Monday, May 16, 2011


Beekeeping is not for the faint of heart. It isn't an exact science and knowing what they bees are up to and then how you'd like to handle it can keep you up nights.

Friday's hive inspection netted 5 or more queen cells hanging from one of the brood frames in the top hive box, a sign of either swarm preparation or supercedure. Most likely I waited a little too long to give them more brood space by giving them a second box to lay eggs and store honey and pollen. So the signs of swarm were there Friday. To try to prevent a swarm I squished all the queen cells, even though it felt odd squishing the larva of the little insects I've been trying so hard not to squish every time I enter their little "queendom".  But today they swarmed anyway and landed in a holly tree near the goat shed. Nice and low and easy to cut out, box up, and walk over to a newly set up hive. Good fortune!

Swarm in our holly tree

I was glad to have heard over and over in bee class that swarming bees are gentle bees. That greatly increased my comfort level of handling them. The discomfort comes with the myriad questions about the old hive and the new. Are the hives too close and the swarm bees will migrate back in the old box or allow bees left to tend the old hive to drift to the new? Are there enough bees in the old hive to keep the brood warm and fed? Do I have a virgin queen in the old hive or do I need to order a new one? If I do have a queen in the making, do I let nature take its course even though odds are much less favorable for the viability of the new queen your hive will make than one you buy already mated? It's enough to make  you lose an otherwise cozy night's sleep.

A quick check of the original hive showed no signs of a queen cell that was chewed through that would indicate there is a new queen on the loose in the hive. There were however, either two or three queen cups with larvae in them hanging at the bottom of the same frames with the original queen cells last week. If I'm sure there's no queen I can order a new one and have a greatly elevated chance of having a good queen for this hive. If there's one in there already the hive likely won't accept the new bought queen even thought she's their best bet. Finding a baby unmarked queen in there is probably much more than my unseasoned bee vision can be relied on to see.
Bee beehinds in the air fanning a message to their kin, "Queen's in here, c'mon in"

We were given the gift of a second hive in our first year. We debated getting two hives from the beginning. Opting for only one left us with lingering doubts wether we should have purchased two... With the fascinating blessing of this swarm we now have a second hive, one of the many gifts of nature, and we saved the $95 we would have spent on the hive... this swarm was quite a blessing on many levels for us... Also, handling the swarm successfully gave us a more intimate connection to our bees,  giving me the confidence to handle my bees without gloves, something that, after the initial installation, I've been timid to try again.

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