New Virgin Queen

I have to tell you, I was very curious about what was going on in my hive when I spied this beautiful virgin queen.  Can you see her?  ( if you divide the photo into quarters she is at the bottom of the upper left quadrant). This little lady has yet to leave the hive and make her mating flight.  After she returns from receiving sperm from up to 15 male drone bees, her abdomen will resemble that of most photographed queen bees.  Because of my inexperience in beekeeping, most of my knowledge is from a book, and we all know how that goes.  See I was under the impression that hives were supposed to only support one queen at a time.  It doesn’t appear that is the case here, and I’ll show you why.

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This comb is in the same hive and clearly, you can see larvae and ( I saw eggs as well) in the cells.  This baby queen did not do that…and those eggs are no more than 3 days old.  The young larvae are only 3-5 days old.  We have not seen a swarm of this hive, and it doesn’t appear to be any less full than the last time I took a peak.

There are numerous discussions about the possibility for a hive to have two queens.  Bee expert Cleo Hogan suggests that “there is abundant evidence that the two queens may live side by side in the hive for a period of time, both laying eggs until one is destroyed”.

I belong to a FB top bar group, and they have reminded me of yet another possible outcome.  MUTINY.  I have seen both supersedure cells at the top of my bars as well as swarm cells at the bottom of my bars.  I just assumed they were all swarm cells and have been anticipating such an event.  Maybe now what is really happening is that a daughter queen is planning to off the mother queen.  If last year has taught me anything, it is to let bees be bees…they’ve been “beeing” for a lot longer then me.

I will just let the hive handle this, and I’ll just watch 🙂

Swarm Call…Our First Nuc Added

Spring is such an exciting time for beekeepers.  It’s the time for healthy bee colonies to swarm, and I’ve been ready since the beginning of April.  Eagerly I’ve had all my tools, hat, veil, gloves and a 5 bar nuc hive in the back of my Jeep just hoping I would get the called.  In January,  I officially added my name to the West Virginia swarm list with the state apiarist, and I’ve had my fingers crossed ever since.  Little did I know that it wouldn’t be the Apiarist that would call me.  I woke up this morning with a voicemail from a co-worker asking if I might be interested in a swarm.

YES!!

I tried really hard not to get too excited because bee’s don’t always stick around for very long.  I was pretty excited when they were right where I was told they would be.

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I shook them right into my nuc and added 3 bars of drawer comb.  It didn’t take these girls long to decide they liked the arrangement. (you can tell by the way they put their bottoms up in the air to fan a “we found a home” pheromones through the air)  I just love the sound a happy hive makes.  I shook down the remaining bees a few more times before I closed up the nuc and tighten the ratchet strap down to head to our apiary.

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As I was talking to the homeowner, I  was thrilled to learn that right there in the front yard was a bee tree.  A beautiful healthy bee tree…and it’s been there for a number of years.  The entrance to the hive was 15 feet off the ground, and it was just buzzing with life.  I’m so intrigued with feral hives and would love to do a photo project of found feral hives.  I think it would be a great exhibit for the local art center.  With that in mind, and seeing that there was a ladder propped up on the porch in front of the tree, so I jokingly suggested I should come back with my camera.  He agreed.

I’m not sure he knew I was serious, but I’m hoping to take him up on the opportunity soon 🙂

It’s All About the Wax

One of the very first tasks a colony needs to accomplish when setting up a home in a new hive, it to create wax.  The wax is formed into “scales” by wax-producing glands in the abdominal segments of worker bees.  Once secreted, a different bee will harvest it, and use it to build comb.  One of the amazing things that bees sometimes do when making wax is called festooning.  This is when bees hanging together, leg-to-leg, between the frames of comb.  Some beekeepers say this is done to get new comb to the area of the frame in need.  Others think that this chaining is a way for the bees to measure out what space needs comb.  Either way, I think its neat to watch them work together to get things done.

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An interesting thought about wax.  It’s said that a bee will use 10 pounds of sugar (artificial or nectar derived) to produce 1 pound of wax.  That makes wax a huge commodity!  Much more so then honey itself.

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The obvious issue in harvesting this commodity its the availability, and harvestability.  In a standard Lang hive that uses wax foundations with wire support, the process of harvesting the wax can become a tedious task.  The alternative might be to use the removed capping when harvesting honey, but this is a limited volume.  That said, the National Honey Report indicates that on average honey goes wholesale for $2 lbs, where wax yields $3.50 or higher depending on color and cleanliness.  It might be of significant value to save those cappings even if it might take a while to collect enough to use.

One of the biggest reasons I choose to learn top bar beekeeping was to be able to harvest wax much more readily.  Without the use of foundation and wire supports, it is pretty easy to remove a start of new wax before the bees even begin to use it.  I currently use wax in my artistic adventures and continue to find new ways to try and include wax as a selling point in both encaustics and candle making.

It’s crazy what these ladies have to offer!

 

The Season of Swarms

As my love for bees continues to grow, I wanted to share my enthusiasm for my small backyard hobby.

I know…bees stings right!

What I’ve learned in my first year of beekeeping is by far outweighs the occasional sting. Honest!  Now in my second year, I am excited to share the joy these bees have given me.  Please understand I am in no way an expert in bees, but my love for these little fuzzy ladies is true.   I would love to share with you what I did in my first year, as well as keep you informed as year two continues to develop.

I’m going to start this blog with a photo I took this weekend.  What you are seeing are queen cells,  (the cup looking things that are open at the top) and what this is telling me is that my hive want’s to swarm!  That is when the old queen takes a  bunch of the resident bees and leaves the hive in search for a new home…leaving behind the pupa of the new queen to take over what remains.

Why would she do this?  Because it’s one of two ways that bees insure there survival.  What beekeepers try and do is prevent the swarm by splitting the hive…kind of like an artificial swarm, and putting it in a new hive to let them prosper.  I tried to do that, but I didn’t do it correctly and forgot to move the queen with my split 😦  Now I have a hive without a queen, and a hive ready to swarm.

All is good though, no harm done to the bees.  The queen-less hive will produce a queen, and the  hive that swarmed ( or will swarm), will have more room to grow.  If the old queen already left, we didn’t see that swarm and we have lost those bees for our apiary.  If she is preparing to leave, we have set up a trap to try and catch her, and her worker bees to place them into a new hive to grow that colony.  Only time will tell…but I’m sure keeping my fingers crossed that I haven’t misses her.

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An Adventure in Beekeeping

A few years back…actually 10 now, my next door neighbor stopped by my yard with a wooden box covered on all side with a screen and asked my grandson and I if we wanted to see something neat.  It was a package of bees, and he sat on my grass and answered every question we had about why the bees were in the box, and what he was going to do with them…and most important to my grandson, why he wasn’t afraid of being stung by all those bees!

Skipping ahead, 10 years later my mother was able to get some land that both my brother and I have placed hives on.  I decided at the time to start with a top bar hive, and my brother started with Langs.   Our little apiary (Little Falls Apiary) started its first season with 3 hives in total.

My top bar hive almost didn’t happen though, because actually I only ordered 2 nucs, and but the time I realized I wanted a third hive, there were no bees to be bought!  Taking it as a gift from God, I was called about a swarm.  Not actually ever touching a bee yet, (but taking a beginners beekeeping class)  I mustered up the courage and caught my first swarm.

It went as smooth as butter, and before I knew it…I was officially a beekeeper!  With the adrenalin still pumping, I called a mentor/member of my local club, and she helped me to get my new colony into the top bar hive.

I was amazed at the ease these girls accepted my hive, and from that point, my love for bees just continues to grow!  These little beauties are amazing to watch, and as I study them, I continue to find more reasons to marvel.

Who knew this would sweep me off my feet so quickly?

Beekeepers…that’s who!