Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What A Summer!

Well it's been a long time since I wrote but that's not because there hasn't been anything interesting going on. Between family, work, being president of the Guild, caring for my 9 hives, editing a book and trying to have some fun, I haven't had much time to write. There is so much to tell that I split this entry into two - be sure to see the "Swarm!" entry for some great pictures and a hilarious story.

As I mentioned, I have 9 hives this year, the most I have ever had. Here's the breakdown of the hives and then I will update the status of each -
  1. Overwintered hive from last year
  2. Hive from Oakland cemetery bees
  3. I ordered 4 packages from the Seaborns this spring - two were placed at Woodford Mansion
    and two at Marathon Farm.
  4. I bought one nuc from Don Sausser in Delaware.
  5. I caught 3 swarms this year.
(Yes, I know that adds up to 10 hives, but you'll see what happened!)

My over-wintered hive from last year did great this summer. They grew to 7 boxes tall and are as healthy as ever. I harvested about 60 pounds of honey from this hive in July. At a recent inspection I saw signs that this hive had swarmed - the population was smaller than usual, there wasn't as much honey in the hive and there were lots of hatched queen cells in the hive. I'm not too worried about them but the swarm and the loss of population and honey could be a potential problem heading into winter. There was a new queen present and she was laying well. And the nuc from Don Sausser has done well too, they are on my roof. I harvested about 35 lbs of honey from them. Although one thing I will say about these bees is that they are a bit feisty and they don't always take kindly to my bumbling inspections! My total honey harvest this summer was about 150 lbs - most of which is already gone (either sold or given away!).

The last time I wrote was way back in April and I was writing about the removal at Oakland cemetery. The bees from that removal have done quite well for themselves this summer. Unfortunately we did kill the queen in the removal process but the girls quickly made a new queen and therefore perpetuated the genetics of this feral hive. The colony proceeded to settle in to their new home in Francisville and they have built up nicely over the course of the summer. About 6 weeks after this removal job, I got another call from Jackie. It turned out that she hadn't had a chance to fix the window and roof and another swarm of bees moved in to the same exact spot!! So we went back to the cemetery and removed that colony. It was an easy job because the comb was being built right out in the open.

Woodford Hives with some great 'shrooms from all of the rain this summer

Another view of the 3 Woodford Hives

In late March when I installed my new packages at Woodford Mansion and Marathon Farm, I tried a new queen installation method where I placed the queen in the front door of the hive instead of placing her between frames inside of the hive. Well, that experiment was a TOTAL FAILURE!! I lost 3 out of 4 of those queens!! It turns out that the weather was too cold for that kind of queen introduction and the bees basically abandoned their queens to die on the bottom boards. At Woodford, one of the queens actually survived and the bees from the hive next door (who had lost their queen) all moved into the hive with the healthy queen! When I opened that hive it was bursting with bees (6 lbs worth) and the hive next door was empty! I was going to split this hive back into two hives but when I caught some swarms, I decided to leave this super hive alone. (This is why I only have 9 hives instead of 10.)

The other 2 hives at Marathon had no eggs to grow themselves a new queen, so this lead to a situation known as having a "laying worker". Basically this is when some of the worker bees start laying eggs because of a lack of a queen. Sounds great and pretty amazing, right? But the problem is that laying workers can only lay unfertilized eggs, which produce drones, the male bees. So if you don't remedy the situation, the hive will eventually die out. The solution for both of these hives was to donate frames of worker eggs from my other hives so that the queenless hives could make themselves a proper queen (this is when it really pays to have multiple hives). It took a few weeks but both hives eventually made themselves a new queen.

Because these hives lost so much time, they didn't grow to be big enough to make it through the winter, so I recently combined the two hives. I removed the queen from one hive and placed her in a nuc with some other bees as an insurance policy just in case something went wrong with the combine (the nuc is in my backyard, not sure what I will do with it). Then I simply stacked all of the boxes from both hives on top of each other with a sheet of newspaper between them. The newspaper helps to temporarily separate the hives from each other so they don't fight. In the time it takes the bees to chew through the newspaper, they will accept each other and not fight. It's a neat little trick.

Notice the bees flying around on the left, trying to figure out where their home went!
The next day - see the little green fuzzy stuff in the corner of the bottom board?
And a big pile of green fuzzy stuff on the ground next to the hive? That's chewed up newspaper!!
Combining these two hives greatly improves their chances of surviving the winter. We'll see how it goes. If they survive the winter I can split them back into 2 hives in the spring.

My 3 other new hives are made up of swarms that I caught this summer. In the interest of telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth, I made a separate blog post about my swarm stories from the summer, including the very funny story of "The Honda Swarm". Go read it!

1 comment:

  1. your post is a great read.

    looks as if you were a truly effective steward to your hives. kudos!