Friday, July 3, 2015

The Big Switcheroo & A New Queen

Peach & Buttercup (née Austeja)
When I inspected Austeja on Wednesday, I could see that she was struggling. She hasn't had a laying queen since the end of May. Even though I've given her some brood and eggs every week, it hasn't been enough to keep her numbers up. She's also been burning through all the honey that was stored prior to splitting. Meanwhile, Peach was bursting at the seams in that small nuc. I decided it was time to intervene.

First, I moved all the brood combs and a comb of stores out of Austeja into Buttercup, a new nuc box. I also tried to shake as many bees as possible from the remaining honey combs into Buttercup.  

Build me up, Buttercup, don't break my heart.

Lightning sand, Fire spurts, and Rodents of Unusual Size (R.O.U.S)

A "The Princess Bride" hive without the Dread Pirate Roberts? Inconceivable!

Then I moved all the combs from Peach into Austeja. I had my hawk-eyed son (the one with the knack for finding four-leaf clovers) help look for Her Majesty, but she remained as elusive as ever. I also moved Peach's nuc box over to Austeja's entrance to help them find their way to their new home. 

Meanwhile, Peach's returning foragers were perplexed to discover their home had vanished. 

Rather than force the field workers to beg entrance into the other hives, I placed Buttercup in Peach's spot. Within ten minutes or so, everyone was inside.

"Give us the gate key!"

Hopefully, a big influx of workers as well as some syrup and some more capped brood will give her the boost she needs until her queen is laying. 

Everyone in Peach and all the stragglers left behind in Austeja got a spritz of sugar syrup laced with Honey-B-Healthy. We also smoked the heck out of everyone to disrupt communication. There was a little fighting, but not too much, and everyone seemed to settle down quickly.

Some smoke

More smoke

Smoke! Now that's what I'm talking about!

I also noticed that the newly created Buttercup had two bars with capped queen cells -- one from Austeja and one from one of the package colonies. I don't want to propagate those southern genetics, so I cut out the package queen cells. I felt terrible and wished I'd had someone to donate them to, but it was a spur of the moment decision.

Doesn't it look like they're plotting? What play do you think they're going to run?

This colony's performance is sort of disappointing. She seems to be doing ok, making bees, bringing in nectar. But that's it... she's just ok. I'm not sure if it's the colony or the fact that they get less sun than the other hives, but I'm less than enthusiastic about her progress. She got more bars of comb than Hippolyte to start off with, she gets a quart of syrup once or twice a week, and there are no issues with pests. She's just lackluster by comparison to the other girls.

She's still in the process of making a queen. Everything was going along fine, so there was not much to do but give her some capped brood and syrup.

During inspection, I noticed something zipping around inside my veil and down my shirt front. Next came a tickling sensation. Apparently, even females of the Apis persuasion are interested in lingerie. Everything ended well, but it sure was interesting trying to release that bee.

The new queen is laying beautifully. She's got two or three empty bars, and a lot of backfilling going on. I might have to remove some brood bars soon, which is fine because I think Elsa and Persephone may need some help for a while.

The New Peach
Buttercup (née Austeja) had been queenless so long and had dwindled so much that I was thinking I'd just requeen her. I texted Sam Comfort and ordered a new one for pickup in Thursday. He's only about an hour and a half away, and I figured a drive in the country with my kids would be nice -- we could enjoy some beautiful scenery, have lunch, talk, not play video games all day. Of course, the plan backfired on me since I had one kid who was carsick and puking, another who was cranky with hypoglycemia, and a third who sang Frozen songs the whole way.

AZ box used for shipping queens
Inside the box. Queen in a cage. Attendants and fondant outside.
Sam said that having the attendants outside promotes better acceptance of queens.
Queen cage had just a fondant plug -- no cork
I asked Sam for his advice about my newly minted Buttercup and Elsa because I've been concerned about them making queens this late in the season. I haven't felt confident in their ability to build up enough before winter comes. He assured me that if they requeened in July and I pampered them with syrup, they would be just fine, so I decided to give the new queen to my now empty Peach.

To help foster queen acceptance, I kept the nuc on the weak side -- just two bars of brood, a bar of honey, and a jar of syrup.

I have my own method of hanging queen cages that I made up myself. At least, I haven't seen anyone else do it. I think my approach helps center the queen cage on the bar, which is good because I've found that bees sometimes build comb around the cage. I drill a hole in a flat bar (no wedge). I use some wire to hook the queen cage. I have floral wire on hand so that's what I use, but I suppose a paper clip might work, too. I'm just really careful about waiting until the queen is on the opposite side so I don't jab her. Then I string the wire and cage to the bar. I like this method because 1) I can easily adjust the cage to center it 2) The cage is easy to remove 3) The wire doesn't create a gap when I close the bars up.

Hole drilled into center of bar.

Wire attached to cage. I like the fondant to the side or down.
I never put the fondant on top because if it melts,
I don't want it to melt on the queen.

Cage wired to the bar.

I know you're supposed to wait 24 hours before installing a queen, but I only waited about five hours. After I'd closed it up, I had second thoughts about what I had done and began panicking all night. This morning, I raced outside to see if whether they had balled her. Turns out she was fine, but I got stung on the ear in punishment for my disbelief.

Misc Notes
When I saw Sam, I also asked him his thoughts on overwintering and what he does. He said that he doesn't wrap his hives at all and barely insulates the tops. However, he thinks his hives do just fine because they are so leaky. (I've seen them -- they're gappy all over.) He recommended a top entrance to control moisture if that was a concern. I don't know -- I might have to mull this over some more and maybe do some comparisons this winter. I'm torn between the idea of a cold drafty hive to control moisture and a warm one with moisture-absorbing materials. Both trains of thought makes sense to me, and I still can't decide which way to go. 

Meanwhile, most of the flowering trees and shrubs have quit or are winding down. However, the summer flowers are starting up. Lilies and hosta are in bloom. Stupid scarlet lily beetles, though, have ravaged my lilies this year. The bees are loving borage and calendula. St. John's wort, daisies, mullein, chicory, and black-eyed susans are filling roadside ditches. My agastache is just beginning to flower. Catmint is still strong and loaded with bees, too. I'm thinking about planting a lot more of it next year. All in all, it's a gorgeous time of year.

Non-native scarlet lily beetle. If you see these, kill them on sight. They decimate lilies and hostas.
Their larvae is the most disgusting thing I've ever seen. They cover themselves in feces as a defense mechanism.


 For all my American friends, hope you have a happy 4th of July weekend!


  1. I have a colony I believe has gone queenless through over swarming this year. I have found someone just 10 mile away who has a abundance of nucs so I may well buy one to help set it straight. btw I love the princess bride and am currently attempting to indoctrinate my children. My wife is NOT a fan so I am having to do when she is out. best of luck.

    1. What a bummer about your queenless hive. Didn't that happen to you last year? Hope it works out with the nuc.

      Your wife doesn't like The Princess Bride??? Inconceivable! ;-)

      My DH and I recently forced (yes, there were no options) my eldest to watch it. He feigns disdain (because he was made to watch & because he's going through some kind of weird adolescent thing), but I can tell that he secretly loves it. It's good that you're starting your kids on it early.

  2. I have a colony I believe has gone queenless through over swarming this year. I have found someone just 10 mile away who has a abundance of nucs so I may well buy one to help set it straight. btw I love the princess bride and am currently attempting to indoctrinate my children. My wife is NOT a fan so I am having to do when she is out. best of luck.

  3. The fun never stops in your bee yard! I can relate a little bit with the split I've been trying to do which is still a work in progress (finally got a blot post about it). Love what you've done with Buttercup - perfectly adorned! And the queen bar is ingenious - is it the normal width or narrower?

    1. Thanks. I wish I'd been able to incorporate your suggestion about the 6-fingered glove, but I read it too late. :-(

      The bar I use for the queen is the same width as all the other bars in the hive. Actually, the hole is pretty tiny, so after I remove the cage, I pop it right back into the hive. The hole isn't large enough to let anything pass through, really, and the bees cover it from the inside with propolis and comb.

      Can't wait to read your post!


Thank you for your comment! I can't wait to hear what you think!