varroa mites moving around in the brood cells and there are some species of bees that will open the invaded cells and kill the varroa mites, chewing off their legs.   If this is indeed a queen cell, then I’ve been wondering how she would lay more than just drone brood since there are no nearby hives with drone populations to fertilize her.

Maybe I should attempt to requeen.  I’m not certain yet what my decision will be.  I did check my hive yesterday and saw that the cap is off the comb that I put back.  It would be too early for a brand new queen to start laying eggs.  When I examined the frames, I did see eggs in many of the cells and there are capped cells with worker brood as well.

Last night I read another chapter in the book I’ve been so intrigued with, “Fruitless Fall, The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis” by Rowan Jacobsen – http://www.rowanjacobsen.com/books/fruitless-fall.  In Appendix I, it mentions the way bees actually build comb in the wild and says there are “mismatched cells” with very large cells (up to 6 mm in diameter) built along the top of the comb with cell size decreasing to small cells along the bottom of the comb.  Maybe with my “too-far-apart” frames, this is what the bees were fashioning.  I did find this piece of comb with the look-alike queen cell at the top of the frame.  Maybe it wasn’t actually a new queen and the queen I had is doing just fine.

More to buzz about later!

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Little Bee Loves the Mustard

We had some sunshine for a few moments yesterday morning…and my bees were happy to be out enjoying the warmth!

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Counting Varroa Mites

Yesterday I went out to check and see how effective my Hopguard strip is at repelling those varroa mites.  My Country Rubes screened bottom board has access at the back of the hive where I’ve placed a sheet of gridded sticky paper under the screen to catch the mites that fall down from the frames.  My count yielded a grand total of fourteen mites.  That wasn’t as many as I was expecting, but perhaps my varroa problem was caught early enough that the population wasn’t so high.  I believe they must have come in with my second package of bees since I never noticed any with the first one.  

Next week, I will re-treat with another strip of Hopguard.  My bee-mentor and friend recommended I hang the next strip after ten days.  They aren’t as effective as the gooey Hop mixture dries out.  I’ll keep checking my frames and the sticky sheet as well to see if the count goes up.  

Everything else looks good though.  The only thing that would help is for the temperature to warm up here just a little….and maybe for the sun to come out!  Image

 

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Bugging You From Friday Harbor

June 24, 2012

The sun is out today!  We’ve had almost a whole month of gloomy weather that many on the island have dubbed the month “June-u-ary!”    Perhaps the next few weeks will be warmer and the overcast skies will clear.

Last week when I checked my hive, I noticed I had the dreaded varroa mites.  My new queen is doing fine though and the bees have cleared out all of the old drone brood that was the result of my first queen.  I have no idea what became of her, but the operation in place now looks healthy…except for those mites!

My day today is a full one.  I have been baking and preparing food for my daughter’s high school graduation potluck supper this evening.  While in the kitchen though, I thought I’d take care of some bee hive tasks as well.   Since the jar of sugar syrup I…

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Housekeeping, kickboxing and the marionette dance!

I was having a morning where all I wanted was to crawl back in bed and start over.  The sun wasn’t out…other “issues” looming over me…feeling rather glum like Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh!

Well, I didn’t go back to bed.  I got “busy!”  That means house stuff…like laundry.  I had lunch.  Filled the hummingbird feeder for what seemed like the millionth time (there are no fewer than 20 flying around the feeder right now)….and even the hummingbirds were grumpy! What next?

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Pulling feathers isn’t nice!

Well next, Dolly showed up.  Dolly is my one-eyed raccoon friend.  She sort of took the place of Cubby the raccoon who disappeared one day and never came back.  I gave Dolly a handful of dry cat food and a few grapes and guess what?  The sun came out.

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Dolly Raccoon

I went back inside and grabbed my camera and thought I’d check my bees.  That was just what I needed to distract me.  Once in front of the hive, I forgot everything else and became part of the buzzing energy of the colony.

If you’ve been following my posts, then you’d know the other evening I combined my two hives.  The bees seem to be doing fine.  While I was outside, I changed their feeder jars and was glad I had my gloves and suit on.  I didn’t use a smoker, so they were just a little disturbed when I opened the top to take a look.  I felt a little guilty when I realized one little bee left her stinger in my glove.  That meant the end of her life.  Worker bees can only sting you once.   She made a big sacrifice trying to protect her sisters from me.

I closed up the top and went back inside for a bit to get some coffee.  Losing the bee suit and the gloves, I went back out with my camera and sat on a rock in front of the hive.  Curiously, my bees seem more accepting of me when I am not suited and veiled.  They barely noticed me on that rock and I got to observe what they were keeping themselves busy with.

My bees were doing EXACTLY the same thing I had been busy with earlier….Keeping House!  I watched as workers would half drag/half fly with the cumbersome body of one of the drones, dragging it out of the entrance.  Sometimes there would be two worker bees sharing the load.  They weren’t just carrying out the drones though.  They were removing dead bees and other debris too.

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Worker bee carrying off drone body

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It’s a long way down!

While I sat and watched, I didn’t see any bees flying back to the hive with pollen.  I’m sure at the moment, they are busy straightening up from the problems I had earlier.  All the drone brood was draining what little resources the workers had built up.  They need to get the drones out so they can start fresh.   I’m not sure how many they’ve carried out, but felt a bit sorry for this poor little fellow with his big dark eyes.

They literally pushed him to the edge of the board.  If they’d been at sea, it would have been the same as making him walk the plank!

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Off you go!

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Clinging to the edge in desperation

There was also a bumble bee that visited the hive.  I don’t exactly think my honey bees rolled out the welcome mat though.  That bumble bee was going to have to do some fancy footwork to stay long enough to lap up the drops of sugar syrup I accidentally spilled at the entrance.

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Here comes the bumble!

And, fancy footwork it was!  I watched that yellow bumble bee kick-box every honey bee that tried to convince her to leave.  My little worker bees would walk up to the bumble gal and swing the end of their abdomen around, buzzing their wings at her.   A few of them tried biting her legs, but she swung a good kick here and there to make them retreat.

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Tai kwon do anyone?

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and another kick!

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she’s definitely not welcome!

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Worker bee bites her leg

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Getting mobbed!

At one point, she actually made it past the guards.  I waited with the camera to see what would happen.  It wasn’t more than a few moments before she was shown the door.  There was a mob behind her, hastening her exit!  Eventually she got tired of the fight and decided to go sip nectar somewhere else.

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A hasty exit!

And least I forget, one of my bees danced around like a little marionette puppet on strings in front of the hive.  At first I thought it was one of my drones finally taking wing.  This would have been the first one I’ve seen airborne.  All the others have been too rotund …and my workers have “bee’n” all too happy to roll them out onto the ground!  Examining the photos a little closer, I think he’s a she!  I’ve not seen these flight maneuvers before though, so I’d love to know what message my little bee was sending.

Bee back soon!

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The marionette!

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Whee!

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Over here now!

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Look at me!

See more photos and updates when you “Like” my facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/TalesFromTheHive

 

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Combining the hives! June 4, 2012

Yesterday I still couldn’t find the queen in the second hive.  I am just sure she flew away.  When I opened it up and looked inside, there seemed to be fewer bees than there were the day before.  I went over and checked my first (original) hive….the one that had all the drones emerging last week.  Lifting the top, I saw that the new queen (remember, I found that there were actually two in the new package of bees ~ you can read about this in my earlier post) was still in her cage.  The workers had almost chewed through that piece of marshmallow I had substituted for the cork and I’m sure by now, she is out.

Curiously enough, this hive had MORE bees in it than the other one.  I suspect that since there had been two queens in the package…and even though the bees had seemed to prefer the other one, once she flew the coop, the pheromones from this queen had actually lured some of the gals from the new hive into the original one.    But I still had a problem!  There was obviously no queen in my new hive and so I was pretty much right back where I started.  I had a queenless hive…and one with not enough workers to get through the season even if I requeened right away.   This left me with one option as far as I could see.  I would combine the two and hope for the best.

So, late yesterday evening, the bees seemed to have called it a day.  I decided to go out and move things around.  In the morning, they’d wake up and “bee” one happy household.  My first decision was location.  Should I move the new hive to fit on top of the old one, or move the old one over to fit on the new one?  I had the first hive right up against the house.   It was in a sunny location with the roof overhang to keep them dry and the house to block the wind.  However, the other hive was also in a sunny spot and I wanted to keep the new bottom board on when I combined the two.  This screened bottom board (Country Rubes by Dadant) has access from the back of the hive so that you can put in a sticky bottom under the screen when you want to assess varroa mite populations.  If the hive was up against the house, I wouldn’t be able to access it from the rear.  I moved the old hive to the new location!

When I started the move, I had a few tasks beforehand.  I took out a sheet of newspaper and my spray bottle of sugar water.  The newspaper would go between the supers of the old colony and the new colony.  The way the newspaper trick works is to keep the bees separated long enough for them to get used to each other.  By the time they have chewed through the newspaper (after you help them out a bit by punching some holes in it first), the queen’s pheromones have spread through the colony and they all smell the same.  If they didn’t, they’d be more likely to fight.  I didn’t want to lose any more bees.

So, I started by lifting the old colony off its bottom board.  I carried it over to the new location and set it down on the ground temporarily.  This deep super had the new queen inside and I wanted it on the bottom when I combined the colonies.  This is where the queen will stay most of the time laying eggs.  Next, I took the two shallow supers I had put together for the new bees and lifted them off the screened bottom board.  I took the deep super, stacked it where the shallow ones had been and then took the top off the bees in this box.  Leaving the inner cover on, I placed the sheet of newspaper over it, and then gave it a few spritzes of sugar water.

Next, I took the two shallow supers with the new bees (these are the ones that had the queen that just flew away). and I stacked them on top of the deep super with the newspaper between them.  I made sure to leave the feeder jar inside these top supers too since the bees from this colony wouldn’t be able to go down into the bottom super and reach the boardman feeder until the newspaper had been chewed through.

After this, I took the top off the shallow super (this was my borrowed cover) and exchanged it for the telescoping outer cover that came with my original hive.  The borrowed cover was a wooden migratory top that just doesn’t offer the same weatherproofing benefits that a telescoping top would.  The telescoping outer cover with a metal top will protect the bees from the elements (rain) now that the hive is sitting in an open area.  If the sun comes out today, I may go and take a peek to see how things are going, but for now, I’m letting the bees get acquainted and hoping that this little queen will be productive!

Buzzing off!

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Bee Drama! A Queen Flies the Coop!

Bee drama!

Last week I reported that my first hive of bees either had a missing queen or a queen that was only laying drones.  When I discovered the problem, I immediately ordered another package of bees and a new queen to boost the dwindling population of the first colony so they could take advantage of the summer nectar season here on the island.

That new package of bees arrived on Thursday and there was supposed to be an extra queen in the package for another beekeeper on the island, but when I went to hive the gals, I only saw one queen cage attached to the top.

This package had a lot of bees inside.  They seemed more active than my first package.  I removed the queen cage carefully, and wired her on top of one of the frames in the hive.  My plan was to install these bees in a different hive than the first and wait another week to make sure that my old hive didn’t have a queen inside.  If it did, there would be fighting…and bee drama!  I might have been stuck with the drone-laying queen and be right back where I started.

So, instead of shaking out the bees in the package, I followed the same technique I used for the first package of bees.  When it’s raining outside, it works well to just stack an extra super on top of the bottom one and lay the whole package of bees on the side, so they can crawl out at their leisure.  If you leave them inside this way, usually the next day you can return and they’ve exited the package and gone down into the lower frames.

This is NOT what I saw when I went back the next day to check on this hive.  My poor queen was hanging solo with hardly any workers paying attention to her…AND, the bees (most of them anyway) were still in the package box.

I was considering whether to go ahead and release the queen at that point, but thought better to get the bees out of the package.  I picked it up, spritzed them with sugar water and shook them down onto the frames in the lower super.  They came out in a clump and seemed unwilling to disperse.

Curiosity made me poke my finger into that clump of bees.  Brushing a few away, I saw a glint of metal.  NO!  It was the other queen.  The queen cage had not been attached to the top and was actually in this package when I thought she’d been left out.

Thinking that this was not good, I took the first queen in her cage and set her a good, safe distance away.  I was able to retrieve the other queen cage, albeit with some difficulty.  The workers were mobbed around her.  Obviously, this was the preferred queen, so I decided to release HER into the hive.

If you are a new beekeeper, here is MY advice!  Get queens that have been clipped and marked.  I know it may not be the best thing for the queen, but given what has happened to me, I think it the safest route starting out.

So, this queen wasn’t marked…or clipped.  Guess what else?  She was agitated.  She’d been in that package smelling the other queen, and then in the hive overnight with pheromones wafting over that sent the message that a fight to the death was inevitable.  If there are two queens in a colony, one of them is doomed.

Even though this queen obviously was the one the workers wanted, the other queen’s presence was enough to send her flying off into the overcast, cloudy sky as soon as I popped out the cork on her cage.  As of right now, I have no idea where she went or IF she came back.  All I know is that I saw her go airborne.  NOT GOOD!

That was the first part of a frustrating morning.  I decided at that point, that this extra queen (that was supposed to go to another beekeeper) was going instead into my defunct colony with the drone issue.  However, I wasn’t turning her loose.  The bees in that colony needed to get used to her, so I wired her into that hive over one of the frames.  I also shook out a few of the bees that were still in the package into this hive, to boost that colony’s population a bit.

This morning, I went to check both hives.  I started with the old hive where I’d wired the queen the day before.  She had workers all over her cage, but I wasn’t sure if they were agitated by her presence (not good) or if they were trying to feed her (good).

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Queen cage wired to frame

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Workers unwilling to disperse from queen cage.

I didn’t feel comfortable releasing her, so instead I removed the cork and popped a marshmallow in the space.  The workers will eat through the candy and let her out on their own.  Hopefully by the time they release her, she will be welcome.  If not, I have bigger problems than I bargained for.

Moving now to the new hive, I noticed that these bees seemed really agitated.  This could be from the loss of the queen if she didn’t return.  I lifted the cover and saw the workers were mobbed over something on the inner cover, so maybe she is in the hive.   I tried brushing them away with my finger, but didn’t see evidence of the queen.

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Second hive…inner cover with ball of bees

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Not sure if maybe the queen was under here or not. I never saw her.

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Worker bees chaining alongside feeder

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Feeder inside hive

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Worker bee lapping up sugar water

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Worker bees lapping sugar water

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Worker bees lapping sugar water after spritzing

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Worker bee from the first hive carrying out dead bee

I’ll give them a few days and go back to see if there is evidence of eggs.  If not, then I plan to try and combine the second hive with the first one, or I could order another queen for the second hive.  Either way, the experience has been invaluable, but I’m uneasy about the setback.  With such a short season here, I worry about coming out with a viable colony after summer.

Oh…I almost forgot…Guess what I found inside the first hive after I dumped out the bees from the package that were left inside?  A ROACH!!!!  This is the first really gross insect I have seen in my three years on San Juan Island.  I bet it came in the package.   Thank God it was dead.

Check back soon…to “bee-continued!”

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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!

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Bee-Wildered…and no Queen!

Bee-wildered!

 

A new friend and fellow beekeeper came over yesterday to assist with my hive check.  It was great to have an extra pair of hands and eyes to search for the elusive queen.  I had looked for her unsuccessfully two days earlier after noticing an unusual population of drones emerging.

 

Less than four frames were drawn and they were about half and half with capped drone and worker brood.  There were plenty of cells open where bees had already emerged.  I’ve seen good activity these past few weeks with workers coming back loaded with pollen. Some worker bees are coming back with bright orange pollen.  I wish I knew what plants they might be visiting.  However, in spite of this, intuition and observation was telling me to be concerned over other recent worker behavior.  

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My workers were expending all their energy removing these drones from the hive.  Very large and not able to fly, the drones congregated at the hive entrance.  Here, they were attacked by workers, who I watched laboriously drag them away from the colony and into the yard. 

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Checking slowly and carefully, our search yielded no queen.  This was confirmation that something had gone wrong!  Did I accidentally squash her on a prior hive check?  Had she not been mated successfully and maybe flew away looking for drones, never to return?  She wasn’t marked and her wings weren’t clipped, so……I suppose that is the $31 dollar question….that’s the amount I will spend getting a new queen shipped PDQ!  She will be off and headed my way on Tuesday.  Hopefully, she will arrive from California by Thursday. 

 

These next weeks are critical as the colony will be hitting a peak time for foraging and my worker population has not built up to numbers needed to take advantage of the blackberry nectar flow, I am going to add in another package of bees.  Maybe there will be success with more workers. 

 

So when they arrive, I will have to “bee-gin” again!  Sort of!  First though, introductions will have to be made.  In order to get the bees I have now to accept the new bees, I will put a sheet of newspaper with some small holes punched in it over the top frames of my deep super.  Then, since I don’t have another deep super, I am planning to stack two shallow supers on top.  This space is where I will install the new package of bees and the replacement queen.  The idea is that in a few days, the bees will chew through the newspaper and by then, everyone smells the same, so they all get along.

 

Alternatively, instead of newspaper, I could spray both sets of bees with sugar water and just mix them all in together.  I think that the newspaper “get acquainted slowly” method is more likely to be successful.  I was going to sprinkle some powdered sugar for the bees on top of the newspaper too.   The new queen I will leave in her cage and go back and free after a couple of days.  Oh!  I’m also going to put a dot of paint on her if she comes unmarked ( I might even try pink).  It really helps if you’re a new beekeeper to find her more easily. 

 

Will it work?  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.  I’m learning and trying things out and sometimes doing things wrong or having a problem is how you get better at solving things.  It’s all about patience and practice. 

 

 

 

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May 24, 2012 Hive Check

Things did not look good this morning when I took a look at the bottom board of my hive.  The first thing I noticed was an accumulation of debris sprinkling the floor and about ten dead bees (at least they weren’t moving and looked to be dead at the time).  I took a long stick and slid it inside to rake them out into a plastic cup.  All but one were drones.  I was also surprised by the lack of attention I got from any guard bees.  No one came out to take a look.

My morning schedule didn’t allow me to linger, so I decided to open the hive when I returned in the afternoon and about 1:00 p.m., I got my smoker going.  The sun was warm overhead and as I put on my beesuit, I thought perhaps I might try going without.  It is hot and the hat is cumbersome.   I left it on though and gave a puff of smoke into the entrance before opening the hive top.  Since the bees seemed really calm, I set the smoker down and removed the inner cover next.  I could see activity towards the top part of the frames and gently removed one of the outer frames, so I could slide over the others and take a look for brood comb near the center.

Here is what I saw:

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Since I’m a “new-bee” beekeeper, my first thoughts are that I saw more drones than I wanted to see. The drones coming out are really fat, so fat that they can’t fly.  I am finding them on the ground where the ants are taking them away as fast as they can catch them.

My queen isn’t marked, but I think I saw her when I was inspecting the hive.  There were capped cells, uncapped cells with larvae inside, and cells with new bees exiting.  The ones I saw coming out were drones.  I suspect that my next step will be to requeen, but may take a second look tomorrow and examine things a little more closely.  Intuition tells me something is off though!

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