May 5, 2016

Requeening (Or Trying To Anyway)

I just installed my package bees last month, so isn't it a little early to be requeening? Under ordinary circumstances the answer to that would be yes. But this is me, and my adventures with critters always turn out to be anything but ordinary. (The stuff of entertaining Critter Tales, right? ;)

Periwinkle (left) and Daylily (right) hives in the morning sun.

Early last week I donned my beesuit in order to remove the feeders from my two hives. Activity levels have been different with each colony, so I was also curious to get a closer look at what was developing.

Daylily Hive was busy, busy busy, with so much traffic at the entrance that I decided to enlarge it a bit. It seemed that almost every other bee coming in was carrying pollen, which is a good sign because it means they are feeding brood. The top box is almost completely drawn out with comb and I was happy with their progress.

Daylily has been consistently active.

Periwinkle, on the other hand, has been a concern. Activity has seemed sporadic to the point where I've sometimes wondered if anybody was still at home. I've been able to see the comb full of bees through the observation window, but I was still concerned. I wanted to take a closer look and see what was going on.

Periwinkle hive has been much less active.

I discovered that no more comb had been drawn since the last time I'd checked about three weeks ago.

Not much progress in Periwinkle Hive.

I pulled each top bar to examine them more closely.

To examine the comb I used my smoker to puff away the bees

The combs were covered with bees who appeared to be busy, and I found the queen running around, but there were no eggs, no capped brood, and no food being stored. What in the world were they doing?

I didn't know the answer to that question, but I did know that my queen was a dud. It had been a month and she should have presented the colony with brood by now. I reassembled the hive and went in to call the bee store. The guy I talked to on the phone said it sounded like she was either a virgin or lazy, but yes, they had replacement queens available. I told him I was on my way.

The first step to requeening is to dispose of the old queen. Two queens in one hive is a deadly mix. At the bee store I was advised to "kill and drop." This is where the old queen is killed and her body dropped into the hive. The rationale here is that with a body, the colony knows for certain she is dead. They won't be confused by any lingering pheromones, assume she's still in residence, and attempt to kill the new queen. Did that ever stir things up! I left them to mull that over while I went in to make a fresh batch of sugar syrup. I could see that numbers were down and that they would need help if I was going to save them.

I've described the queen cage before (photo below from my "Honeybees! (Here at Last)" post, where you'll find pictures of the entire hiving process).

With packaged bees, the queen has traveled with them
so that they are somewhat familiar with her presence.

There are holes plugged with corks at both ends of the queen cage. The one at the candy end is for a slow queen release while the bees eat through the candy. The one at the other end is for quick release because it opens directly into the queen's chambers. Because Periwinkle was going to be mourning the loss of their old queen and was unfamiliar with this one, I simply set her cage in the hive without removing either cork. They would need a minimum of two days to realize that a new queen was present and become familiar with her.

Three days later I opened the hive and checked on the queen cage. I found it covered with bees, so I puffed them away with smoke to make sure the new queen was still alive. I read that an ill-tempered colony can try to bite through the cage and kill the new queen, although this bunch of bees has been just the opposite. She was alive and well, so I removed the cork from the candy end of the box.

The next day I took a peek through the observation window.

Bees completely covered the queen cage. You can also see that she
has fresh new comb available after release, ready to receive eggs.

Three days later the status was the same. I wanted to go in and do something to help, but it was pouring rain so I waited until the following day. What I discovered was that they had eaten through the candy but left a lump in the middle of the path. I probably should have gently poked through the lump but instead I pulled the cork on the queen's side of the box. She climbed out and flew away.

Have you ever noticed how an idea is brilliant if it turns out okay but stupid if it doesn't? Well, after that I felt anything but brilliant. There were still bees on and in the queen cage, so I set it on one of the hive box handles.

When I went to the garden to get salad for dinner, I took a detour past my hives. I was surprised to see that the queen cage was piled with a mound of bees. I took a closer look and saw that the queen had flown back to her box! I tilted up the top hive body box and gently set the queen cage inside. Hopefully I'd gotten her!

About half an hour later the little mound of bees was still there and so was the queen! I gave the entire mound a gentle squirt with honey-b-healthy (in hopes it would keep her from flying off again) and brushed them into a little box. I dumped them into the top box hoping this time she was safely installed.

When I went to check again I found her outside again in front of the hive. Apparently she did not like that hive! She evaded my attempts to re-catch her. I spent some time looking for her but by that time it was late and starting to drizzle again. I gave up.

When a colony abandons a hive it is referred to as absconding. For whatever reason they just up and leave. Considering Periwinkle's circumstances, however, I suspect (hope) that much of its former population had already drifted over to Daylily and taken up residence there. So perhaps it was the low bee numbers that the new queen didn't like, perhaps it was the carpenter ants which were making a pest of themselves, or maybe the wax moth I'd seen through the observation window. All of these are probable contributing factors, but who truly knows the mind of a honeybee?

So that is the sad tale of Periwinkle hive. As of yesterday afternoon a dozen bees or so were still holding vigil over the queen cage but the hive itself is now woefully empty. Hopefully I'll catch a swarm in my bait hive, and there's still time to set up Periwinkle as a bait hive too. Other than that, I will just have to remain the humble servant of all my critters on the homestead, honeybees included.


34 comments:

PioneerPreppy said...

A frame or comb of eggs and/or larva from the other hive would have made them stay. Nurse bees will not abandon eggs or larva plus when they hatch it would have given them new numbers while waiting on the new queen to start laying.

I had a queen once that kept coming out of a box though and never did figure out what was going on with her. She did have eggs laid so the hive made a replacement and I caught her and put her in a nuc that did grow and survive. It was just odd.

Dawn McHugh said...

I had one hive the bees did not like, no matter how many times I placed a swarm in there they did not like the hive then when we moved and I had a swarm it was the only hive I had available and this time they stayed, I hope your bees sort themselves out

Farmer Liz said...

Oh they can be so frustrating! Last we checked ours two hives were making new queen cells. In autumn. Why? Only they know. I think once you have one strong established hive you will find it easier as you can split that instead of dealing with package bees.

Leigh said...

That was the other bit if advice I was given at the bee store and I was planning to do that once she was released. I guess if I'd done it earlier they could have at least made a new queen! Another sad live and learn.

Leigh said...

It must be the queen that decides. The residents had been there for over a month and except for gradually declining numbers, seemed content to stay. But that queen! I see why they sometimes clip their wings, although if she'd already made her mind up she probably would have walked out even if she couldn't fly.

Leigh said...

I would definitely like to not have to deal with package bees any more. If most of that now defunct colony did move to Daylily, it should do well with the extra numbers. Maybe a split in the future there. It is certainly more active than any of my hives so far.

Tricky Wolf said...

hopefully a solution will present itself so periwinkle hive gets some use this year, it looks too good to just sit vacant!

jewlz said...

Well darn it. Spose the only positive is that now that so many bad outcomes are out of the way, you're even closer to a good one. Hope it's sooner rather than later.

Fiona from Arbordale Farm said...

I found this a really interesting post we are not on to bees yet as this will have to wait till we are in NZ.

John Newell said...

Great post, and informative. Thanks for sharing. Our install of 3 new packages is set for 18 May. I have blown the install before, so looking to avoid that outcome this time!

Fiona said...

Yeeicks your having trouble. I do Have a question, what do you think of top bar hives.

Farmer Barb said...

We got requeened because the guards were so aggressive. I haven't heard from them recently because it has been cold and rainy. They will have the opportunity to get to know the new one. My berry patch has a good fruit set, so hopefully everyone will stay!

Leigh said...

Thanks! I was hoping to have three hives worth of bees this year, but alas. I suppose I should be thankful to have one strong one.

Leigh said...

Me too! But, keeping bees seems to be getting harder and harder to do. I've had experienced beekeepers tell me that success isn't in honey production but in keeping them alive.

Leigh said...

Oh Fiona, there's so much to learn. But, one has to make a start somewhere!

Leigh said...

John, I wish you all the best with that. And for a successful year with your bees.

Leigh said...

I don't have a lot of experience with frame hives (had one Langsroth many, many years ago), but I definitely like the top bars. For me personally, they fit better with our goals. I want beeswax to harvest and I don't want to be purchasing foundation for frames. The only time they seem to be a problem is if they don't build their comb along the bar. "Cross combing" is when they build diagonally and attach it to more than one bar. Painting the bars with wax is supposed to help with that and I've never had cross combing (yet - there can always be a first time!).

Beekeepers will argue over which type of hive produces more honey, but I think it all boils down to personal philosophy and preference. My goal isn't so much maximum production per hive, but hopefully harvesting enough honey to meet our needs for the year.

Leigh said...

I hope your requeening is a success! There's nothing like good pollination to help the harvest.

Harry Flashman said...

Kathy and her husband at "Moving to the Past" are just getting into bee keeping, and it sounds really difficult. Your own experiences would tend to support that supposition. I am glad some people have the fortitude to tackle this, but I think I will just keep buying honey from them and avoiding bees, myself!

Perry - StoneHillRidge said...

Bee keeping is definitely a learning experience! Good luck with the swarm trap.

DFW said...

Wow, so much trial & error. Hopefully things will turn around for the Periwinkle hive. Hoping you catch a swarm soon.

Ed said...

I can't recall ever having that problem but like others mentioned, it was probably because we had brood and food in the hive. Hopefully you get another colony with your bait hive.

Renee Nefe said...

I keep seeing ads on Craigslist for the local beekeeper wanting to get swarms.
hope your bees do well for you.

Barbara said...

This is so interesting. I've never known anything about beekeeping and I am enjoying learning all you have shared.

Cozy Thyme Cottage said...

I have never cared much for bees but that was really interesting. Love how the boxes are decorated too! If I was a bee I would want to come live there! LOL Nancy

Fiona said...

Thank you so much...bees are a must but it will be next spring now we know the land better.

Leigh said...

You know, I think beekeeping is getting harder than it used to be. Nowadays there are so many problems and pests (both natural and man-made) that didn't seem to exist in decades past. One of the reasons I chose the Warre beekeeping system was because it seemed to be the simplest philosophy of all.

Leigh said...

Roger that. Thanks Perry!

Leigh said...

I'm thinking now that it all depends on the queen.

Leigh said...

That could be. Now I'm thinking that if I'd moved a bar of brood over sooner they could have made a new queen. Back to hindsight, eh?

Leigh said...

Of course I had to look on Craigslist and there must be a couple dozen beekeepers offering free swarm removal. Most of the can do structural repair to the house too, if the bees move in. Swarms seem to be the way to go but I can't see me doing any of that. sigh

Leigh said...

Well, thanks. It's definitely been a live-and-learn experience. :)

Leigh said...

They are definitely fascinating! But it takes a interested and dedicated person to keep them.

1st Man said...

We just have to make it up and wing it as we go along don't we? All the reading never matches up to hands on, ha. You know I feel your pain, not sure if we can get more, I'm trying but wondering if it's too late this season. I really hate the thought of waiting till NEXT year for another hive but we'll see. The other, like yours, is going strong so here to you and us getting some honey this season!!

Stay strong!