April 25, 2010

You Thought You Could Stop Us

It has been 19 days since I destroyed queen cells in one of our hives. I believe the old queen was failing and the bees decided that, what was best for the hive, would be to replace her.

Right:  Emerged queen cell.  A new queen has emerged from this cell within the past week.  Worker bees are in the process of demolishing the cell.  A new queen cell can be seen to the left of the emerged cell.  A worker in inside the cell tending to the queen larva.

Last week I found that the bees had built more queen cells and I decided to let them replace the old queen.

I have been concerned that it is too early in the spring for mature drones to be available for mating.

Left:  The new queen.  Can you find her?  I expected to find a virgin queen since it usually takes two weeks for a queen to mate and start to lay eggs.  I found new eggs everywhere in the hive.  I beleive she is laying

Sure enough, upon inspection, I found that one of the queen cells had emerged. The empty cell was in the process of being destroyed by the workers. I estimate that the new queen emerged a few days earlier.

I searched to find the virgin queen. Sure enough I found her, but I also found eggs…. Lots and lots of eggs. I guess she is not a virgin any more.

Right:  Enlarged area of photo above showing closeup of the new queen.  I am concerned that she is small.  Queen ususally enlongate after mating.  I will check her in a week to see how she is doing.

Could this queen have mated and started laying in less than a week? My experience has been that a queen will take up to two weeks after emergence to mate and start to lay. This queen seems to have done it in less than a week.

I am concerned that she seems a little on the small side. If the bees are happy with her I will let her stay until a better queen is available later this spring.

I am now kicking myself for destroying the beautiful large queen cell that was built at the beginning of the month. Sometimes I need to just let the bees be bees. They know their business better than I do.

Left:  A worker bee bringing pollen into the hive with the new queen.  With new eggs there will be young larva to feed in a few days.

On the other hand however, I have been watching one of my hives dwindle down in size. There is no sign of disease. The queen was very successful last season and the hive was strong all winter. Now they will not survive another week. Why… I don’t know.

The question for a beekeeper always is, When to I let nature take its course, and when do I intervene.


April 12, 2010

Do you really want to do this?

Last week I wrote about finding queen cells in one of my hives. April on Cape Cod is just too early for a hive to raise or replace a queen. The weather is unpredictable, the temperatures are low, and the few drones (males) around are probably not mature enough for mating.

Right:  Queen cell being produced by a hive that probably has a queen that is starting to fail.  If you look closely you can see capped worker brood and capped drone brood.  Can you find the queen?  She is there.

This hive’s desire to raise another queen could be for only one of two reasons.

Left:  A close up of the queen cell.  You can see the old queen just  above and to the right of the cell.  Around her are circled her attendant workers.  Perhaps the workers are guarding the new queen cell to keep it from being destroyed by the queen.  Or perhaps the queen knows she is being dethroned and is allowing it to happen!

Either they have been overcrowded and feel the need to reproduce (swarm), or the existing queen is failing and the bees have decided to replace her.
The weather was just good enough on Sunday (62 degrees) to make a hive inspection.

Guess what I found?

Sure enough the bees had built two more queen cells. I said "Do you really want to do this now?"

Right.  A queen larva, from one of the destroyed queen cells.

I found the old queen. She has been laying eggs, but upon closer examination I discovered that about 5% of the brood was drone brood scattered among the worker brood.

This is one of the signs that the queen may be failing.

A drone, (male bee), is produced from an unfertilized egg. Since queens only mate once in their life, (with up to 30 males), they store the semen within their bodies. When the queen starts to run out of semen she will lay more unfertilized eggs, which become males. Drones are larger than workers so their cells stick out beyond the surface of the comb.

Right:  One of my home made small hive beetle traps which is installed under the screened bottom board.  You can see all the dibris.  No mites and no small hive beetle.  There are beetles in the trap, but they are sap beetles.

This queen was introduced into this hive in 2007. That makes her three years old, going into her fourth season. I should have replaced her last fall, but she has been such a spectacular queen. She has out produced all my other hives. I have been using her eggs to produce other queens. I was hoping to stretch her through this last season.

Left:  Closeup of the trap and beetles.  The trap is baited with a mixture of mineral oil and cider vinegar.  I have had alot of sucess catching small hive beetles with this.

Since it takes 16 days to produce a queen from a fertilized egg, killing the queen cells has bought two weeks time. That is, as long as I did not miss one.

Right:  A closeup of the sap beetle.  They must be attacted to the cider vinegar.  These beetles are not a hive pest like the small hive beetle.

This season has defiantly gotten off to an interesting start.

April 4, 2010

Isn't a little early for that?

This weekend on Cape Cod was beautiful. Temperatures reached just above 70. This gave me the opportunity to get into some of the hives for a quick check.

Right:  A strong hive for the first week of April.  With 7 frames of bees, emerging brood, eggs, and larva, this hive needs more room.

Sure enough all the hives I checked had capped brood, eggs, and larva. Their strength ranged in size from three frames of bees up to eight.

One of my hives has been flying very strongly the past week or so. Something told me that I should look at them! I opened up the hive. I found eggs, larva, capped brood, and the queen! I also found two queen cells! I thought to myself… Isn’t it a little early for that?

Left:  One of the two queen cells found in this colony.  The queen was found with plenty of eggs.  She is getting old, going into her fourth season.  Are they trying to replace her, or are the planning to swarm?  Time will tell.

This particular hive had a bad infestation of mites last fall. This particular hive of bees has had a bad case of mites for the past three years. Each fall I have had to treat them, and each spring they surprise me on how great they come through the winter.

This particular queen is three years old. She was purchase from a breeder from Vermont. She has outperformed most of the other queens in my apiary year after year. There was plenty of worker brood, larva, and eggs. I find it hard to believe they would be replacing her. Perhaps the bees felt congested, with the brood trapped between frames of capped honey (from last year) and new pollen.

I destroyed the queen cells and moved some empty comb near the brood. This should allow the queen more room to lay. I also place an empty brood chamber above them.

Right:  A closeup of one of the two queen cells.

An inspection next week will tell if they are happy with the changes, or if there mind is made up to swarm!

Or perhaps this is just an early sign of a great honey season, or lots of swarms!


Peach Pollen

Spring Pollen

Spring Pollen

Queen Cell

Queen Cell
Well Fed Queen Cell

Marked Queen

Marked Queen
Queen produced from my second graft attempt