Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hive Check: Week 4

Gary, Indiana.  Bees ERRYWHERE.

Trouble, oh we got trouble,
Right here in Fort Greene!
With a capital "T"
That rhymes with "B"
And that stands for Bees,
That stands for Bees!
We've surely got trouble!
Right here in Fort Greene,
Right here!
Gotta figger out a way,
To keep the young ones from killin' their queen!
Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble...

Time to play catch up! I'm gonna try to bust out the last couple of weeks worth of hive inspections over the next couple of days, so bear with me.

During my weekly inspection, I noticed that Hive #2 was doing well, albeit still a bit spotty. The queen looks healthy, and was producing a decent amount of brood, but the hive seemed to be stalled building comb.

This lack of comb building behavior can have a variety of root causes. It may be that due to the (still) chilly nights, the bees would rather build vertically than out to the sides. Building vertically allows them to maintain the temperature within the broodnest with less effort and with fewer bees. Remember that heat rises, so the warmth from the bottom of the hive will rise up between the frames and directly between the frames above them.

Difficult children.

The behavior is called 'chimneying' and can be most often seen in young, small, or overwintered colonies trying to conserve heat. If temperature regulation to the sides is the problem, then it can be remedied it by giving the bees more vertical space (another hive body.) The bees should take to it quickly and build up and onwards. Once the temperature becomes more consistent, and their population larger, you can start rotating the outer frames closer to the middle, encouraging the bees to draw them out. Try to avoid breaking up the brood nest.

I need to get this queen jazzercising or something.  Wheres Joan of Arc when you need her?  Hanging at the Circle K?

Alternately, the lack of comb drawing may be caused by a poor queen. This is harder to prove, and is a judgment call. As I've mentioned previously, the queen in hive #2 is weaker than I would like and a bit spotty, but not terrible. This has been a bad year for bee production and with the extreme weather in the South (which also resulted in our packages being delayed for over a month), it is likely that many of the queens provided in our packages are poorly or inadequately mated. I have heard from other beekeepers who started packages at the same time as me that they have been having similar issues.

Never let me go!

Ishiguro: Secret Beekeeper?

Unfortunately, the abundance of weak queens means that the supply of quality replacement queens is tight. Even if you know you need to requeen, getting a replacement that is robust, healthy, and well mated can be a problem. Under ideal circumstances, a new queen will supercharge a stalled colony, laying ridiculous amounts of brood, resulting in a population explosion of young bees that are just rip-roaring to build up comb and fill it with delicious nectar.

Hive #1 drawing out new comb.
Those really are the whitest cappings EVER.

Continuing the trend, Hive #1 decided that it wanted to be a trouble maker as well. While it is being better about drawing comb than Hive #2, the bees seem to have determined that they want a new queen, despite the old one being a wonderfully prolific and solid layer.

I wanna see!  I wanna see!

Opening up the hive, I was met with several frames of lovely capped brood, and some more beautifully made queen cups. Opening one up, it was clear that they were more than ornamental.

Baby queen.  Sorry girl.

Why, bees, why? Your old queen was so good!

Flipping through the other frames, I was greeted with no less than 6 capped and developing supersedure cells. I didn't see the old queen, so it is possible that she was damaged or that I 'rolled' (accidentally squished) her during a previous inspection. Seeing as I saw her last time and she was doing fine, I'm really not sure what happened to her, but being the adventurous type, I decided to let the bees do their thing and make their own queen.

See the cat? See the cradle?

Risky Business.

During my next inspection, I should see a bunch of empty queen cells. With any luck, over the next week or two the surviving virgin queen will take several mating flights, mate with a variety of local drones, not get eaten by pigeons, make it back to the hive and start laying.

Keep your fingers crossed!

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