In the last article I wrote about our bees, I gave an overview of events starting with the installation of the 3 lb. package in the spring, all the way to comb and honey production through the end of July. Since then a few exciting things have occurred, but none of which I was anticipating!
I did a hive inspection in early August, and everything was looking good, however, I noticed some comb that looked different from the rest. It seemed bulky and out of place, sort of like a small, candy circus peanut. I noted it as possible queen cells, but did not think too much about it until the end of the month. Sometime around the 20th of August, my wife received a phone call from her mom saying that the neighbor who mows the lawn where the bees were being kept, saw “all” the bees out and was scared to mow near them. This is a swarm. After hearing this news, my earlier suspicions of queen cells made sense. When a hive is unhappy with their queen, or they feel like they are running out of space to grow into, the worker bees have the ability to turn eggs of future worker bees into what are known as queen cells. This is an evolutionary trait that they have developed over millennia for their survival and the continuation of their species.
As beekeepers, we can use the evidence of queen cells to help successfully manage our hives. When queen cells are present, but not yet finished developing, a hive can be split to prevent swarming. The original queen is left in the original hive along with frames of brood and honey. Most of the mature workers who have already started scouting and foraging will stay with her. As for the “new” colony, the frames with the queen cells are moved, along with brood and honey to a new hive box. The younger house bees who have not yet started orientation flights will be the initial population of this new hive.
As for the queen cells, an epic battle will soon happen. If a single queen emerges before the rest, she will go to the other queen cells and destroy them, otherwise, if more than one emerges at the same time, they will battle to the death leaving only one virgin queen. Once the matriarch of the new hive has been determined, she will make the first and possibly only flight of her life. This flight out of the hive is her one chance to mate, and if successful she will be inseminated by up to 15 different drones, thus increasing the genetic diversity of all her future offspring.
Everything just described happened to my colony with one main difference, I was not able to prevent them from swarming. So, sometime in the last part of August, my original marked queen, along with about half her daughters and a few sons, left and found a new home. Upon the final inspection I performed at the end of August, the colonies’ numbers were drastically reduced and the bees were already digging into their honey stores. This was not good!! For the sake of their survival, I decided to move them the 60 miles from my in-laws to the Autonomy Acres homestead so I could provide for their needs through the winter to come.
This was the second unanticipated event concerning the bees that I had to contend with this fall. After reading The Beekeeper’s Lament, by Hannah Nordhaus, I figured if migratory beekeepers can move thousands of hives, multiple times a year, I should be able to handle moving one. So on a Saturday evening about 3 weeks ago, we drove down with our trailer and prepared to move our hive. With a collection of tie-downs, ratchet clamps, a few well placed cinder blocks, a piece of cardboard, and some duct tape, we loaded and secured the hive to the deck of the trailer. The cinder blocks were a second defense against the hive sliding or moving too much and the cardboard was used to block the entrance to the hive. Although it was a bit nerve racking on the drive home, the move went perfect. We got the hive situated in it’s new spot in our yard, and the next morning after they had a night to calm down, I took the cardboard off of their entrance. Aside from some dead bees due to stress from the move, they have taken nicely to their new surroundings. They have found some sources of nectar and pollen, and are starting once again to build up their numbers a bit before it gets cold. And this leads me to the third, and not so unanticipated, but just COOL event!!
Upon arrival, I gave them a few days to get situated before I performed some much needed, major surgery on one of the frames. As mentioned in my previous bee article, the package installation went less than perfect and caused the bees to draw comb into a void I had left in the bottom hive box. This made it impossible to get into the bottom hive box for proper inspection, and may have been a contributing factor to the August swarm. Using a sharp fillet knife, I got in there and cut the comb off of the bottom of the frame above it. At that point I was able to remove the top box and finally get in and inspect the lower frames. This is when I found our new, naturally mated queen!! I also cut the removed comb to fit into an empty frame and bindered that in place. Since than I have done one last inspection and have found capped brood, uncapped larvae, pollen, and a growing honey supply! Awesome!!
As we slowly get closer to winter, I can look back on this adventure of stewarding honey bees, and can honestly say I am glad I have made the mistakes I have made. I am a better beekeeper for it, and will never make these mistakes again. If I can successfully get these little critters through the winter, than it will all be worth it. Using this story as an example, us Urban Homesteaders need to embrace our mistakes! Most of us did not grow up canning garden produce, or raising chickens, or doing DIY projects at home. Luckily we have some good books to help us, and the internet is a wealth of resources, but it is our mistakes, and our ability to learn and grow from them that truly teach us! I hope to make mistakes for the rest of my life, because than I will know I am still learning new skills and will always be striving to be a little bit better of a person ….. Peace & Cheers!