Robbed!

3hives

Hives of all sizes, I feel a little like Goldie Locks – A Daddy Hive, a Momma Hive, and a Little Baby Hive. My pink hive, the 5-story monster, is the strongest (2-time survivor of winter) – I’m really nursing this one and hoping to gain a couple additional colonies from it next spring to keep these genetics going. The orange hive, the 3-story momma that grew from my southern spring package, the one that I thought went queenless a few weeks ago that I found to be queen-right – which I direct-released my new ankle-biter queen. And the itty-bitty baby hive, the nuc on the left, I made with the southern queen from the orange hive – yesterday I checked to see if the bees had released the queen from her cage, and she had not been (they didn’t seem to go for the marshmallow blocking the hole), so I released her myself.

Today, I found the baby hive getting robbed by my other hives. It was very interesting behavior indeed! The guard bees wrestled with every unwanted visitor, but there were two many intruders and so nearly all who tried to enter made it inside. Since it is a nuc, and I am currently feeding them with a boardman feeder, I don’t have a proper entrance reducer, so I’m using another boardman feeder base with a jarless lid to block the way. That reduced the area needing to be guarded, but it still seemed that the guards were struggling to protect their territory, so I went to google for what to do next. One place suggested rubbing Vick’s vapor rub around the entrance to confuse the smell for the robbers – I don’t have that handy. Another site mentioned blocking off the entrance with wire, I don’t have that handy either. Another site recommended draping a wet bed sheet over the hive, which would apparently allow foragers from the hive to still come and go since they will re-orient themselves accordingly, but would completely deter the robbers from entering the hive because they no longer know where the entrance is based on smell. I had a spare bed sheet. I chose to try the latter recommendation.

photo 1

The bed sheet worked immediately. All new robbers trying to get into the hive seemed to lose all interest in finding the entrance, while all robbers trying to leave remained trapped under the wet bed sheet. I can’t know for sure, but the few I saw leave the hive by crawling out from under the bed sheet I believe to be the rightful owners of the hive, while the ones that appeared to have crawled up the bed sheet to as far to the top as they could get I believe to be the confused robbers – and I gave them mercy and allowed them to escape by lifting the sheet briefly. I’m going to leave the sheet on one more day and see if the robbing has been forgotten.

photo 2

Right before I had noticed the robbing going on I had set up this actual robbing station on the other side of my yard in hopes of cleaning up some frames that I plan to use this year. The true robbing station seems to be a hit, and has been very busy on this 90-degree day, and maybe especially because I think we are in a dearth right now. I wonder if setting up this robbing station ultimately led to my nuc getting robbed, or if in fact I didn’t add enough bees to the nuc making it a weak hive. Things to ponder and learn from, as always.

Just Add a Little Dirt

birdbath

Learning something new is always fun to do. Especially when it comes to helping bees!

For the last four weeks or so my honeybees have quit visiting the bird bath water source I’ve provided them. A green icky algae had slimed the entire birdbath, and even having since cleaned it and filled it with fresh water, my bees had still not returned to it. Usually I fill the birdbath with dried leaves, sticks, and stems from plants to give them a landing pad or something to grab onto if they accidentally fall in, but still no bees were interested…and that darn green algae came back. So I cleaned out the birdbath again, and remembering back from my beekeeping class that they tend to prefer more “odorific” water, I decided to try just adding a little bit of dirt to the water. Not even an hour later, I kid you not, bees are coming and going once again! I’ve set a couple wine corks, cut in half, as a floatation device instead of twigs and such, and am having a blast watching the bees use them.

I’m not sure where they were getting their water for the last month, but undoubtedly this is much closer for them. And maybe that gross green algae won’t creep back since I’m keeping this recipe simple – start with water, then just add a little dirt.

First time caging a queen bee,

cagedQueen

My two colonies had been doing very well until one (the package I purchased this spring) began declining in population. I noticed it happening but was too busy to inspect for a problem at the time, and before I knew it 4 weeks had gone by without opening up the hive to see. Sure enough, no eggs, no larva, very little capped brood, and no queen in sight and too late in the evening to do anything about it.

The very next day, I took a frame of eggs, larva, and capped brood from my strong over-wintered hive and gave it to the weaker one, hoping this would tide me over before the workers decided to start trying to lay themselves. Searching ever harder for the queen I came across frame after frame of supercedure (emergency queen) cells, all of which appeared hatched out of or in waiting of an egg, but one very tiny one was sealed closed. And then I found her, the queen! She was in there afterall. And she even appeared to be dipping her bottom into a cell or two, but when I looked I saw no egg. Maybe she is a brand new queen just starting to get the hang of laying, she seemed large and slow like she had been mated. I decided, satisfied for the moment, to close up the hive and wait a couple weeks to check back in on her.

I’d been planning on replacing this queen from the beginning with this hive, since they were from Georgia and my goal is to keep local honey bees, and had been on a waiting list for a special “ankle-biter” queen from Meghan Milbrath. This ankle-biter queen has special genetics to help protect against the mite known as varroa destructor, the very mite that took down three of my colonies over the winter. The funny thing about the timing of all of this is my ankle-biter is ready to be picked up! So today, nearly two weeks after I found the queen in my weak hive, I tasked myself with searching for her again to capture her and allow the hive to be queen-pheromone-free for at least 24 hours. This will allow the bees to recognize that they are queenless and hopefully cause them to accept more willingly this new special queen that I am bringing them home tomorrow night.

The weather was lousy today, raining off and on, and super windy, not the kind of day you would plan on opening up your hive to the elements, but I was determined to do my best for these bees in preparation. Frame after frame, I did not see the queen. I began having to double-back over frames and brood boxes I already searched, excitedly finding some 3-day old larva, still not seeing any eggs but it was very overcast and dark that they had to be there if I was seeing 3-day-old larva, and I finally found her in the second story hive body closer to the last honey frame on the end. What in the world was she doing there?

Finally locking in on her, I now came to the part that I was anxious for – capturing her, marking her, and caging her. Many beekeepers kill off the queen when they go to replace her, but I figured I might as well practice capturing her and marking her, and somehow getting her to go into that tiny hole in the queen cage so she doesn’t go to waste. The whole process went very smoothly I could hardly believe it! First, I trapped her against the honey comb frame that I had found her on, with the plastic queen marking cylinder cupped over her. Then, I proceeded to slide very carefully the cylinder with her in it against the honeycomb surface, pressing too hard that I was accidentally uncapping some honey at the same time. I think the hard part for me was trying to get her to travel higher into the cylinder away from the opening and also trying not to injure her, all while holding the frame in my other hand – it was more of a patience and juggling game, and she eventually explored the top. Then, I quickly and clumsily took the plunger and pressed it into the cylinder halfway so I could leave her for a bit and start closing up the hive, it had begun to sprinkle very lightly. Once was all closed up, I found my never-before-used blue queen-marking marker and carefully plunged her closer to the grate at the top of the cylinder and dotted her back through the holes. Lightly blowing on her blue dot to help it dry, I began thinking about how I should have a few attendants with her, surprisingly none made it into the marker trap with her. For why, since I have no plans of selling her? Well, I suppose it’s for a bit of practice as well. And I don’t know, maybe I’ll take her with me to Meghan’s in case she has a use for her or knows someone who could use her.

I took this video of the queen in her cage with an attendant, their behavior got interesting where the attendant began feeding her as they appear with arms locked on each other and tongues a-lickin’:

Queen Bee and Her Attendant Video