Thursday, May 28, 2015

A Split for Peach

I'd already formulated a plan to requeen my package colonies. My daughter loves that Disney show Special Agent Oso in which all tasks are broken down into three special steps. It's a surprisingly helpful formula, so that's what I'd done, too.

  • Step 1: June 14, add some bars to Austeja and let her draw some fresh comb and lay eggs. 
  • Step 2: Move freshly drawn comb and eggs (along with bees, capped brood, and stores) over to a nuc to be turned into queen cells. 
  • Step 3. About 2 weeks later (to give me some wiggle-room timewise), pinch package queens and move capped queen cells over to package colonies. 

Easy peasy. Unfortunately, Austeja had other plans.

Today, all the comb near the entrance was backfilled with nectar and pollen. I suppose I wasn't really surprised because I could smell her honey all the way from my back door. I also found 4 bars with queen cups and stick eggs. Ah, here we go again... They must have been freshly laid today because they were still standing straight up. Guess they're queen cells now.

I'm not the only one who can smell honey in my yard.

I went through that whole hive bar by bar, but for the life of me, I couldn't find her queen. All the bars with queen cells got moved to Peach along with some capped brood and a few bars of honey. They (Peach's girls) were way madder than Austeja, so I'm hopeful the queen is still in the hive. In any case, I left her some eggs as well.

Backfilled comb. Classic sign of swarm prep.

As I started closing up Austeja, it began to rain, and at that point everyone got ticked off. I consider myself blessed to have been stung only twice. For the record, closing a hive in the rain with numb, swollen fingertips is not an experience I'd like to repeat.

Of course, now my plans are all screwy again. I could stick to the original plan, but that would give the packages only about 3 brood cycles before getting a virgin queen instead of the 5 or 6 I'd planned. I hate to set them back again so soon.

The alternative, I suppose is that I can split the queen cells up again and raise two nucs. The queens could emerge, mate, start laying, and then I could use them to replace the package queens at leisure. I could even combine the colonies to give them more of a jump.

Leave it to the bees to completely derail me.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Decision Has Been Made

Last night I was toying with the idea of forcing a swarm in order to obtain queen cells for my new packages. The idea was just not sitting well with me though. After sleeping on it, I had an infinitely better (and in retrospect, totally obvious) solution this morning -- just raise some queens.

After watching a queen-rearing demo last year, I've been leery of getting into that. It seems like a lot of steps, time, and equipment. However, maybe as a result of some REM, my brain retrieved some long-buried info from Mangum's book about grafting queen cells and a Mike Palmer video in which he discusses sustainable queen rearing for a small operation.

This afternoon, I plan to hit the books again to refresh my memory, but a new plan is emerging. Since I only need 2 or 3 cells, I'm thinking of making a small split to encourage some queen cells which I'll graft into the package colonies.

Has anyone ever done this? Any thoughts? Suggestions? I'm wading into uncharted territory (for me), so I'm looking for all the info I can get!!! Cheers!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Inspection Notes: My Scarlett O'Hara Queen

Today's temperature was 60 and sunny. Starting tomorrow, the weekly forecast predicts temps in the 80's and 90's with rain & thunderstorms. Even though today was cooler than I'd like for an inspection, I decided to go ahead in order to avoid checking my girls in sweltering heat or rain.


12 days post install, and she is doing quite well. I didn't go all the way through, but all the comb I gave them is full of eggs and brood. By the end of next week, they should have a nice population explosion.

Capped brood, eggs, and nectar in an old comb I had given them. 


I only looked at 3 bars because she was completely, totally, absolutely unhappy to see me. Two bars were crosscombed, but since they're mostly contained to those two bars, I put them between two nice straight combs to keep it from spreading.

Hippolyte was just nasty today, so I cut my visit short, but she appears to be laying plenty of eggs as well, even though there wasn't a whole lot of comb building. My guess is that she just doesn't have the population required to build a lot of comb right now, but hopefully, things will change by the end of next week.

Cross comb

Brood & nectar


Oh-em-gee! I could not be happier with this queen! Last year, I had combined her with Hippolyte thinking they hadn't built up enough to weather the winter. This spring, she has turned into the best queen I've ever had! My DH called her my "Scarlett O'Hara queen." When I gave him an odd questioning look, he explained, "She had a poor year last year, but she'll never go hungry again."
I guess there is a real lesson for me in this -- when making splits, coddle the new colonies until they get going. She probably would've done better if I'd been able to make more time for her last year.

Squeee! Look at that brood pattern!
Another gorgeous bar of brood
If I remove the divider board from the hive, Austeja will hold 32 bars. Currently, she is up to 27 bars. This includes about 3 or 4 partially built & empty bars tucked into the brood nest just to keep it open as well as 2 bars of uncapped nectar. I noticed a few queen cups, but there were no signs that she's thinking about swarming.

I love the funny shapes of natural comb.
Drone brood on left. Worker brood on right.

I've been thinking about requeening the two packages with purchased queens. However, after today's inspection, I'm toying with a new thought. What if I let Austeja run out of space and start building queen cells that I can move over to the other hives? Maybe even make a split or two? I haven't thought through the pros (like saving money and time, yeah!) and cons (like another year without honey, boo!) of this plan, so it's not a definite go yet. However, I'm loving Austeja's genes (overwintered, awesome layer) and would love to see her traits in more colonies.