First things first, we had a problem with one of the hives, which was a great learning opportunity. One of my mentor’s hives has a “bum queen” – she is not performing the way she should be. The queen was not laying enough eggs. As adult bees age and die, they aren’t being replaced by young bees. This means the hive is shrinking instead of growing. But the biggest warning sign of all is that the hive was unhealthy is that mold was growing on the pollen and nectar on the beeswax. This would not happen in a healthy hive, so unfortunately, the queen needs to be replaced
This is not necessarily the fault of the queen. One symptom of the declining honey bee health in the country is that drones (male bees) are becoming more frequently impotent. It is likely that some of the drones she mated with were infertile, and in turn, her egg production is poor.
A new queen was purchased from a local breeder and taken to the hive. Since the hive is used to old queen’s pheromone, we had to locate the old queen, and remove her (this means plucked from the frames and placed in a water bottle). The new, hopefully more fertile queen, was placed in the hive in her queen cage, to protect her from the bees in the hive while they are getting used to her smell. In a few days, once the bees have accepted her, we will release her the same way we released the original queen when we hived the bees from their packages.
The old queen will die without her hive. So once she was found, she was put in a water bottle and put in the freezer. This way she could experience a few last moments of euphoria before she dies. Unpleasant to this about, but we have to get used to thinking of the whole hive as the animal, and the individual bees, even the queen, are just cells that work in the body.
Getting on to my hive, we had a rather unpleasant surprise. We found a trail of ants crawling in and around the hive, taking eggs and small larvae! My mentor has never seen this before, but because my hive is strong and growing, she is not especially worried. I was mad! We will be doing research to see if there is anything we can do to deter the ants, but not upset the bees. Bees and ants are closely related, so what may be disruptive to one is also likely to hurt the other. It may turn out that we do nothing. Bees are best equipped to deal with insect invaders and may take care of the problem themselves.
But all the ants aside, my hive hit a milestone today! Nearly every frame was covered in my laid backl bees, and wax was built on everyone, which we means got to add a second story of our hive! We took two frames from the original box, that were covered in bees and honey into the a second brood box. We replaced the frames we removed from the old box, so there were still 10 frames in the bottom box, and added 8 new frames to the 2 bee covered frames in the second story, so there are 10 frames in the second story as well.
With all the frames arranged appropriately, we placed the second story brood box on top of the original box, lining up the entrances Since bees like to move up, they will expand into the upper box. We will have to be a little more conscientious of managing the brood nest because it will be larger now, and start to grow faster.
Coming up, we will have to decide what we will want to do with our bees. We can try to get them to survive the winter, by adding a third box, in the hopes of making the strongest possible colony in the fall. If we do this, we may not be able to get any honey this year, but the amount of honey we would get next year would potentially be more than we could off a single year hive.
We could just leave two brood boxes and have the over-wintering process be a little more risky (fewer bees, less honey), but we could get some honey this year.
Or, we could not even attempt to over-winter at all, and just take all the honey the hive produces, but that would mean the hive would die in the fall.
But that is still a decision for another day. Today, I am just proud of my bees and focusing on the new story and all of the great learning experiences I am having. Buzz, Buzz!