Thursday, August 25, 2016

Where's the Honey?

It's been 3 weeks since I checked the majority of my hives, so I figured a visit to the bee yard was in order. I skipped Peach & Buttercup since they got an inspection a couple of weeks ago, but everyone else received a fall checkup.

The good news is that everyone has a laying queen (at least the hives I inspected).

Good brood pattern in Austeja -- and this wasn't even the best comb of the day

The bad news is that there is very little honey. The goldenrod is blooming and beautiful, but with the exception of Celestia, there are no significant stores. I expect not to see honey in hives that have been recently queened (Peach, Buttercup), but not in hives that have been queenright and making bees prior to the start of our fall flow.

Some nice honey from Celestia

Some of the bars have warped quite a bit, and now there are thick ribbons of propolis.

This week, I had occasion to drive over to Bridgeport & Middlebury. Along the way, Japanese knotweed was looking pretty nice. Hopefully, it starts flowering here as well. However, folks all over the state are reporting an anemic fall flow and empty hives, so maybe feeding will become a necessity this year. Fortunately, I have some honey that I can use for that purpose.

The propolis is so thick it actually ripped the side off a couple bars when I pried them apart.
Yikes! That's some serious sticky!

Case Study: Swarm or Supersedure?

As an instructional designer, I love case studies. It's very easy to learn how to do things, but trying to do things in the real world where things never go according to plan? That's an entirely different story. The thing I like about case studies is that they use real (or realistic) events and force people to look at the big picture. Too often, I think people look at one or two details and freak out. If they took all factors and variables into consideration, they'd probably make better diagnoses.

One area that new beeks have trouble with is discerning between swarm cells and supersedure cells. If only the bees hung little signs or something on them that would make life so much easier! Since they don't, I thought I'd walk through a real-life scenario that I'm experiencing right now & explain my decision-making process.

One of the queen cells in Elsa. The others were at the bottom of the combs.

Elsa had four new queen cells today. Hmmm... What do I know, and what do these facts tell me? 

Let's start with the facts:

  • Elsa should have had a new queen start laying around Aug 15.
  • Aug 14, I didn't see any eggs during my inspection, so I gave her a bar of brood & eggs just in case her queen hadn't returned. 
  • Today, there was brood of all ages, including stick eggs.
  • The hive has plenty of combs, but not a lot of honey.
  • There were far fewer bees this week than 2 weeks ago.
  • Elsa was split July 20. She may have even swarmed around Aug 5.
  • There were 4 queen cells, which were located on 3 different bars -- 2 of them on the donated bar, 2 on other bars.
  • Not sure how old these queen cells are. They're not capped, so less than 8 days. They're more than cups & have fairly visible larvae, though. I'd put the larvae around 4-5 days from egg. Queens take 8 days from egg to capped cell, then 8 more days until emergence.
  • I did not see the queen.
Looking at the big picture, I'm betting this is a supersedure instead of a swarm. Here's why:
  • Swarming is a method of reproduction. Without a lot of honey or brood, these bees are not really set up to do that. The lack of bees could have been a swarm, but it's more likely due to attrition since they haven't had any replacement bees for awhile. 
  • When bees prepare to swarm, they make bunches of queen cells. Four just really isn't that many.
  • They were queenright within the past day based on the stick eggs. That doesn't mean that they couldn't still swarm in the next couple of days, or that they haven't swarmed since I last checked, but I doubt it.
  • If the bees had made a queen from the eggs I gave them on the 14th, I would not expect that queen to start laying until around Sept 6. The stick eggs in this hive tell me that they are queen right, and the queen emerged around Aug 5 -- she was made from that split on July 20.
  • The bees did not use the brood I gave them to make queen cells. They got those eggs/larvae 11 days ago. If they'd used an egg or young larva, the cell would have been capped already. Therefore, all the cells must have been started from eggs that the new queen laid. This tells me that they weren't feeling swarmy when I put the eggs in. Given that there are even fewer bees/resources now, I'm pretty positive they're not even remotely swarmy now.
  • Since they're queenright, I'm not going to worry about them making a queen, but I'll feed them since the brood she's laying probably won't be old enough in time to take advantage of the fall flow. 

So why are they superseding already? Looking at my notes, the current queen is an emergency queen, which frequently gets replaced. so that's not out of the ordinary. However, this is my 4th summer keeping bees, and I've never had the bees replace an emergency queen so quickly until this year. This year, has been an especially bad year for my queens, though. In addition to this being my second supersedure, I've lost quite a few queens on mating flights, which has also rarely happened to me before. Other people have told me that they've lost lots of queens this year, too, so I don't feel alone, but.... what the heck is happening? I guess that's the bigger picture that I'm wondering about.


  1. It's like a Colombo detective mystery! I had a similiar issue - newly mated/returned queen, new brood, larvae, etc and a queen cell with a larva in it, couldn't find the queen! They always say they know what they are doing, but couldn't they do this in June instead of late August? It will be interesting to see how this all turns out. I gave mine some extra brood to help them keep their numbers up.

    Also, the propolis out here has been very thick and sticky this summer - I'm blaming that on the heat! By the time I go to move a bar back into place, I have to pry it from the temporary position.

    1. Hmmm... "They" say that the bees know what they're doing, but "they" say a lot of things. I'm starting to think that bees as a species know what they're doing, but some individual colonies are halfwits. Just like people, they run the gamut of Einstein to candidates for the Darwin Award. LOL!

      I hear you about the propolis, but it's a good thing. Maybe you can even harvest some!

      Good luck with your queen. Fingers crossed that she's in there.


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