We've entered the package slump. The oldest of the package bees are starting to die as they wear out their bodies foraging for nectar and pollen, and the oldest of the brood has yet to emerge. The drop in population can be precipitous and dangerous. If the temperature is still dropping into the low 50s at night when the population drops, it can result in chilled (and killed) brood as the reduced population of adult bees struggle to keep them warm.
With an ageing population you should also expect to see a drop off in the amount of comb being drawn. As the house bees get older, their bodies become less efficient at producing wax and they start to move to other duties. As the first generation of young workers emerge, they will rush to take over house bee duties; raising their sisters, maintaining the environment within the hive, building comb, and storing food.
|Lookit them pokin' their little noggins out! So curious!|
We started our inspection with Hive 2 this time. As you can see, there are hardly any bees working the outer comb, but you can see the majority peeking up from the center. The brood pattern is still a little bit spotty, and it's hard to say why. It may be that the queen is very young and inexperienced, which will clear up as she hits her stride. It could be that some of the earliest brood got chilled and the bees removed them to make spaces for "heater bees" to help keep the surviving young alive. Jim Fischer at the NYC Beekeeping Group suggested that theory.
I had a similar brainwave, and it makes sense- the temperatures dropped down into the low 50's those first couple of nights and this hive had brood a few days earlier than the other one, which has a solid pattern. If it was only a loss due to the chill, the bees should clear it up and the next brood cycle or two should be nice and solid, especially once the population starts growing. In either of these cases, the queen should have gone back and re-laid in the empty cells.
|Side 1: Spotty brood pattern.|
Alternately, the queen may just be kind of cruddy. She's not a complete failure, though. The hive isn't in danger of just dying out- she IS laying quite a bit of brood, it just happens to be spotty. If it's a problem with the queen, we'll be able to tell because it won't clear up over the next couple of inspections.
|Side 2: More spotty brood.|
Hive 1 continues to be spectacular. As with its sister, not much more comb has been drawn compared to Week 2, but the brood nest is phenomenal. These guys are going to POP over the next couple of weeks.
|Big fan of Magritte.|
|"Busy, busy, busy."|
|Remarkably white cappings. If they keep it up, I'm going to make cut comb honey next year.|
|The frame perch you can see hanging on the left of my hive is probably one of the most useful beekeeping gadgets I own.|
We spotted the queen and something curious...
|First look at the queen of Hive 1. Respect.|
|Queen of Cups. Getting all mystical.|
A queen cup! I spotted this in the fold of comb where I removed that bit of burr comb last week. Rather than just drawing out the comb further and evening out the frame, the bees used the space to build a lovely white queen cup.
|Hive 1 is capping plenty of stores.|
|And they also have quite a bit of capped brood. These ladies will be emerging this week.|
You shouldn't panic when you see one (or many) of these. I know you're going to anyways, but queen cups aren't something to worry about. Some hives are just genetically predisposed towards building them, but just having them doesn't mean that they're going to USE them. Sometimes they just like having them handy. Russian bees in particular are famous for building full blown queen cells and tearing them down days before they emerge as new queens. *Insert Russians <3 Revolutions joke of your choosing here.*
|Larvae! Tasty grubs!|
|I just can't get over how white these cappings are.|
When you DO see one, take a look inside. Most of the time it'll be empty and you can safely ignore it. If you see a larvae swimming in royal jelly, then you have something to be concerned about and a potential problem to solve, but that's a talk for another time.
|Tim + Bees = <3|
|Birds and the Bees. Distinct lack of ray guns.|