“Spring Adventures in Beekeeping”

I cannot believe it is June 15th already! Seems like just yesterday we were anxiously awaiting spring and today it is 95 degrees in the shade. That said, we decided an early morning inspection was necessary because of some situations we have happening in one of our hives.

The Dow Gardens beekeepers (and bees!) have been BUSY or should I say BUZZY?!
If you remember, we were doing some experimentation over the winter with letting queens who already survived one winter give it a try for a second winter – we/they failed! All of our colonies at the Forest perished this winter. We know that two were old queens, and suspect the others had issues building up in the fall due to lack luster conditions. This loss was compounded by some severe personal hive losses, so we had to purchase bees this spring instead of repopulating from other strong hives as we can sometimes do. We chose to purchase 2 packages that we picked up and installed the last week of April because it’s important to us to have populated hives during the apple bloom.

Two months later we can label the two hives currently as thrive and dive! The thriving hive has ample resources coming in (see frame with LOTS of fresh pollen below). The honey flow is on too so we watch for spaces filling! We confirmed this week that queen is laying a healthy pattern and we saw brood of all ages. We also saw a number of queen cups. They looked to be made of fresh wax, so newly constructed. We did not see eggs or royal jelly so suspect they are just an insurance policy. But we are watching carefully!

QUEEN ISSUES:

Together, we are monitoring 7 packages from the same source as the Whiting sister hives. These new packages have had mixed levels of success…some are STELLAR, supered already and even donating frames of brood/eggs to some of the packages with queens that are just plain FAILING! One of our two packages had population drop off (probably a bit of drift to the other hive). The early season was cool and the queen just didn’t start laying very much. Once the weather warmed and we could really get in there, it seems that we have some laying workers. Too long without an actively laying queen. Sigh…

As we understand, beekeepers do not have success when they simply introduce a new queen because the bees don’t know that they don’t have one, which means they would almost certainly KILL a new queen. We need to try to correct the hive through a series of actions. FIRST we needed to get the laying workers to stop laying… attempting to do that by regularly introducing frames with fresh OPEN brood from our other hive so that the worker brood pheromones can suppress the activity of the ovaries of the laying workers. The first frame was introduced at the time this problem was discovered, June 2nd, and three subsequent additions of frames at 5-6 day intervals.

Today during inspection, it seems as though the workers in this hive are finally trying to create queen cells. We inserted one (hopefully) final frame of open brood and will check back soon. NEXT, we will search for a queen to introduce – hopefully it is safe to do so now.

Every year is different on this beekeeping adventure. Sometime you make honey, sometimes you have to focus on making bees…this year is probably a bee-making one.

Tyler installing the nuc as a swarm trap.

SWARMS:

With a lack-luster winter, we decided to try to make ready our unused equipment for any potential swarms that needed a home. Swarming season is May and June, so we hope to not only get some bees, but prevent them from moving into an inappropriate location (someone’s eves in their home). Using lemongrass oil as a chemical lure and a two-story nuc box (missing some frames on the lower level), we have a swarm trap. This was placed locally on a deer tree-stand and we wait. **Of note, none of our hives are strong enough to swarm (good and bad).

If you find a swarm, feel free to call us right away at Dow Gardens! You want to ask for Elly Maxwell at extension 319.

Tyler shaking the Easy Check alcohol wash cup to dislodge the mites from the bees.

MITE TESTING:

Usually when we get packages, we consider treating them for Varroa mites shortly following installation. The treatments can cause a pause in the queen’s activity so we waited to make sure the queens were laying (which they all were not).

During our inspection today, we decided we really should get an actual gage on whether we have significant mite populations and need to treat. Both hives were tested using alcohol wash and each only had ONE mite so far. We will sample again probably around the 4th of July.

NOW IS THE TIME – to start ensuring you have a handle on the mites in your hives. Without regular sampling, you may not catch a colony with big mite load until it is too late to avoid vectored diseases and weakening of your colonies. Remember that your bees are livestock and beekeepers have a responsibility for the health of their livestock.

PERSONAL HIVES SIDE NOTE:

In addition to the Gardens hives, in our own apiaries we have had: failing packages, laying workers, a captured swarm from a homeowner’s eves, sluggish overwintered queens being superseded, bear damage at a site (3 times), and some hives we’ve added supers.

With such a mixed bag of hive situations, the work is exponentially more difficult and time consuming because every hive is at a different stage of development.