Friday, October 25, 2013

Beeladee: Bee Problems!

This year has been full of ups and downs with my bees!

I started the year with a new hive and a lot of hope! I picked up my first package of bees and installed them without a hitch! I waited on pins and needles until the suggested time that I open my hive to make sure the queen was out of her cage! She I had to hold back my enthusiasm not to over check and stress the hive. I sat and watched and fretted like a mother hen!

The hive's behavior was a bit odd from the start. Comb was quickly drawn out, but I didn't see any laying going on. Often the bees would come out and fly in a cloud and settle on the outside of the hive as though they were bearding! The season was still early and the temperature pleasant, not conditions where bearding usually takes place! Just what was going on?

Well, swarming was going on! I went out to check my hive one evening after work only to find an empty hive box! It was nearly dark. If I were going to find them I would have to hurry. I couldn't afford to replace the entire package (at $140 a pop!) My husband joined me and we started the search! Looking at the tops of trees against a darkening sky, Mark finally spotted the swarm. It hadn't gone too far from the hive. We quickly suited up. My husband banged the branch against the plastic storage box I had grabbed from the garage. I popped the box on the ground to knock the bees to the bottom, and we repeated the process. Finally we cut the end of the branch and put it in the box with the last blob of bees still attached. Hopefully in this crawling, flying mass of bees was the unharmed queen! We put the stoppers back in the hive to close off the exit and replaced the bees, closing the hive up for the night.

Once again I had to resist the urge to open the hive. It was getting a bit warmer and I worried the bees would get too hot. I had a Boardman feeder inside with water for the bees. I could see through the observation window that they had clustered together again on the wax comb. Their clustering behavior gave me hope that the queen was back in the hive. After a couple of days I opened the hive again, inspected the comb, and found the queen!

Time went on and I still found no brood. The swarming behavior continued. I started to carefully document the time frame of the events and take supporting pictures. I called the company I had bought the package from, sent my evidence and they agreed to replace the entire package since the population had really started to decline!

Most of the few remaining bees swarmed again. This time I didn't find them. The queen didn't swarm with them. She and her attendants were still in the hive. We picked up the new package, removed the old queen, and put in the new bees and queen. I hoped the two hives would meld since the pheromone level of the old queen must have been low to non-existent. Once again I closed the hive and began to wait for the new queen to emerge from her cage. This time I closed up the bottom more fully to give them a "snug, homey" feel!

It took this queen several days to get out of her cage! I finally helped by removing the end cork. Once out. She moved to the already-available comb. I watched through the observation window and saw that once again the bees clustered around her on the comb...a good sign. After waiting a couple of weeks for the queen to establish herself, I went in for an inspection. I could see no eggs or brood but the bees seemed happy to stay and did not exhibit the same swarming behavior. Maybe the queen needed a little more time. A week later I opened the hive again to see very sketchy brood pattern on 2 or three combs. Things did not improve. Before long this queen stopped laying all-together! I was quite beside myself!

I decided to not wait any longer and allow this package to decline or swarm. I ordered a queen from a different company. I picked her up at the post office the next week. Once again I had to find the old queen and remove her (a task I hate as I don't like to kill anything, especially a queen!). I put the new cage in and started the long wait once again!

To make a long story short...she made it out and is thriving! I have fed this bunch sugar water since they had such a late start and many of the flowers were past blooming or had succumb to the summer heat. This queen has a good strong brood pattern. The hive is very docile and I'm able to work the bees without gloves on most occasions. I hope the get enough pollen and honey stored to make it through the winter!

Bearding behavior before swarming

Bees brushed from comb, no brood!

Bees that were left after the swarm

New package of bees
"Waggle" dance 
Queen laying

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