Long live the queen

Getting a new hive of honeybees established is exciting but sometimes exasperating.  Lately it has been more exasperating.  Last year was so exasperating that not one of our new hives managed to survive even the summer.  We strongly suspect the problem was the queens.  When they arrived last year, the queens were so small we could barely distinguish them from their attendants. (Yes, queen bees have attendants.) In hindsight, we question the regal stature of those “queens.”  So this year, we ordered three new bee packages from a different supplier.

Two months after installation of this year’s packages, two hives are ready for second hive body boxes.  The third hive shows very little activity.  Mr. Beekeeper inspects the hive and finds very little brood and a dwindling number of bees. Exasperating.

But lo and behold! A queen cell!  How exciting!

The hive has recognized its problem and has chosen to raise a new queen. Why last year’s hives did not do the same is a question worth pondering. Why this hive needs to re-queen is another question.  Did the queen die?  Was she ill? Was she…gasp…old? Was she just a poor lay-er?  (This reminds me of my sister and her poor laying hens.  She shrieked death threats at them and the very next day, they resumed laying.)

Queens cells take eight days to hatch from the time the cell is capped.  About ten days after spotting the capped queen cell, we take a peek inside.  The queen cell is now empty.  We look for the queen.  This is sort of like Where’s Waldo–find the one bee that is longer than the hundreds of other bees.  Fortunately, the bees are only on a couple of frames, one of those frames is exclusively capped honey, and the other frame is where the queen cell was.  And we find her!

Now we wait.  The new queen needs two weeks to get established.  She must exit the hive for mating flights with drones.  There are drones visible in the hive and a few drone cells waiting to hatch.  There are also plenty of drones buzzing around the other two hives.  Our queen will not lack opportunity. And then she must get busy laying eggs.  In about three weeks we will peek inside again, hoping to see lots of new brood cells.

Here’s hoping we will still be excited in three weeks.

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Spring SnowBees

There are 58,000 bees in the basement.

58,000 bees

58,000 bees

Snowy Chives in March

Snowy Chives in March

It’s the end of March. We turned the clocks to “summer time” two weeks ago.  Last week the vernal equinox made it officially spring.  Today we took delivery of four new packages of bees.

And it’s snowing.

At 9 a.m.  we head to Snyder’s Apiary in Whitehall, windshield wipers brushing snow from the glass. The car thermometer reads the outside temperature as 28 degrees.  Out at the apiary, the countryside is dusted white and snow “flurries” blow sideways in the wind, whipping our faces.  Beekeepers in winter coats greet one another with snide remarks about the great weather.

Why, you ask, are we getting bees when it is so cold outside?  Because one orders bees weeks in advance and the Snyders drive down to Georgia on a scheduled day to pick up the orders in a truck.   The bees have arrived.  We have already paid for them.  We must take them home.

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BeeMan and Junior BeeMan carry 16 lbs of bees to the car.

Junior Beekeeper comes with us this morning.  He helps carry the bees to the car.  They take up the entire back seat.  A few Klingons (“cling-ons”) try to hitch a ride too, but without the advantage of the warm group hug in the bee boxes, they won’t last long.  Sure enough, back home, when the boxes are removed from the car, a few motionless bees remain on the back seat.

No, we don't buckle them in.

No, we don’t buckle them in.

Alas, it is too cold to put the new bees in their hives.  Tomorrow will be better and the rest of the week will be perfect, with temps in the 50’s and sunshine.  So for now, 58,000 girls (and a very few guys) will have a little sleepover in the mancave.

Today's conditions for the snowbees.

Today’s conditions for the snowbees.

Conditions downstairs are almost ideal.  The mancave is heated  only  by a woodstove.  With no fire going, the temp is 55.  And the only light is from the door.  With the overhead lights off, it is both cool and fairly dark.  A few bees buzz at the screens of the boxes but, for the most part, the bees quietly huddle around the caged queen and a can of sugar water.

They can’t get out.  Really.

4 pounds of bees

4 pounds of bees

The bees can stay in the package boxes for up to five days.  That includes the time they spent traveling from Georgia. Today is probably day three.  If this cold weather were to last all week, we would have a dilemma on our hands.  Fortunately, it won’t, so we don’t.  BeeMan has enough to do prepping the hives for the new residents. Cleaning out the Room of Outer Darkness to install a temporary apiary is not on the Honey Do List.

Tomorrow the bees will be installed in their new homes–outside in the bee yard where they belong.  Maybe then we can pronounce the beginning of spring.

The daffodils are trying to bring Spring.

The daffodils are trying to bring Spring.

 

 

The Newbees Have Arrived

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It’s a brisk morning, but delightful on the porch, where I am swaddled in a blanket, sipping hot coffee. From the comfort of my porch swing and the warmth of a sunbeam, I watch as BeeMan comes and goes from the bee yard. He is getting the hive ready for the new bees.

 

More bees than you want to count!

More bees than you want to count!

Yesterday we drove out to Whitehall to pick them up. Out the lane past the horse farm, along the road past the freshly manured field–so odoriferous the farmer had to post a “sorry for the stink” sign. (He should also have offered free car de-odorizers!) North we go, past the winery, the alpaca farm, a dairy farm, a sheep farm, a cattle farm. Finally, we come to a barn by a non-descript little rancher. Beyond the barn are dozens of beehives. In the barn are hundreds of boxes of bees.

Mr. Beekeeper ordered four pounds of Russians bees. He is given four pounds of Italian bees. It was too cold down in Georgia. No Russians are ready. Are you kidding me? They’re Russian. Do they need little balaclavas to keep them warm? The BeeMan thinks the Italian bees are more aggressive and prone to robbing other hives. Still, we accept the bees and bring them home to join all the Russian bees in the yard.  Let’s hope they can peacefully co-exist.

How does one bring home four pounds of bees? In the back seat of the car. We probably should have buckled them in. The box fell over on sharp turns, so I had to hold it straight for most of the ride home.

Shoulda buckled them in!

Shoulda buckled them in!

Back home, the bees were placed in the mud room. Mr. Beekeeper was feeling under the weather, so the bees would spend the night inside rather than going straight into their hive. We checked on them before going to bed ourselves. They huddled all together, quiet in one big four pound clump. Awwww. How often do you get to see a hive of bees sleeping?

(This is sign of experienced bee keepers. The first time we had a package of bees in the house I was freaked out. Those bees had arrived via U.S. Postal Service. The post office had called at 6 a.m. to tell us to come get the bees. I spent the day at work thinking, “There are thousands of bees in my basement!” Now I watch them and say, “Awwww! Aren’t they cute?”

As the sun rides high in the sky, we don our bee gear and take the Newbees to their new home, Hive A. It doesn’t take long to dump them in and set up the sugar water feeder to get them started.

First, BeeMan sprays them with sugar water to keep them too busy snacking to bother with him.

First, BeeMan sprays them with sugar water to keep them too busy snacking to bother with him.

Next, remove the queen and put her in the hive.

Next, remove the queen and put her in the hive.

The queen and her attendants arrive in their own little box.  The other bees will eat through a sugar plug to release her into the hive.

The queen and her attendants arrive in their own little box. The other bees will eat through a sugar plug to release her into the hive.

The queen box is installed in the hive.  This will be removed once the queen is no longer in it.

The queen box is installed in the hive. This will be removed once the queen is no longer in it.

The rest of the bees are unceremoniously dumped in.

The rest of the bees are unceremoniously dumped in.

The sugar water feeder is set up to help the hive get started.  Straggler bees still in the shipping box will join the rest soon.

The sugar water feeder is set up to help the hive get started. Straggler bees still in the shipping box will join the rest soon.

A peek in the other hives...

A peek in the other hives…

We peek in the other hives. Hive D already has a honey box on and is filling the comb with nectar. Nothing capped yet. Hive C is busy building up into the second brood box. Hive B has a second brood box but is not making much progress. BeeMan has doubts about the queen. The joy of beekeeping…there is always something for him to worry about.

Hive A settles in. Mr. Beekeeper will pop down often to keep an eye on them. They arrived at a good time. The red maples have finished flowering, but today honey bees were all over the black cherry blossoms. That bodes well for a cherry harvest as well as for yummy honey!

Honey frame or brood frame?

Honey frame being filled

Happy to have 4 hives full!

Happy to have 4 hives full!