What a terrific weekend we had at the Meadow of Lavender in Colton Oregon this weekend for the Oregon Lavender Festival. There was an excellent turnout and I’m sure everyone enjoyed themselves as they learned about the lavender products and how they are made. We also had excellent attendance at the bee classes I held and in each class people suited up in the spare bee suits that were available and had a look in the hives for themselves. My thanks to all those who attended.
In the first class the attendees had the opportunity to see first hand how a hive requeens itself in a process called supercedure. At the bottom of one of the frames we removed from the hive were two queen cells, about four inches apart. One cell was opened at the very bottom, the other was opened from the side. The first cell was the one the queen hatched from. When a new queen hatches the first thing she does is dispatch with any other queens in the hive. The other queen cell demonstrated how that is done. The new queen chews through the side of the cell and stings to death the queen that has yet to hatch.
After looking the queen cells over and discussing what happened we continued our inspection of the hive and found lots of newly laid eggs and tiny larvae. Though we did not see the queen herself, it was apparent she has been very busy since hatching and completing her mating flights.
This brings me to the point of this post. There has been a lot of trouble with queen failure this year. This is an issue that has been building for the past number of season and appears to have finally landed with a crash this year. In reading the various forums it appears to be a fairly widespread occurrence. My own experience with this has even been greater than most are reporting. In April I purchased 9 new packages of bees. Six of nine packages, have lost queens, some more than once, as in the hive we inspected in class. The queens that came with the packages are soon replaced and then the new queen fails and is replaced again. This leads to weak hives and I am about to lose one of my new hives because they have grown weak and failed to raise a new queen.
Of course there are a number of different view points, but one that makes a lot of sense has to do the problems queen producers have had with insect growth regulators that have been put on during the bloom with fungicides, mostly in California. All of my packages came from California so I don’t believe its a coincidence my new packages are failing. There can also be a lack of genetics and diverse drone sources in the large commercial producers that contribute to the problem.
With nearly $100 dollars invested in each package I have reached the conclusion it is no longer feasible to purchase commercially available packages. If you are considering acquiring bees next season I would recommend against using a commercial outlet to get your bees. There is simply too much at risk and if your just starting out who wants the trouble and disappointment of losing hives. Many newbees would be left thinking it was something they did. As I stated in my classes this last weekend, I am interested in new beeks (beekeepers) having success, therefore, after having lost nearly 70 percent of the queens that came in the new packages I purchased this year I can only suggest that you avoid the commercial outlets. I mean really – who wants to spend all the money it takes to set up new hives and acquire the equipment you need, just to get inferior bees that don’t have a good chance of making it.
So what’s the alternative? Go with locally produced nucs. Nuc is short for nucleus hive. Normally you get four frames of bees and a frame of stores, but the fours nucs that a friend and I purchased this year came stuffed with five full frames of bees. All four are doing well and have not experience the requeening/supercedure issues that the packages have experienced. The advantage of a nuc is that you have a queen who has been laying and producing for weeks, if not months, before you purchase it. This miniature hive is established and well on its way with a queen that has proven she is healthy. Yes, nucs often cost a bit more, but the premium you pay is well worth it if you are getting a healthy queen instead of a poor commercially produced queen that will be replaced nearly as soon as you put her in the hive.
So if you are looking at beginning beekeeping next season or if you want to add to the hive or hives you already have, now is the time to begin to locate local beeks that will have nucs to sell next season. Find out about their practices and the success rate of their nucs. Get to know them and their products. Ultimately you should come out far ahead with a nuc over a package of bees.
And for you beeks with a season or two under your belts, learn to split your own hives and make your own increase. Splitting a hive is not difficult and far less expensive. If you have yet to do it, then consider it your next step along the path of beekeeping.
Until next time my best to all of you and may you only know the queen of hearts when it comes to your own hives.
Meadow of Lavender link – http://meadowoflavender.com/