Yesterday (Sunday Feb 23) was the first time I had the weather needed to make an inspection of my bee hives. Was a gloriously calm day with no wind – which is exactly what is needed – and about 53 degrees, which is about the minimum for having the hive open for very long. So I fired up my smoker, gathered my equipment and headed out to the beeyard. (Sidenote – for those of you just taking up beekeeping, practice lighting your smoker so this is something that does not get in your way when you want to do an inspection.)
I lost two hives this winter so I’m down to four now. The first hive is made up of Carniolan bees, or Carny’s as I call them. Carny’s usually pull their numbers down more so than Italians in the winter and thereby require less food to get through the winter months. I don’t think this hive got the message. There is nearly a full box of bees there at a time when nothing is blooming. Fortunately there is also a lot of honey stored in the hive, otherwise this would be a situation where I would need to feed until the bees could find enough natural food on their own. That isn’t the case though as the upper box, where they are all located is heavy with honey and pollen. I love looking at hives early in the season because there are fewer bees than during the rest of the year which makes it easier to find the queen. I did find the queen in this hive, (who was marked with a red dot last year), making her rounds and even found a small amount of brood and a bit of capped brood. This hive is very healthy and will make a great candidate for splitting later on.
The second hive is also made up of Carny’s. Turns out this hive is about the exact opposite of the first hive. Their numbers are so small I’m surprised they made it through the winter, but it only takes a ball of bees about the size of a softball and there is at least that many, though not a lot more. I easily found the queen in this hive along with a little bit of brood, but the queen I found was not marked. This was also a new hive last year that came with a marked queen – so what happened to the original queen?
If you look at the first picture you will see a number of queen cells along the bottom of the frame. In the second picture you should be able to see that two of them opened, the others did not open from the bottom but were torn open on the sides. Queen cells found along the bottom of a frame normally indicate the hive is preparing to swarm. Queen cells made to replace an aging or injured queen normally occur mid-frame or higher. So here is what likely happened. Some time late fall, I believe the hive swarmed. This would explain why the numbers in the hive are so low and why the queen is not the marked queen that came with the package. It is highly unusual for a hive to swarm in the fall. There is simply no way the bees that leave with the queen can prepare enough stores in the new hive to get through the winter. Why did they swarm? There’s just no solid answer for that. I have read that sometimes bees swarm when the mite count gets to high. The bees get agitated, raise a queen and leave. I refuse to use miticides in my hives (basically its an insecticide) and mites are what killed the two hives I lost. It may be that the bees left because the hive had too many mites. I will never know, but the fact that this hive survived the winter is amazing. When a hive swarms they normally take at least half and usually more of the bees with them. That would leave very few in the hive to produce the warmth needed to get through the winter. Somehow they did it and this has been an interesting story to attempt to unravel. As an aside, the other queen cells you see in the picture are destroyed after one or more other queens hatch.
Hive three is a hive of Italian bees. Again, lots of bees and lots of stored honey. I did not find the queen nor did I find brood, but the hive seems quite healthy otherwise and I suspect all is well here.
The fourth hive is looking good as well. It is also a good example of why a new beekeeper should get more than one hive to begin with. Last season I installed four new packages of bees all on the same day. A few weeks later this hive had a very spotty and otherwise poor brood pattern compared to the other hives. I knew something wasn’t right. Sometimes the queens that come with a package of bees have not been properly bred. By being able to compare to the progress of the other hives I was sure this was the case because if not properly bred they will lay a spotty brood pattern. I ordered a new queen that is of mixed race and supposed to be from stock that shows greater mite resistance. She was not marked but I found her anyway. There was also a little bit of brood. With plenty of bees and lots of stored honey this hive is also in fine shape. I will be attempting to split this hive later in the season as these bees are clearly active in cooler weather than the other hives and they have a very mild temperament. They are also supposed to have greater resistance to mites. With all those traits combined I would like to have a few more of these bees.
It wont be long before there the first pollen sources come out. There is an aspen tree a block away that is getting close and the pussywillow in our yard is breaking bud as well. Soon the bees will be able to gather in pollen from our local sources. I’ve already been out sitting in the beeyard watching my bees come and go, looking to see the first pollen coming in but have yet to see any. I am getting equipment ready for the coming season and will be adding a number of new hives in a few weeks. Stay tuned as the season is getting close. Also, if you can access the facebook page shown below, read the article about store bot honey. If you cant open the page then look up Central Oregon Gardeners and Homesteaders on facebook and read the article “The great raw honey deception.” Then again, don’t read it if you ever want to buy store bot honey again. Until next time, be safe and take care.