Monday, March 29, 2010

Bad Bee Day #2

Apologies to anyone who'd rather see tomatoes transplanted and tat soi ripening seeds. It's bee season here.

Everyone who thought killing a drone-laying queen was harsh will probably find this post, if not reassuring, then at least explanatory.

Last Friday I finally got over to check my friend's beehive. It's the first year we have any hope of getting honey. I cracked the super to take a look. While I didn't expect to find a lot of drawn comb, I also didn't expect to find this:

Notice anything strange? Look closely. There are about two or three small bees, but the rest are really big-eyed and round-bottomed. They're drones. Lots of drones.

I got into the lower part of the hive, the deeps, where the brood nest should be. This frame has natural comb, tied in from the former top-bar hive, but look at it:

Nothing but drones, and at the top, under the "finger" of comb, is a peanut-shaped cell. This hive has raised at least one queen. . . then I went deeper into it.

Drones, drones, drones. This is natural comb falling off of the frame because I was holding it sideways and it wasn't attached firmly at the bottom.

When I'd finally made my way through the entire hive, looking for the queen, and cutting out the open, hatched-out queen cells, this is how many I ended up with:

I can only count nine there, but there were eleven hatched-out cells. Either this hive raised a queen and she was insufficiently mated and therefore is laying only drones, or the queen didn't make it and a worker is laying.

This means the death of the colony. Drones don't draw comb, and they don't do any inside work. Any foragers are just feeding them (and there were stores of nectar and pollen) but it can't last.

Fortunately, it's swarm season. I think a complete shake-up is in order. I'll bring a swarm over, after the queen has proven that she can lay, and take every frame of this hive and shake it onto the ground. If there's a laying worker, she probably will be too heavy to fly back into the hive. If there's a queen, I want a new queen in her place, should she return. Then I'll take the new swarm and put it in the top hive body box, with a piece of newspaper between the two boxes. By the time the bees chew through the paper, the new queen's smell will have permeated the hive and all should be well.


One thing this relatively new beekeeper has discovered, you just never know what you're going to find when you crack open a hive.


Ribbit said...

So seriously, where would you find a new swarm? I've never, ever seen bees collect anywhere other than a hive.

Stefaneener said...

Just wait until tomorrow's post. . .

Kristin said...

Oh the problems of an urban apiarist...

Sounds like a good plan though.

Ottawa Gardener said...

Oh no. Sounds kinda creepy. I'm actually really curious about what tomorrow's post will hold.

chaiselongue said...

I love honey,I know how important bees are and I love to hear them buzzing around in the garden .... but I suffer from insect phobia a bit, so I'm afraid I'm not enjoying your pictures. Fascinating reading, though!

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

We don't have European honey bees at the farm yet, just Mason Bees. However, I so enjoy your bee posts, and learn so much. This was such an informative post...although I realize we still have MUCH to learn before obtaining our own hive.

Stefaneener said...

Kristin, it's always an adventure, huh? I feel badly about this hive, though. There was worker brood in February.

Ottawa Gardener, it was, rather. Kind of eerie to see all those eyes. The eyes! the eyes! Aaaaiiiiee. I'm not that fond of drones, although my kids love stingless bees.

chaiselongue, I'm sorry for creeping you out. Just a few more bee posts and we're back to vegetables!

CVF, I started beekeeping before I knew anything. It helps to have other people to ask, but the bees are pretty good about it all.

michelle said...

Fascinating post! Do you know other beekeepers to help you or do you just do some research when you have a problem? Beekeeping seems more complicated than I thought, but I want to try anyway.

Unknown said...

Another fascinating post! I could see the differences between he drones and other bees in the photos. I am sorry that this hive has problems too.

Can't wait for the next post.

kitsapFG said...

Simply fascinating stuff! I love learning new things and your series of posts on beekeeping have been really wonderful.

patricia said...

Oh my gosh--all those drones! It's like a low budget sci fi movie. Or a horror movie for beekeepers.

Drones, Drones, Drones!

Stefaneener said...

Michelle, there's a local beekeeping group and there are lots of online forums to ask questions. I try to rely on a group of friends, too. But I take information from anywhere. You could easily find a beekeeping group or mentor in your area.

GrafixMuse, I'm worrying now that all my hives have problems! Glad you could see -- showing people in person is really fun too.

kitsapFG, thanks. I hppe this is one of the last ones -- there's a lot going on here.

Tricia, it really was. Just a sinking feeling. I don't know what I'm going to do, exactly.

Daniel said...

That's always a sad sight, but starting a new colony is really exciting. Hope you find a swarm soon.