Saturday, March 27, 2010

Bad Bee Day #1

Last Tuesday, a group of beekeepers came over to see what was going on in that hive we were trying to increase. A neighbor said we all looked like hazmat folks. I found out that when there's heavy lifting going on, it's good to have a number of spare hands.


We got the hive opened, and looked and looked for the freshly-laid eggs which should have been in that new lovely comb. We found the comb -- big paddles of it:


Yet it was drone comb, that is, cells which are much larger than those intended for worker bees. On pre-formed foundation, the bees can draw it, but not as easily as if they have their own way completely. They did here. What did that mean?

Well, it may mean that if there is a queen in this hive (and believe me, we all looked very very carefully), she's failing, but slowly, as there weren't any supersedure queen cells which the hive generally does when a queen is aging. There weren't any swarm cells, either, leaving the possibility open that the week before we'd hurt or killed the queen. One beekeeper says no, there just wasn't enough brood even then -- she was failing. So who knows?

But what do you do when the hive you thought you were going to harvest queens from ends up needing a queen? Yipes. Fortunately, the next door hive, the hived swarm from my friend's bush, had some small baby bees.

Click on the picture to make bigger and you can see the curled-up, C-shaped larvae. They look like fat white grubs or sausages. These are too big to make good queens, but around the edges of a couple of frames, we found very small ones, about 1/16th of an inch long, floating in royal jelly. Those are the ones we're hoping will get crowned.


Above, you can also see a very shiny cell with nectar in it, for the worker bees to use as they're caring for the larvae.

We also found combs chock-a-block with many colors of pollen, which is the main food source because it's high in protein. Pretty. Every time I see it, I'm struck by how beautiful it is. Still more baby bees:

When we had done all we could do, introducing the new frame of babies and hoping for queen(s), it was time to sliiiiiddee the box closed, slowly, sliding the bees out of the way. That box was heavy, so I was pleased to have someone else doing the work.




Notice the bare arms? Even with a truly pissy hive, and this hive was very unhappy, as queenlessness will do that to you, there were three stings total all day. Two on the bare arms, to be honest.

I was going to work bare-handed, but decided not to fairly early on.

The day wasn't a complete loss (well, any day with a lot of friendly beekeepers getting together can't be bad) as Alan brought over a queen bee who was a drone layer, and therefore was doomed.


We practiced picking up a queen (and I kept dropping her, of course, because that's apparently what I do) and marking her. Then, with no ado, Alan killed her.

Cross fingers for better days ahead.

P.S. It's my birthday, and I'd love a comment in its honor. Thank you!

18 comments:

Kate and Crew said...

Explain this drone-layer thing please. What does it mean she lays drones and why do you kill a queen that does?

Love the info and love the photos.

Stefaneener said...

Oh, Kate, sorry. Queens who aren't well-mated will lay only boy babies and since they don't do a hive any good, off with her head. Other questions?

kiwi gomes said...

Sorry to hear that! I hope you have better luck very soon ...

Mr. H. said...

I have a question. Hypothetically, How many hives would I need to have an average of maybe 3 gallons of honey each year?

GrafixMuse said...

♫♩Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you!! Happy Birthday Dear Stefaneener.....Happy Birthday to YOU! ♫♩

I know absolutely nothing about beekeeping, but your posts on this subject are extremely intriguing to me. So sorry about the queen. Hopefully the babies that were added will birth a bee for crowning.

Susan said...

Happy Birthday! That was fascinating. I couldn't be sure which was the shiny cell filled with nectar. Why does a queen lay drones? We looked in our hives today. The dead one was full of moldy comb. Should have taken care of that earlier. Ugh. Lots of white powder. I guess that is varroa mites? And the live hive has got ants. Ugh.

kitsapFG said...

Poor queen! Guess it is the right thing to do for the health of the hive but feels particularly sad given you have a hive that appears to be queenless too. Oh well, hopefully the youngsters will emerge you a new queen soon.

Dan said...

Happy b-day!

thespunmonkey said...

Many happy returns of the day! The birthday, that is, not queen-killing day.
We had a swarm in our oak the other day, but alas, no equipment. We plan to be better prepared next time.

Daphne said...

Happy Birthday. I hope you get to say that to a new queen soon.

el said...

This bee business kind of terrifies me...seems like there's so much to know AND manage. But: so many people around here have them; there's a guy about 1/2 mile down the road who has frames I kid you not 7 boxes high! Granted, I do live in the Fruit Belt so the bees are needed, and it can't be that difficult I think if so many people keep them but still.

That's not the point of this post. Happy Birthday is! Whee. Hope you whooped it up.

Kristin said...

Beautiful photos of the c-shaped larvae. Those boxes sure are heavy. I'm slowly switching to mediums (I use my deeps for supers.) because it strains my already injured neck to lift those heavy boxes. It's hard work, eh? I can't imagine having a whole lot more hives...

Have faith--it will all work out.
The girls know better than us--what to do.

Ottawa Gardener said...

Wow! I don't know if I already mentioned this but I am going to send my husband this blog as he will be the beekeeper in our house. There is so much great information here which I am clueless on. It's fascinating though. Yes, I noticed the bare armrs immediately but I have a fear of being stung...

Stefaneener said...

kiwi gomes, welcome and thank you.

Mr. H., you can get about 40-60 pounds, conservatively, from a hive, and a gallon weighs about 12 pounds. So one hive would do it, but for emergencies like queenlessness, it's recommended that you have two as backup.

GrafixMuse, thank you very much. I have more to tell on the story. . .

Susan, under the third bee from the left's head is nectar. Drones can be laid from an improperly mated queen or a laying worker in a queen's absence. Your mold will clean right up with new bees; Varroa leave a different thing. We'll get together and look some time.

kitsapFG, the queen had to go. Even if we hadn't squished her, she would have died, or ruined a hive. Ask me how I know.

Dan, thank you very much.

The spunmonkey, thanks! You can temporarily house a swarm in a cardboard box until equipment shows up. I did that for my first.

Daphne, you're very witty. Thanks.

el, it's both difficult and easy. It's hardest for me when there are problems I don't know how to address. Everything else is bees doing what comes naturally.

Kristin, that sounds like a very wise choice. I wasn't enjoying moving them around today. They were heavy.

michelle said...

I'm late, but happy birthday!!! Another great beekeeping post. I'm reading backwards since I'm catching up after not reading blogs the last few days. And I've got the answer to the question I asked in the NEXT post - you've got a bunch of beekeeping friends to consult - how fun!

patricia said...

A belated happy birthday to you!

Hey, remember when you said that beekeeping was easy?

Ha.

Ha ha ha.

I'm hoping I can get a swarm before the ants eat all the honey that my bees left. Lacking a deep freeze and waiting for bees, I'm just fighting ants these days.

Jackie said...

Happy, happy birthday!!! May your queen cometh.

Esperanza said...

Happy birthday!!!