NEW-BEES, off to a great start – an artificial swarm and a queenless hive

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Over the weekend I had the chance to inspect 3 of the five new hives I have here in town.  It had been two weeks since the bees were installed in the hives and time we should be seeing some capped brood.  The first hive I checked was a Carny hive where I not only found two full frames of capped brood but also the queen.  (Capped brood is shown in the picture above.)  The hive is thriving.  I will keep the feed on it for a bit longer as they are still taking it and there are still frames that need to be drawn with comb.

One of the best things you can do for a new hive is to add frames of comb that have already been drawn out.  That way the queen can begin laying eggs almost immediately.  If there is no drawn comb she must wait until the workers have built the comb for her.  That delays the build up of the hive.  I put two frames of drawn comb in each new hive so the queen has gone to right to work while the workers build new comb on the other frames.  I like to see most of the frames drawn out with comb before I quit feeding.  Comb building requires huge amounts of energy and resources.

Upon inspecting the other two new hives I found very similar results, though I did not see the queen in either of these hives.  She is there though, as I was able to see eggs and the tiniest of larva.  Both hives had frames of capped brood and are looking good.

After confirming the new hives are all off to a good start I decided to begin another project.  The strongest hive that has come through the winter is nearly full.  It is made up of two boxes, a deep and a medium.  It is just a bit early to be making splits but this hive is so full of bees I’m concerned they could make up their mind to swarm, so I went through the hive from top to bottom and on one of the very last frames I found the queen.  I placed the queen and two frames of capped brood into another hive.  I then shook another frame of bees into the new hive to increase their numbers a bit.  This is what you call an artificial swarm.  The old queen and a bunch of bees have left the hive, just as in a natural swarm.  The old hive must now raise up a queen of their own.

This kind of split has been done for ages and is a way of increasing the number of hives you have.  Because I don’t use miticides (chemicals) in my hives it is likely the mites will kill off the old queen in the new hive late this fall or early winter.  There are ways to deal with that and I will be addressing that later this summer.  For now lets focus on the hive that is queenless.

The bees in that hive will feed royal jelly to some of the new larva – a larva that is 36 hours or less old.  By feeding royal jelly they will make this new larva into a queen.  I have learned of a way to not only speed up this process but at the same time create a number of queens, thereby creating the possibility of making a number of splits (new hives) from this one hive.  Apparently bees treat a cell containing a larva 36 hours old or less, differently if the bottom third of the cell is broken away.  I have never tried this before but if I can make it work there is a chance for the hive to raise up a number of queens.  I tried this breaking away the cell wall in places on two different frames.  If it works I will leave one frame with queen cells in the hive and pull the other frame with queen cells plus two frames of bees and brood and create another hive.  This is my first attempt at doing this so everything is up in the air right now.  It takes the bees a week to build the queen cells so I will report back in another week.

The benefit of creating a split and leaving the old hive to raise a new queen is that it creates a brood break – that is a period of time when no eggs are laid.  It will take about 30 days for the new queen to hatch and take flight to be bred, before she begins laying her first eggs.  In this period of time the mites have no larva on which to lay their eggs.  Mites lay their own eggs in cells with larva that are 8 days old.  The bees cap cells of larva that are nine days old, thus sealing in the mites with the larva.  The mite will then lay its own eggs and use the larva as food.  To many mites will kill the larva, only one or two will usually just weaken the larva or possibly deform its wings.  When you see bees on the ground in front of your hive with deformed wings its a sure sign you have a high mite population.

The bottom line to all this is that while you are creating new hives for your own apiary you are also causing a brood break that will significantly reduce the number of mites in the hive, thereby making it healthier without the use of chemicals.  There is more to share on this subject which I will get into at a later date.  For now, we will have to see how the new hive does.  Its a very strong hive and should not have a problem building new queen cells, but there is never any guarantee.  This next weekend I will check back and see what the status of the queenless hive is and report how it is going.

And speaking of brood, we also have a brooding hen that recently adopted ten new baby chicks to raise as her own.  Its spring, and the new creations are abounding!

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