We’ve had quite enough. February 16th it snowed, and pretty as it was, we’re so over it. Let’s get on with bee season. Thankfully, on Wednesday it was over 60˚F so I came home from work to do the first real inspection since we hunkered down. I assumed the bees were doing pretty well based on the activity I’d been seeing, but the coming & going really only tells you whether or not there is a healthy foraging population. There could be all kind of havoc being wreaked in there and still be a good number of foragers flying in and out.
As it turns out, I’d give what I saw on Wednesday mixed reviews. I started with the Charlie Brown hive and found no eggs and only a little bit of capped brood. This means they’ve been queenless for around 2 weeks. I also found several empty queen cells and several capped ones. These cells were hanging from the center of the comb which would indicate supercedure (which I am all too familiar with). This means that either the existing queen suffered some tragedy or they determined she was unfit (based on pheromones) and made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. And have been working to replace her by raising new queens. When I looked in the hive, they are in the midst of a brutal queen selection process in which baby (virgin) queens fight to the death for the throne. Then they have to mate successfully, which they leave the hive to do. Sometimes more than one virgin will be allowed to go on a mating flight but from what I understand this is rare. I guess I wouldn’t know the difference really. I did see a virgin running around on one of the frames. She was probably looking for unhatched queens to sting through their cell casings. I’m going to let nature take it’s course and check back next weekend if it’s warm enough. If there’s no queen by then, it’s a good thing I ordered two packages. I also saw quite a few varroa mites on the backs of bees in there. Not a good sign – it means the mite load is pretty high but they are already in a weak state, so I won’t treat that hive this year. The only good thing is that the break in brood rearing is also an interruption to this parasite’s life cycle since young mites live off brood hemolymph (like blood).
In the blue & green hive (decended from my first hive, kinda), brood was being raised like gangbusters, with the best brood pattern I’ve probably seen in any of my hives. I mean wall-to-wall brood, with not a lot of spottyness in the midst of it where babies had died or needed removing. And so many bees on each frame I could barely see what was going on. BUT I did see the queen (so embarrassing, I couldn’t remember her name), and she had the yellow paint still on her thorax so it’s the same one I went into winter with. She looked nice and fat. Not a huge retinue, maybe 3 bees. Lots of eggs, a very good sight. Also the honey super I had left on was well on its way to being capped over, and although some of that is sugar syrup I gave them, it can’t all be, so if I can keep them from swarming (or otherwise meeting some unforeseen calamity), hopefully the honey harvest will be more this year. Again with lots of mites though, and so crowded I know they must have been on the verge of beginning to raise queens for swarming. I took a risk and decided to split them early (they did swarm on March 18 last year so I’m 2.5 weeks ahead of that) AND give a MAQs treatment since daytime temps are just high enough at around 50˚. That will knock the bee population back and put a break in brood-rearing that will probably help assuage the swarm urge, which is all based on how dilute the queen mandibular pheromone is and how much room there is for brood growth. So I pulled 3 frames of varied brood age and stuck them in a 5-frame nucleus (nuc), and set them about 6 or 7 feet away. They will have realized they were queenless in only a few hours and will start trying to raise a queen from eggs to 2-day old larva. Any fertilized egg (female) can become a queen based on the amount of royal jelly she is fed in the early days. This is called emergency queen rearing. If all goes well, in 21 days or so I’ll have another virgin death battle going on.
In the end, all three hives are in a weak state. (Two of which are in an Amy-inflicted weak state). You can see from the picture some of the mite-treatment carnage that has ensued on the green & blue hive. There is dead brood and bees on the front porch, which has attracted some very unwelcome behavior from a Carolina wren. Dude, that is so not allowed.
The weird thing is, when I went out there Wednesday, there was no bee poop on the front of the hives. This was around 2pm so I figured that was time enough for them to get out and have their first poop in awhile (since they don’t poop in the hive). When I was done inspecting, I fed them some sugar syrup and in a couple of hours there was poop streaming down the front of the hives. Lovely. This is normally a sign of nosema, which I treated for at the beginning of winter. Maybe something was wrong with the sugar syrup? I really can’t explain it. Maybe I have nosema problems.
Like I said. I called in for two packages. I hope I won’t need them – worst case: all three hives succumb to their various queen problems, nosema, MAQs, or mite load, and I have to install two new packages. Best case: the two raise good queens, the nuc grows into a deep hive body, and the big hive brings in lots of honey. Yay. We shall see! Either way hopefully I have headed off swarming issues for at least the first part of the season.
WEDNESDAY’S INSPECTION AUDIO (2.27.13)