We lost a queen.
Specifically, a queen from our hive of Italians. Truthfully we sort-of saw it coming, and one major mistake was made. In an attempt to prevent swarming, Jack removed 3 live queen cells from the hive on an inspection. Later we found literature which elaborated that these cells (which were located on the middle of a face of comb), were “supercedure cells” — as opposed to “swarm cells”, definite evidence that the hive was attempting to produce a queen to replace their current one.
Okay, mistake. Whoops.
Today we finally had some good weather and checked on the hives (this queen-cell-ectomy was last week sometime). We found zero brood (bee eggs and larvae) in the italian hive; plenty of bees, a decent amount of honey, but no brood. Luckily we don’t have a laying worker — just lots of comb partially filled with honey and pollen.
A laying worker occurs when a hive doesn’t have a queen, and one of the workers begins to lay eggs — she’s presumably hopeful to rekindle her dying colony. Unfortunately as an unfertilized female, our valiant heroine is only able to lay eggs which yield drones, and the hive is sure to collapse shortly afterwards
Our hive of Carniolans on the other hand looks fantastic! Full of brood, starting to build up honey reserves, a good amount of comb, and so on.
But of course our hive without a queen isn’t going to last long. So we decided to combine the hives.
Each hive had 1 full medium box of 10 frames (the upper of the 2 boxes): comb on every frame, good activity, enough bees to populate the whole affair. Both had begun to fill out their lower box (also medium sized).
We decided to combine the hives into a 3 box affair: mixing the populated frames from the two hives into the lowest box, then 2nd would be the Carniolans “core” hive (including the Carnie queen), and finally the devoid-of-brood Italian Core. So now we’ve got single hive of 3 fully comb’d boxes, and plenty of bees now living together.
Hopefully that makes sense.
Behaviorally, the Italians were clearly confused when we removed their hive. A large cluster of them buzzed around for a while looking for the entrance where it used to be — especially since the hives are (were) directly adjacent to each other. They figured it out quickly enough though. I have a hunch that mixing the two sets of frames together in the bottom-most box made it easier for the Italians to find something which smells like home.
Question: The comb in our hives has turned a much deeper darker color from the pure white it started out as (white from the original sugar water solution the bees were being fed but have since not been fed in several weeks). The cells which have darkened have only been used for brood thus far.
What causes the color changes?
I’ve brewed up some more 1:1 sugar water that I’ll give them before I leave for work tomorrow morning.
We’ve got a queen excluder handy but haven’t put it in the stack yet. Our reasoning is that the queen should get a chance to spread her pheromones around unencumbered, and everything I’ve read that amateurs using excluders can prompt a hive to swarm more readily.
Long story short: two hives have become one. We’ll see how this works out, but I’m pretty hopeful. Best case is that we may get a decent amount of honey by the end of the season!
Update (6/1): Got stung 3 times while setting down the bag of feed in the hive! I was being sloppy and hasty, I deserved it. This is the first I’ve gotten stung by these bees — it stings, but not nearly as much as I remember from when I was stung as an 8 year old. 🐝🐝🐝
Update (6/2): Three days later, the bees seem to be foraging happily and doing just fine (no swarms or anything). I’ll open up the hive this weekend to make sure there’s some laying going on, but things are looking good!
Yesterday I checked the hives for the first time in just over a week.
You can see white and yellow capped cells in the above picture.
The white are capped “honey”. Really, it’s the sugar water I had been feeding them. They ran out of feed a little while back and I won’t be replacing it for them… they’ve gotten the kick they needed and seem to be carrying on via foraging.
The yellow are brood cells, which means our queen is laying in full force! To the right of the main cluster of brood in the picture above, you can even see some growing larvae (look closely, they’re little while curled up horseshoe shapes at the bottom of the cell). And you can’t see in the picture but there are eggs in many more cells all over the place.
By my understanding, the bees like to keep their brood in the middle of the frame, and will pack in other resources towards the edges. This helps them keep the brood at a good temperature, amongst other things, and the food will help them last the winter (already building reserves!). You can also see pollen — which they use as a major protein source — being stored especially towards the top right of the photo (it’s the weird off-coloration stuff).
Her majesty, the queen, is visible as the long black bee in these pictures.
For reference this is the Carniolan queen — in this checkup I checked for but didn’t locate the Italian queen in the other hive.
The larger capped cells in the pictures above are drone cells (this is from the Italian hive, though both had quite a few drone cells). There are quite a lot of them across both hives.
- Hives produce an amount of drones, especially in springtime.
- If the hive were producing only drones, it would likely be an indication of a ‘laying worker’, and either an absent, weak, or dead queen.
- Both hives are producing both drones and workers (by the looks of it — unsure if any have hatched yet).
So everything should be fine. (Question for more experienced beekeepers: Proportionally how many drone cells should I expect?)
I did find this queen-cup-esque thing in the hive of carnies…
It’s empty so this should also be fine, and I left it alone. The bees will do what they think is best, I’m not about to tell them how to do their beesiness (sorry).
Here you can see the girls lined up and watching me as I mess with their hive. (Note, due to recent events with my team at work, I actually have no idea what “vigilante” means anymore. Nbd.)
I, with one of my housemates (Jack), have recently set up two honeybee hives in our backyard.
While non-native to the western hemisphere, the European Dark Bee (Apis mellifera mellifera) pollinates a huge portion of our fruits and vegetables, and are generally cool creatures. They operate basically as a hive mind, centered around the queen-who secretes pheromones which keep the whole hive synchronized.
Beekeeping, from everything I’ve learned so far, seems to be equal parts art and science. Everyone’s got different opinions, everyone has success stories with their particular technique, etc.
I’d like to use this blog to chronicle some of our developments with our hives.
What we’ve got
2 Langstroth hives, each composed of 4 medium-depth boxes, each with 10 foundationless, wedged top-bar frames, ie. 80 frames total. Additionally ordered 20 wired wax foundation frames Leaving 10 foundation frames per hive, or 3 per box.
I like the idea of foundationless frames, but the main drawback is that without any guide, the bees have a strong chance to not build comb along the centerline of the frame… remedies are manual intervention, straightening out the comb using a hive tool and your hand before it gets too big, or cutting off the misaligned portions entirely.
Also learned that the bees do what the bees want to do. You can’t really force bees to do what you want them to. Bees are a force of nature.
But bees do tend to continue to build straight comb once they’ve got other straight comb built. So the few evenly interspersed frames with wax foundations should help guide the bees and it should all work out.
I ordered the two packages from the Ballard Bee Company, one Italians and one Carniolans.
The two hives are next to each other in the backyard, in the corner made by the side fence and one wall of the shed. The hive on the left is inhabited by the Italians and the one on the right by the Carniolans. There are a few differences between the races: Italian bees are supposed to be more likely to rob other (especially weaker) hives, Carniolans are known for rapid growth of colony size and a slightly increased propensity to swarm (as a result of rapid growth). They’re both some of the most gentle and non-territorial races of honeybees. They are slightly different in appearance, supposedly; I am thus far unable to tell the difference.
Putting the two different races next to each other shouldn’t be a problem. There can be a tendency of bees to drift from one hive to another if one is particularly strong, but that shouldn’t happen at least initially. And as a plus, if one hive starts struggling as we enter wintertime we can donate brood and honey frames from one hive to the other (even mixing races of bees living in a given hive isn’t a problem as long as there’s only 1 queen).
We got the bees on the 15th of April, so as of my writing this we are are 5 days in. I checked on the bees this morning and saw that they had been drawing out comb nicely on both types of frame.
Currently the hives are 3 boxes high in frames, with the 4th box empty. It’s providing a nice top area for putting the ziplock bag feeders.
The bees seem to be ignoring the lowermost box and favoring the 2nd and 3rd boxes (on both hives).
- I’m slowly working towards working without gloves. Partially because then I could use my phone camera and take more pictures of everything.
- Producing a good batch of honey for our first year
- Possibly setting up a stall some Saturday at Pike Market and selling our homemade honey (at huge markup)
- Learning more about bees.
- Get stung. Likely many times.