Three months into the Season

by Rick van Vliet on July 11, 2012

After the first three months in this season, I have a very different view of this “bee thing”! We started the season with eight packages. And we started early. And for the most part, these girls are all rockin’!We have had a little problem with queens, though.
One queen (At Don Johnston’s beeyard) didn’t survive the installation in April, since (like a doofus), I put her cage with the exit hole facing down. One of her traveling attendants died before they got out, and blocked the little escape hatch, blocking the Queen’s escape into the hive….and she died in the cage. We were able to get a replacement queen, and hoped for the best (more on her later).
Another queen (in hive #5 at Zweber’s Farm), just plain disappeared. Not sure if they swarmed with her, since a swarm usually leaves a few queen cells behind to take the place of the absconding swarm and their royal…there was just no queen left in #5, and the remaining girls were a little PO’d. So we replaced a queen in #5

And, down at Sanders’s farm (Cinnamon Ridge in New Prague, MN)…we had another queen go missing, so we merged those two colonies into one, about two weeks ago. The combined colony seems to be looking good.

Finally, back at Johnston’s beeyard, we had a queen(this is the replacement queen from a few paragraphs back) who just did not know what she was supposed to be doing. I noticed that there were waaaay too many drone cells for the population mix. And the drones that were hatching were much too small (drone cells are slightly bigger than worker cells), so it appeared that Queenie was confused about what kind of eggs she should be laying in those cells.
You see, the queen feels the size of the cell, and based on that size, she drops a fertilized egg in the cell for a worker; and in unfertilized egg in the larger cell for a drone. And this is in teh dark, and she’s apparantly laying 1200-1500 eggs perday. This queen just was not with the program.

I learned most of this when this past Sunday, we had the honor of getting some mentoring assistance from Victoria R (who manages 120 colonies on the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux reservation neear us. Victoria is the manager of the tribe’s Wozupi, and has been working with bees for seven or eight years).
Victoria took one look at the colony, and noticed that the drones were smaller than they should have been, and far more numerous than they should have been!

drone brood

Similar to this, but much “spottier” drone cells (click for a large version)

We did find a queen cell, indicating that the colony had noticed that something was wrong with their queen, and had started raising up a new one.. We talked about things, and we decided to kill off the poorly performing queen, leave the colony queenless for 24 hours, and merge these girls (and guys) into one of my stronger colonies down on Zweber farm.So…regicide, it was…and we consolidated most of the frames into one hive box.
The next day (Monday 7/9) I snuck back into the Johnston beeyard as the sun was fading…and strapped the cover, hive box and bottom board so it was all a solid unit. Stuffed some bug screen material into the entrance for ventilation, but to keep the girls in! Smoked the hive pretty heavily, so they would suck up plenty of honey and so they would make the 13 mile trip from Prior Lake out to New Market in my trunk.
This is not like hauling a few packages…this is a colony of about 30,000 whacked-out workers and drones, without a queen, (remember, the package is about 5,000 bees in the spring).
Set them carefully in the trunk, checked the screen (I do NOT want these girls crawling out of the hive box and finding their way into the passenger compartment of the car. And they were fine).
Got them down to New Market as the sun was really fading fast (Made this run this later than usual so that most of the foraging workers had come in out of the fields…they don’t work at night).
Did a newspaper merger, like the one last year…and I’ll go back to see how they’re doing in a few days. Give the combining colonies a chance to get to know each other.

So that’s the way it’s going this year, so far. Eight colonies down to six. And two of the six are starting to look like they’re going to be producing enough honey in the upper stories (honey supers) to take off and bottle. I have yet to decide if we’re going to be selling any.

Thanks for reading this far, and we’ll be back pretty soon.

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