Queens Aplenty

May 31, 2007

I hadn’t looked inside the hives in any depth in several weeks, so I did a quickie inspection on Monday before folks came over for a Memorial Day BBQ. As per my recent routine, I was joined by an assistant beekeeper, this time two and a half year old Huckleberry Hammer, seen here with his father, Morgan. Huck’s the one with bee suit on, which he borrowed from me. The red cowboy boots are his own.

Huck did awesome, showing considerably less fear than most adults in his position. But then perhaps ignorance is bliss, and nothing pierces ignorance like a barb of a bee’s stinger. Fate spared us all.

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Many a surprise once inside the hives, though:

First, Hive 2 is much more advanced than Hive 1, having almost completely filled both brood chambers. This actually isn’t the surprise here, as there are a few good reasons that Hive 2 should be ahead. One, it gets quite a bit more sunshine than Hive 1, which is shaded by Hive 2 on one side and a garage-eating laurel bush on the other (I’m going to hack that laurel back in the next few weeks). Two, I seeded Hive 2 with 4 lbs of bees instead of the 3 that Hive 1 started with. That’s a pound of pure productivity.

Second, there were empty queen cells in Hive 2 (that hanging, stalagtite-shaped cell in the picture below is one). That’s bad news. Empty queen cells mean there’s at least one extra queen wandering the hive, and that means that shortly, they’re going to swarm. That is, early one afternoon, one of those queens is going to leave the hive to found a new hive somewhere, and half the hive is going to leave with her. It’s an awesome sight when it happens: they start pouring out of the hive like someone turned on a hose, and then move in a giant black cloud. There’s photos and videos on an earlier blog post from the last time this happened. If I happen to be around when they swarm, I’ve got a chance to catch ’em and establish a new hive with them, but that’s only if I get lucky.

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Is there anything I can do to prevent the swarm? Well, not at that this point. If I had caught her before she hatched, I could have killed off the new queen with the pinch of a finger. Now, she’s wandering the hive, blending in with the rest of the bees. A more experienced (or at least more patient) beekeeper than myself could pick her out of the crowd (she’s a bit larger than a standard worker, and thinner than the large drones), but, unfortunately, when I bought the old queen, they forgot to mark her with a dot of paint, as they usually do, so even if I found a queen, I wouldn’t know whether she was the incumbent or the interloper. Also, I hate those Where’s Waldo games.

So, nothing to do but wait.

One final item of note: you may remember that I put Pierco plastic frames in to some of the brood chambers and that it seemed that the bees were building up off it a bit funny, almost like they were avoiding building on it. Well, look at this:

Notice how the bees seem to be building almost perpendicular off of the frame? I saw the same thing on a smaller scale earlier, but this confirms it. The girls know plastic when they see it, and they’re not fond of it. Lesson learned.

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