Queens a Plenty (need help!)

Bad news on the bee front. Truth is I could use some advice.

First, though, the story to this point: as previously blogged, my two hives died overwinter, so I ordered two new colonies through the Whidbees (Whidbey Island Beekeepers). Interested in doing a little comparison, I got one Italian queen and one Carniolan.

I went up a couple weeks ago Sunday (April 5th) to pick them up. This was something of an adventure, as I walked on to the ferry to Whidbey Island, hopped off, met David of the Whidbees to get my bees and walked back on, a colony of bees under either arm. The looks I got. You’d think they’d never seen anyone walking around with 10,000 bees under his arms before!

David mentioned to things that might be helpful to those who want to offer me advice:

  • He said he’d had much better luck in terms of productivity with the Carniolans in past years than the Italians.
  • He said the queens had only been with the hives for 24 hours, so he recommended I wait to set the marshmallow / free her.

As soon as I got home that day, I hived the bees and set the queens, still caged and corked, in their hives.

When I went in later that week (Thursday, April 9th) and released the queens. I didn’t bother with the marshmallow, just turned the queens loose in the hives. I did notice a few strange things in the process:

  • The Italian hive seemed much smaller than the Carniolan hive. The Italians were all clustered to one side of the hive and not that thickly. The Carniolan hive seemed to fill the box. (See the pictures below. That’s the Italian on the left, Carniolan on the right).
  • The Italian hive barely touched their sugary syrup, whereas the Carniolan hive devoured a good half gallon.
  • Despite the fact that I say “Carniolan hive” and “Italian hive”, all the bees appeared Carniolan to me, with just a few Italians mixed in in both hives. I’m assuming that until the queen starts laying, this is just who was scooped up to start the colony?
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Now the grim story starts today, a couple weeks later (April 21st). I went in to check to make sure that the queens were laying well, and, while the Carniolan hive looked just fine, with a good strong laying pattern, the Italian hive had virtually no brood at all except for four queen cells:


So, what do I do? Simply killing off the queen cells won’t help, because the hive seems to be without a healthy laying queen to begin with. But how did the queen cells get there in the first place if they don’t have a laying queen? Should I bring some brood over from the Carniolan hive?


Really? Nosema?

Branden posted this link as a comment a previous post: Cure For Honey Bee Colony Collapse?. The article says, in part:

In a study published in the new journal from the Society for Applied Microbiology: Environmental Microbiology Reports, scientists from Spain analysed two apiaries and found evidence of honey bee colony depopulation syndrome (also known as colony collapse disorder in the USA). They found no evidence of any other cause of the disease (such as the Varroa destructor, IAPV or pesticides), other than infection with Nosema ceranae. The researchers then treated the infected surviving under-populated colonies with the antibiotic drug, flumagillin and demonstrated complete recovery of all infected colonies.

Eh? I’m no microbiologist, and honestly, I’m barely a beekeeper, but I find it hard to believe that after all the hullaballoo, Colony Collapse Disorder could really just be Nosema, a well-known and treatable disease. When they say “found evidence of” CCD, what does that mean, exactly? Are they sure they were seeing CCD and not just Nosema?

I mean, come on, beekeepers have tried treating for Nosema before, and would have noticed if it really led to “complete recovery of all infected colonies”, right?

Setting up the set-up

I decided to take advantage of the fact that I have a clean slate to work with (my hives having died over winter) and fix some problems with my set-up. For one, as previously noted, I replaced my solid bottom boards with Varroa screens.

There were two other problems that needed fixing, though:

  • The palette on which the hives rested was sagging.
  • Because the hives are cramped into the northwest corner of my yard, one hive is shaded on the west by a neighbor’s garage and on the east by the first hive.

My solution was to prop the two hives up on cinder blocks, but stagger them vertically, so that the westernmost hive was higher than the eastern hive. That way, it will be above the shadow cast by the eastern hive in the morning.

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I canted the cinder blocks (and thus the hives) slightly forward to encourage any rain to flow out the front and left enough room in the back to service the Varroa trays.

Now, all I need are some bees, and I just heard from David of the Whidbees that the arrival date is this Sunday.

Carnies and Eye-talians

I’ve got my order in for two 4 lbs packages of bees. This year, I’m getting my bees through the Whidbey Island Beekeeper’s Association (the “Whidbees”), so I had the option of getting Carniolan queens (named for their historical origin in the Slovenian / Romanian / Bulgarian region) instead of the Italians I’ve been getting in years past.

Most American beekeepers raise Italians, so I was a bit wary and did some reading. It seems that the main differences are:

  • Carniolans are more productive foragers, leading to larger yields
  • Carniolans have a higher resistance to illness
  • Carniolans are more more prone to swarming

This last issue shouldn’t be underestimated. I’m an exceptionally lazy beekeeper, and my lassitude and apathy has encouraged my bees to swarm almost every year I’ve had them (e.g., Swarm! Swarm! Swarm! and Return of the Swarm). When they do swarm, of course, that means half the hive leaves, reducing output considerably.

On the other hand, I could try harder (i.e., police the hive for queen cells, make sure they’ve got room, etc.)

So I’ve decided to hedge my bets: I’m going with one Italian and one Carniolan. They should arrive next weekend. Exciting!

For reference, that’s a Carniolan on the left and an Italian on the right.

Crystals and Pam

I wanted to briefly bubble up a couple interesting notes from private messages and the comments section of previous posts:

  • Consensus is that the reason store bought honey tends to stay liquid longer than “craft” honey is that it’s pasteurized. Pasteurization involves heating the honey with wipes out any life in it, both good and bad. This has always struck me as an odd move, since honey is a natural antibiotic. Raising the temperature that much alters the taste and also breaks down the natural enzymes that contribute to honey’s healthfulness.
  • If using a tray under your Varroa screen, spray it with pam or wipe it down with cooking oil to prevent the mites from crawling out. Do not batter and fry them, though, as they lack nutritional value.

I made that last bit up.

Lunch, anyone?

Varroa screen and trayWell, I lost my second hive to the extra cold winter, although I have no doubt that the cold weather merely delivered the final cut, it was mites that left them weakened. To better address the mites this next year, I headed over to BetterBee and ordered a couple of Varroa screens and trays.

The idea is that the mites fall off the bees as a matter of course. Ordinarily, they’d jump on another bee, which helps them spread throughout the hive. With the screen on the bottom, though, they fall through the fine mesh and, lacking the wings of a gnat and the jumps of a flea, they die.

I was amused to see the tray that came with Varroa screen: straight off the elementary school lunch line. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, some super specialized high-tech plastic tray designed for mite containment, I guess.

$12.95 for the assembled screen and tray. Hmm….