Tuesday, June 7, 2011


This post begins with us sitting in the backyard with our gin & tonics, watching little flags of white darting past through the sky. The white doesn't show on the video, but it's a pretty fun scene. It's our bees, of course, cleaning out their hives. We'll get into the whole white thing a little later.

Last time we wrote about our efforts at requeening, and have been told that it was quite the soap opera. Sorry to leave you hanging if you happen to be as interested in this stuff as we are. It has been a busy couple of weeks! In a really great way though.

see the marked queen?
As we discussed in our last post, we purchased 6 hygienic queens to either requeen poor performing queens or make splits to ultimately increase our beeyard (we made the decision that this year we would focus on colony expansion and try to create many small hives that could grow into solid production hives next spring; this is our attempt to move away from buying packaged bees from more southern climes and really start to develop a local population of bees that are adjusted to our conditions). This is why we've jumped from 4 hives to 19...and is part of why we're back down to 17.  In any case, to provide an epilogue to our queening adventures, a couple of the queens we tried to introduce into hives were killed by the workers. Boo.

However, the most important one, Quinn (who subbed for Doris), was accepted! I can't tell you how excited to learn this. She was the only hive that we REALLY needed to introduce new genetics to, and the very reason why we needed them requeened was the same reason that made us fear it would be difficult: they're just so mean! In fact, not long after they heard us celebrating Quinn's acceptance, one crawled up my pant leg--finding the one chink in my armor--down my big rubber boot and stung me on the ankle. I didn't even care. In two months (it should take that long for Quinn's bees to really become the hive), that colony will be a completely different animal.

Without going into too much detail, we'll try to offer a condensed version of why we think the cards fell where they did for each new queen. One reason has to do with the bees' natural reproduction cycle. Doris, the aggressive hive that accepted her queen, has been gearing up to swarm all spring. However, due to the perpetual inclement weather, she never actually did. Because--we hypothesize--we requeened her before she achieved a swarm, maybe we caught the workers at a point where they were expecting a new queen soon (remember that the old queen leaves with the swarm and a new queen--reared by the worker--stays at the current location) and may have been more inclined to trust a new queen. The hives that killed the new queens all had something in common...they were our packaged hives that we were using the new queens to split. So basically, they'd already gone through a requeening process about a month ago. They weren't at a natural swarming point, and may have felt less inclined to trust a new queen when they could just raise their own. Who knows. It's a possibility.
hive skirt

In any case, I think it's easy to relate to the plight of a colony in that situation. Here you are, queenless, with a window of only three days before the old queen's eggs hatch and it will be too late to raise your own (to make a queen workers feed any egg an excess amount of royal jelly).  Then here comes this queen in a cage.   She's fully grown, yes, but how can you really trust her if you've never seen her lay an egg, knowing that her ovaries are wholly responsible for the survival of your colony? It's crazy! If you take the chance to rear one yourselves, you at least know that she's going to be made of the same stuff that you are. Makes sense.

So here's the fun part, the part that brings us sitting in the back yard with our gin & tonics watching little flags of white dashing through the sky. In order to merge the now-queenless splits we'd made from our package hives, we would have to recombine them with the colonies they came from. We were hoping this wouldn't be too problematic, since the week prior they were all one colony, but there is a little trick you can do when combining a group of bees (queenless) with another group of bees (queenright) to ease
tissue between bodies
the transition. You stack the queenless hive body on the queenright hive body, separated by newspaper (we used the paper that wax foundation comes wrapped in). The bees are separated at first, but by a pervious paper layer that allows their phermones to mingle. As the bees pick through the paper, the queenless bees can sense the presence of the queen, and the queenright bees can get used to the notion of a few thousand more bees joining their ranks. Because bees are usually pretty clean by nature, they should ultimately remove the paper barrier (thus leading to the flying paper scraps zig-zagging across the sky). By the time they've opened the space up between the two hive bodies, hopefully, you'll have one harmonious colony.

That's all for now. Next time, honey extraction!!