Rosey the Riveter

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Preventing a Swarm

Last Friday, we got into the hives for the usual bi-weekly check.  The queen has a great brood pattern and things were looking good... there were a TON of bees in there!

However, we pulled out a frame and saw Queen Cups (or Swarm Cells).  They are peanut-looking 'hotels' where the hive grows new queens as they prepare to swarm with the old.  It is not unusual to see these, except ours clearly had eggs in them. 
Many beekeepers will simply cut them off in hopes of preventing a swarm.  But usually, it doesn't much help.  We decided to be proactive and make a split... in other words, make the bees THINK they've swarmed by putting them into a new hive.

Our wonderful mentor Pam and her husband Rick came and helped us out.  First order of business was to remove all the wonky comb... and then search frame by frame for the queen, which we had never seen despite many eyes looking for her.  She is elusive.  But we knew she was there because we could see the eggs.  I think we got through about 22 of the 24 frames when Pam's experienced eye found her.
She is now marked (using a Sharpie Paint Pen).  When we returned her to the frame, I got this great shot of the bees crowding around her to pick up her pheromones.

So, mama bee was put into a new hive with some frames of worker bees and brood (eggs and larvae that will hatch out and eventually become foragers.)  The frames with the Queen Cups stayed in the original hive.  The bees there will feed them royal jelly and raise a new queen (or two or three).  When they hatch, they'll fight it out.  Winner take all.

It'll be about a month before we'll see more eggs in the old hive.  That new queen will need to be raised, and once she hatches (and fights it out, if necessary) she will take flight to get fertilized.  Once she returns to the hive and starts laying, she won't leave again (unless it's to swarm).

In the new hive (with the old queen), it will take a week or so for the worker bees to become foragers and leave the hive to collect nectar.  In the mean time, they'll be drawing out comb and taking care of the queen.  They'll have plenty of time to build up their honey stores for winter.

It's been less than 2 months since we got the original swarm of bees.  I never imagined that we'd have ANOTHER hive of free bees!  But most people I've talked to say it's easier with two hives (because you can take brood from one hive, or honey from the other, and switch them around depending on which hive needs what.)  So we intended to buy a NUC colony from a fellow Guild member when it was our turn.  Now we don't have to!
We love our old queen.  She begets very docile bees and she has a beautiful laying pattern.  So I'm excited to have a second hive with her genetics.

The comb we harvested is now in my freezer.  Sometime next week, I'll set up a solar melter which will help to separate the beeswax from the honey, and also the bee parts that came with it.  I am drying Calendula and will be infusing it with Sweet Almond Oil.  That will then be mixed with the beeswax for a healing salve.  We won't get honey til next year, but there's more to bees than honey!

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