Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Inspection Notes: She can wiggle, she can wobble, she can do the splits

It's been eight days since our last inspection. It turns out that bees can do a lot in eight days.


I've had a nuc lying around for awhile, and I've been on the fence about whether to split Hippolyte or not. We've just passed our 5-week anniversary (sounds silly, but that's about 1/3 of a lifetime for a bee!), and plenty of pollen and nectar are coming in, so this would be a good time to do it. On the other hand, we could just let them build and maybe get a wee bit of honey this fall.

As I began today's inspection with my eldest child, the world's most awesome assistant, I asked him what he wanted to do. Should we make bees or honey? "Bees," he said. So with that possibility in mind, we opened the hive. Very quickly, I discovered that we didn't have a choice.

My Amazons were backfilling all the drone comb that I'd moved to the back of the hive last week, which was well and good. Then I noticed something troubling. They were backfilling brood comb, too. There was very little larvae, and I didn't see any eggs. Even more troubling, we pulled out a comb with queen cups, a LOT of queen cups.

Empty queen cups.
But these were all along the edge of the comb.
Capped queen cell. Sorry for the blurriness.
Hippolyte is left with 4 bars of brood, including capped queen cell.
Inserted 3 empty bars.

Normally, I'm not bothered by queen cups because I've learned though experience that they're a normal part of the hive. Some bees just like to have them around. So I check for eggs/larvae, and if I don't see any, I just keep going. I didn't notice any brood or larvae in the cups we pulled, but the sheer number of them in conjunction with the lack of eggs/brood and all of the honey made me nervous.

Sure enough, as we kept inspecting, every other bar in the brood nest was laced with queen cups -- but these were full of larvae and eggs. They reminded me of pom-poms hanging off the edges of the comb. We even found a capped queen cell.

Unfortunately, what we didn't find was the queen. Ideally, I would've liked to move the bar with the queen to the nuc and left the capped queen cell in the hive. However, since we couldn't locate her, I moved the brood bars that were closest to the entrance to the nuc. I picked those bars because that's where the queen tends to hang out during inspections, and I was crossing my fingers that we'd simply missed her. I also added some comb with honey and shook some additional bees into the nuc. Finally, I put branches over the nuc entrance to force any exiting bees to re-orient themselves.

Peach, covered in maple branches

Peach has 5 bars of brood
(which are backfilled with honey and pollen).
Also a honey bar. All brood bars have occupied queen cups.
Fingers crossed I got the queen in the nuc and the bees get rid of all the larvae in the queen cups. BTW, all of the bars that I put into the nuc have queen cups with larvae, so I'm hoping that if I didn't get the queen in there, they can raise a new one. The capped queen cell is in the hive with a lot of new empty bars. My hope is that if the queen is still in the hive, the extra space will suppress swarming. But if they're queenless, they should have a laying queen within the next 2 1/2 weeks.

My fear is that Hippolyte still swarms. Given that we didn't notice any queen cups in this hive 8 days ago, I'm guessing I have about 7 +/- days to prepare a contingency plan. I figure I'll start daubing lemongrass oil on some branches I'd like the bees to swarm to. My plans for building a few Warre hives have also been bumped up the priority list. Anyone want to guess how I'll be spending the July 4th holiday?


Austeja has also been a busy girl backfilling comb with honey and packing pollen in like there's no tomorrow. There were a few patches of eggs and larvae, but again, she was seriously out of space for new brood.

Lots and lots of pollen
Although I didn't see any swarm cells, she looked like she was starting to get honey bound. I figured she needed to be opened up pronto. She had comb on 18 bars, and I added 7 empty ones to make room.

Btw, both hives have been put on a diet. No more sugar syrup!

I ran out of yellow pushpins.
Pretty much every bar was being backfilled with honey.

Some bragging and a little bit of schadenfreude

Since I was starting with packages this year, I really didn't expect to worry about swarming until next year. I certainly didn't expect the kind of explosive growth that I've witnessed in just over 5 weeks. All the credit for that goes to the bees, and I'm so proud of them! They're great little ladies!

With that said, the claws are coming out, so if you want to avoid the cat fight, stop reading. You have been warned. Meow! ;-)

A neighbor of mine keeps Langs. Though he's always polite about my TBHs, he's been quite frank about his disregard for them. Of course, I understand his position because he has a different goal in mind. His aim is lots and lots and lots of honey, so Langs are a good choice for him. Also, he grew up around an uncle who was a professional beekeeper, so that's what he knows and understands. I get that, but that's not what I necessarily want from my own beekeeping experience.

Today, I popped over during his inspection. (Fine, I admit that I spotted him in his bee jacket from the street as I pulled into my drive, and I totally intruded because I was curious about Langs. Never seen a real live one inspected up close before.) I asked how he felt the hives were doing, and he told me how pleased he was with the progress of his bees.

Not having any experience with Langs personally, I'm sure he was right. However, because I'm used to seeing "walls" of bees building comb in a TBH, I was surprised at how empty the hive was. He started with two nucs about 3 1/2 weeks ago, and they were more than half empty. The bees seemed kind of disorganized on the foundation, and there was barely any comb on it. That's how it looked from my perspective anyway because my own experience is very different. Last year, I started a TBH from a nuc and by the end of three weeks, the front half of my hive was chock full of comb, and I had so many bees that they were doing serious bearding. I know that bees draw comb faster without foundation, but seeing his mostly empty brood box dramatically illustrated to me just how fast bees can really work when mostly left to their own devices.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that Langs are bad and TBHs are good. Different hives are better for different personalities and goals. However, I finally feel validated in my choice of hive. I wanted something that would be easy for me to manage and a bit of honey for the family, but I also wanted something that would allow the bees to work more "naturally." Comparing our different experiences, I can definitely say that I've made the right choice for me. 

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