You may recall that when I was first contemplating setting up a bee hive, I decided I wanted to be a bee-haver not a beekeeper. The difference being that, in my research, I discovered that beekeepers seemed to obsess over their bees and it seemed to me that they often micro-managed what was going on in their hives. With our desire to live as self-reliantly as possible, I also wanted our bees to have the same mindset.
I have just started to open the hive for inspection.
The roof and top boardhave been removed.
The queen excluder is still in place on the top of the
second brood box. Worker bees can move freely
through the spaces in the queen excluder.
In most hives the honey super is box with frames for the bees to build comb on, just like the brood box. But in our case, we have a Flow Hive which has a set of frames that have man-made comb already in place for the bees. When the bees fill them with honey, there is a tool to unlock the frames and the honey flows from the frames without removing them from the hive. Hopefully, we will be able to share more about this later in the summer, now back to our story...
|The capped cells in this photo are filled with honey.|
Honey cells have slightly concave caps and a
somewhat translucent appearance.
I lifted the top brood box off. Now this is a medium box, which is shorter that the original deep brood box, but I was surprised at how heavy it was from all the honey now in the eight frames within it. Again, this made me very happy, but as I started loosening and lifting frames from the lower box I became more and more concerned. The comb on all these frames was almost empty! There was a bit of uncapped honey in some of the cells but no capped honey (full cells the bees had closed) and no cells that had any signs that the queen had laid eggs in them.
|Empty comb in the|
bottom brood box.
But wait, I am getting things out of order.With the lack of brood, I was pretty sure the hive was queenless, but I did not know the reason When I emailed the person I had purchased my bees from and described the situation he was fairly certain that the bees had swarmed and that the new queen that was left behind in the hive had not survived. When a hive becomes too crowded the bees will swarm. When this happens the current queen and about 60% of the worker bees leave the hive for a new location. I did not think this had happened because (1) we had just added a new brood box so there was a lot of new space and (2) there were still lots of bees in the hive. However, on a recent inspection, I had seen a bee in the 'attic' of the hive above the queen excluder that looked significantly longer than the other bees. Being new to this, it did not register at the time, but with Alan and I both researching trying to figure out what was going on we learned that, when getting ready to swarm, the bees will starve the queen so that she will loose weight and be able to fly again. That bee I saw was probably the svelte queen bee that could now fit between the slots of the queen excluder.
|Here is an example of drone cells (left) and worker bee |
cells (right). A queenless hive with a laying worker
only produces drones, there will be no worker bee cells.
My best chance for success was to either introduce a new frame of brood comb into the hive. This frame would have freshly laid eggs from another hive that the bees in my hive would select eggs of the right age to create a queen from. I could also purchase a new queen, place her on a new frame of comb from another hive and place it in our brood box. This second option would actually improve my chances because the hive would hopefully accept the new queen and we would have reproduction starting immediately, or if they did not accept the queen we would still have the fresh eggs from another hive for them to create a new queen which would delay reproduction by a few weeks.
|Queen Buttercup and her attendants|
arrived by priority mail.
|The worker bees are checking out Queen Buttercup|
during our test to ensure the hive was queenless.
|The queen cage is placed between two frames in the|
lower brood box and the bees start working away at
the candy plug to free their new queen.
Nonetheless, I am still holding out a glimmer of hope. I did check the hive one more time before we left town for a week. I wanted to confirm that Queen Buttercup made it out of her cage. At first I thought she was still in there because the cage was full of bees when I took it out from between the two frames we had wedged it between, but then I saw the candy plug was gone and there were just a lot of bees in general going in and out of the little box. We had paid an additional nominal fee to have Queen Buttercup marked so that we could spot her more easily in the hive. When she arrived, I was a bit surprised to discover that she had been dabbed with yellow paint. Really? A yellow dot is supposed to make her stand out from the other bees? I then found out there are five colors used to mark bees and that one of the five colors is used depending on the year and yellow is the color for 2017.
We still have not seen the queen, they can be very elusive moving from frame to frame as you pull the frames from the hive to inspect them. I also do not like to handle the frames too much because there is always the chance of squishing the queen between two frames as you slide them back in place. It would be a shame if the queen just happened to be moving between the edges of two frames as you slid them together to insert another frame back into the hive. The chances are slim, and I always move the frames back into place slowly so the bees can move out of the way but it still can happen.
Sorry, I'll get back to the story. Back to that last inspection before we went out of town. The top brood box was still all capped honey. Most of the frames are quite full and it is very heavy to lift off to get to the original brood box. In the original brood box, I wanted to inspect the frames in the center as that is where the queen will usually start laying. First I pulled out an edge frame as this give me room to maneuver the other frames more safely without harming the bees. With the edge frame out of the hive, I can slide the next frame over and and then pull it out. I have learned that the side of the frame facing the center of the box tends to have more bees and more activity than the side facing the outside edge. Given the fact that there are hundreds of bees on the frames as you pull them out, it can be a bit challenging to move the frame around to be able to get a clear view of what's going on.
|Here you can see cells of capped worker bees and some|
uncapped larvae. The caps on worker bee cells have a
slight dome while drone cells will have a higher dome.
Had we had another hive we would have had frames of brood we we were looking for to transfer into the failing hive, and even if the hive still failed we would have a second one that we could split. Ever since we started down the path of self-reliance, a favorite saying of Alan's has been 'two is one and one is none. '. This basically means you have to have a back-up for everything that you need. If you only have one option and it fails, you are in trouble. We have always designed our various system based on this principle, and while the bees are not a necessity, they are important to us. And so, we have made a decision and I would like to announce that next spring Clive (the hive) will be getting a baby brother!