Busy as… erm… bees.

Today started as a cool morning but looking ahead to tomorrow, 85 degrees and rain the rest of the week, I took advantage of the opportunity and got into the hives.  Yes, there has been a lot to do lately!

Today I completed the course of antibiotics for all hives that  were eligible (meaning those that were in the same apiary but had no honey supers on yet. Remember, early in the season we saw some suspicious larvae in an overwintered hive so decided to err on the side of caution and treat for European Foulbrood. We learned the hard way that strong hives will rob weak hives and transfer EFB bacteria home.  This year we are being vigilant in management to minimize risk.  Thankfully across the three locations we saw EFB last year, the only suspicious larvae this spring were at Dow Gardens.

I peeked for room in the two swarms we captured.  One is raising a queen so I chose to disturb that one minimally.  They are drawing comb like champs, and it is evident the nectar flow is on because honey is being stored like crazy.  The second captured swarm– and remember I have doubt this one has a queen as it was an after swarm from our own hive– is also drawing out much comb and storing honey.  Our intentions are to wait another 10-days or so, confirm success in queen rearing of the first, and combine the two into one 10-frame box.  Time is of the essence, and if the process isn’t completed at that time we will utilize our resources and introduce a queen.

More significantly, I am worried about the far-right hive, the one we call Debbie.  Debbie’s mother queen was removed on April 30th.  At that time we noticed charged queen cells.  So today is 34-days past split, and likely closing in on 40-days since those swarm cell eggs were laid.  This means the window of possibility of successful queen rearing has slammed shut, and I have confirmed this bad news with my suspicions of laying worker.  At this point I only see eggs in cells so I cannot say definitively that they are unfertile, however the willy-nilly location of eggs, multiple eggs in individual cells, fact we don’t see a queen, and general demeanor of the bees have me confident that we have a problem.

The reality is if a hive goes 3-4 weeks without a queen, a worker will give a last-ditch effort to rule the colony.  In the absence of worker brood the ovaries of worker bees develop and enable them to lay eggs and provide the colony with brood to rear.  Unfortunately, all these larvae are from unfertilized eggs and will subsequently be drones.  Lots and lots of varroa mite magnet drones!  This is not good!

So today I took a frame of young larvae from another hive and placed it to (one) give the hive some young recruits and (two) provide the pheromones that developing worker brood emit to help suppress the functionality of worker bees’ ovaries.

This is a bandaid solution!  In order for this to work frames would have to be added at regular intervals providing consistent worker brood.  Concurrently, we need to either allow the bees to raise a new queen from these larvae or provide a queen to the colony.  We are choosing the latter.  Our plan is to combine this dying hive with a queened split.  ASAP (like maybe tomorrow) our intentions are to use the newspaper method and combine the functioning hive with the dysfunctional laying worker hive. 

One last note about beekeeping.  The intentions of this blog are to outline to a backyard hobbyist beekeeper management of a small number of hives (2-5).  However, since Dow Gardens hives are managed by Elly, who personally has a larger number of hives and dabbles in queen rearing and nuc building, we have a built-in backup net for situations as such.  We have grown our operations to regularly collect swarms, set swarm traps, raise queens, split and sell nucs….  And all these tactics provide a plethora of options to manage surprises in our small number of Whiting hives. 

Coming out of winter, we had two hives at Whiting: “Debbie,” a hive which we managed swarming in and subsequently failed at queen rearing and the small colony we retrieved from a soffit last year.  These two alone would have never supported each other through the spring.  I would have been hesitant to share brood from the weak yellow queen from the soffit to help recover the failing laying worker hive.  However, Debbie (I mean my bee-buddy Debbie, not the hive named after her 😊) donated a strong geriatric queen in a nuc she made as a reverse split from her own successful apiary.  And I housed a split that was raising a spring queen that is now booming from my own personal apiary.  In addition, we have collected two swarms this spring and had the resources to give them brood to raise a new queen as necessary.  We are standing on the verge of combining a few of these hives, Whiting currently has 7 hives.  After the combinations we hope to rock 5 hives which will have us back in the number we aim to manage onsite. 

(NOTE: this blog posting is quite delayed, only due to lack of editing time…sorry about that)

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