3.30.2013 What the birds and the bees had to say

During the morning mucking out of the coop, I heard something I hadn’t heard in a while.  The neighbor’s guineas had come a calling again and were trying very hard to blend in with the Speckled Sussex.  However, they don’t speak chicken very well and their accents gave them away immediately.  Apparently, their time in re-education camp didn’t alter their hearts – they’ve asked for asylum – quite politely, which is an amazing thing for a guinea.

I also noticed two of my Sussex hens were showing fresh feather damage.  I thought I’d gotten ahead of the mites, but apparently not.  Since I’m brooding ducklings in the coop, I had to do something to knock down the bug population but darn it, cleaning the coop was not on the agenda today!  I did it anyway.

Then off to the bee hives.  Inside the Lavender hive I found wonderful things – lots of good brood, fresh nectar and pollen in respectable quantities, no drones, and, wonder of wonders, they have finally expanded into the third super!  When I put that box on three weeks ago, I seeded it with two frames of honey right in the middle surrounded by six foundationless frames.  Today, 3 of those frames were nearly full of newly drawn comb that was whiter than my bee suit.  The cells were larger than cells drawn on foundation.  That was surprising.  Based on what I’ve read, I expected the cells to be smaller.

In another two frames, the Lavender bees had gone off on a tangent – literally.

My beautiful picture

I told the them trigonometry was overrated and bees should stick with basic geometry.  Then I did some creative architecture of my own, cutting off the comb that extended where it shouldn’t and then heating the wax with a long lighter and cramming it into an empty frame.  I came up with this.

rearranged comb

Hopefully, my Lavender bees will get the general idea. But the good news is, my swarm is nearly full grown!

Over in the orange hive, it was a very different story.  Lots of drones and a lot of drone comb.  Lots and lots of bees.  Good stores of honey, pollen and fresh nectar.  However, there wasn’t as much brood as I had hoped.  Yet there were six capped swarm cells dangling off the bottoms of the frames.  If it hadn’t been for the swarm cells I would have just closed up shop and let them be for another two weeks or so.  I wasn’t happy with the amount of brood.   But those swarm cells were telling me the bees felt differently.

That cone hanging on the bottom of the frame is one of six swarm cells I found in the orange hive today.

That cone hanging on the bottom of the frame is one of six swarm cells I found in the orange hive today.


This one is a little harder to see.  Lots of bumpy drone comb.

This one is a little harder to see. Lots of bumpy drone comb.

At that point my plan was to find the queen and move her into a new hive with a frame of brood that had no swarm cells and then add enough bees to keep the brood warm.  Theoretically, I would be creating the swarm the orange hive wanted by taking the old queen away.  I had a new hive waiting, already stocked with pollen and honey from my dead outs.   All I had to do was find the queen.

When I look for a queen, which I don’t do often, I’m looking for a different shape or a different sort of movement in the boiling mass of bees.  The problem was there were so many bees in the hive today and a lot of big, fat, hairy drones.  My eyes looking for “different” kept locking onto drones.  I looked for a long, long time, going over every frame three or four times.  The queen that had been so easy to find three weeks ago, was impossible to find today.

When the sun began to dip behind the cedars and the air began to cool, I felt like I was out of time.  The hive had been open for a couple of hours at that point.  So I made a command decision and time will tell if it was the right one.  I took a frame of brood and put it into the new hive.  It had a swarm cell on it.  Then I added bees until I felt like there were enough to keep that frame warm and then I closed up both hives.  It wasn’t an even split.  Essentially, I made a nuc.  I didn’t feel I had enough capped brood to warrant a true split.

If the queen happened to get dumped into the new hive (it’s pink) and a new queen emerges from the swarm cell, there will be a fight, but I’d expect the old queen to dispatch her rival quickly.  Without a huge workforce and supplies to draw on, I doubt the old queen will be in the mood to swarm.  If the old queen didn’t get shunted into the new hive, a new queen should emerge shortly and make everything right, provided I’ve got enough bees in there to keep the hive going for a while.  Winter isn’t exactly over yet, or so the weather geeks are telling me.

Back in the orange hive, if the old queen is not there, there are five swarm cells to replace.  If she is still there, I’ve left enough bees that she’ll probably take off with a sizeable portion of them when those swarm cells hatch out.  If I am lucky, I’ll see the swarm go and can catch it.

If I smashed the queen unknowingly during my tedious and slow inspection, both the old and the new still have their swarm cells to fall back on.

It’s not the best solution and I am not particularly proud of myself.  At one point today, the bees from the orange hive were so angry that I had to walk all the way to the mailbox to get them to leave me alone so I could go in the house and consult other beekeepers.  One of them stung my son as he walked to the barn and several of them harassed my husband, but he managed to avoid an actual sting.

I didn’t expect to spend so much time working the bees.  I didn’t expect to clean the coop.  I didn’t get around to planting the trees and tomorrow it is supposed to rain most of the day.  My husband and my son did get the maples in the ground, but the wind break trees are still packed up, awaiting their place in the sun.

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