Pollen advice

IMG_8671This afternoon took me up to the the first Wallingford Farmer’s Market of 2009. It’s small as farmer’s markets go, probably two dozen booths all told, but all local farmers selling their produce, which is a blessing to have the opportunity to walk to.

While there, I chatted up Karen Bean of Brookfield Farm, a farm with apiary up in the foothills of Mt. Baker. I mentioned the problems I had had with my Italian queen and the steps I’d taken to address them (allowing supercedure, swapping hive positions, swapping some brood frames) and she agreed they were good steps, but also recommended that I take special care to swap over frames that are full of pollen and, if possible place them facing the brood frames, to reduce the amount of work the bees had to do to feed their youngin’s (pollen is fed to the larva as they develop, and is often found packed in close with brood). She suggested I might try pollen patties as well, but that outside my “lazy beeekeeper regime”.

She also absolutely decried Italian bees for this region. Noting they were from southern Italy, where it is considerably warmer, year round, then the Pacific Northwest, she felt they spent too much time eating and not enough time storing. The “ants” to the Italian “grasshoppers” were the Russians (her favs) and the Carnies (my hive). Things are colder up in the foothills of Mt. Baker then in sunny Seattle (heh), but still good advice, from the sounds of it.

Bee clothed

No, not a mis-spelling, just a stupid pun. My friend Jen* just sent me a link to this article about people who take the whole “beard of bees” thing do another level: Crazy People Who Clothe Themselves In Bees For Hoots! (follow the link for more pics).

I had always understood that a “beard of bees” was achieved by hanging a queen in a queen cage around your neck: the bees will flock around her (and you). Sounds like these guys have to take it to another level to get full coverage: spray on bee pheremone.

Still, I don’t think I’d want to taste the resulting honey.


Thanks all for the advice on what do with my “bad queen” hive (Queens aplenty). The consensus seemed to be that my best course of action would be to replace the queen as quickly as possible. David Neel of Whidbees, who I bought my colonies from, agreed and offered to provide a replacement queen free of charge. Unfortunately, a combination of distance and laziness (on my part) preventing this from happening, so I had to choose from the menu of secondary options.

There are two problems with simply letting the bees replace the old queen with a new one:

  • The new queen will be a hybrid of whatever is in the area, instead of a true bread Italian
  • The time it will take the new queen to grow, emerge, mate and start laying could set the hive back critically. By the time she’s ready to go, the population of the hive may be decreased through normal attrition to the point where it collapses.

I’m willing to live with the first issue, as I’m not really clear on what the advantage of a bred queen are from a hybrid. My understanding is that all the bees we have hereabouts are either bred, anyway, or first / second generation feral. There just aren’t large populations of honey bees growing generation on generation in the wild. If they could survive, it would imply there was a breed out there that was resistant to all the nasties that plague the domesticated hives.

I knew I had to address the second issue, though, so I tried a combination of tactics:

  1. I moved three frames of brood from the strong Carniolan hive to the weak Italian hive to provide some reinforcements while the new queen gets ready.
  2. I swapped the placement of the two hives at around 3 pm on a warm day, so that some portion of the population of the strong hive would return to the weak hive and move in, taking it as their new home. (The reverse would happen, as well, but to a lesser extent because there are fewer of them to begin with).
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Note how the the weak hive (on the right) is already showing more activity than the previously stronger hive, even just shortly after we finished the move?

As of the next day, the previously weak hive was showing considerably more vigor and activity, so I believe the position swapping maneuver worked. It remains to be seen whether it will be enough.