Tuesday, June 15, 2010

It's All Right (Queenright, that is...)

Had a chance to do a complete inspection of all hives (Sutton and Home). This is a longer post than normal, but with some good information (and questions) and pictures. So let's dive right in...

Sutton Hive 1

I fully expected this hive to be queenless, based on past inspections. I hadn't seen any new brood in a few weeks, even after pulling over a frame of eggs from the other hive. So I purchased a new queen yesterday, expecting to install her today.

When I started going through the hive, I was surprised to see very young brood - it looks like this hive had a queen! Now I was very confused. The only thing I can think is that either the queen stopped laying and resumed, or they made a new queen and she is laying. I still haven't seen a queen in this hive, but see definite evidence. There were lots of bees, and they weren't as jumpy this time. You can see the bees in the top box before I smoked it:

Lots of bees - that's a good thing!

I looked in the honey supers, and it looks like no further activity has occurred in the last month! :-( The two shallow supers have nectar but it is not capped yet, so it isn't ready to be called "honey." The medium super doesn't have any more progress on drawing out the frames.

But back to the queen issue. Now I have a problem - a queen without a home! (I couldn't put her in a hive with an existing queen). Luckily, I took with me my first nuc I built a year ago, so I pulled over some frames from this hive and brought the nuc home, along with the queen in the cage. More on that nuc later.

Sutton Hive 2

I remembered to bring the extra hive body so I could put on the sugar jars. I did a quick check and they seem to be doing well. So I fed the hive - here's what it looks like (the top deep simply encloses the feeding jars):

Green Hive

Back on the home front the green hive is doing well. I saw eggs in one of the frames, which was enough to tell me the queen is there (I didn't see the queen this time).

I had a chance to visit another beekeeper when I was picking up the queen yesterday, and he has a hive which was made from a package in April of this year. I compared the amount of bees coming and going in his hive with my green hive (which was an overwintered hive), and while the green hive has by far the most activity of all of my home hives, it didn't look as busy as this other person's hive. I think it may do with the fact that I did a split earlier (to prevent swarming), which reduces the number of bees. But the queen should have had a chance to raise the population since then. I don't know if it is location (this person's hives were more out in the open, in the sun, while mine are shaded part of the time) or what.

This afternoon I saw the typical flurry of activity in front of the hive for the orienting of new bees, plus there is a pretty steady stream of incoming and outgoing bees. But they aren't putting up honey to any degree - the center couple of frames (which were already drawn out) have some honey, but the rest of the foundation is basically untouched.

Brown Hive

This hive still has significantly less traffic than the green hive. Given I installed a new queen back on May 22nd, the first bees are just being born from the new queen. It takes another 3 weeks before those new bees "graduate" to be foragers, so I guess I am jumping the gun a little.

What does surprise me is that the lower deep hive body is almost 100% empty comb - just a little pollen in the frames on the edge. I would have thought the queen would like to use that to lay, but she hasn't gone down there. I thought about doing a reversal, but I heard the voice of my "just don't mess with it!" friend from work, so I didn't mess with it. Besides, I don't want them all of a sudden filling the brood frames with nectar.

I was worried that the queen wasn't there, but I looked specifically for her and found her:

(the blue dot is hard to see here - it's kind of faded out in this shot). Seeing the queen tells me she is there - I'll let her do her thing and decide when/where to lay. I don't know if you can see it in this picture (enlarge it), but this queen's body is almost black - she might be a different race than Italian. I didn't notice that before.

Gray Nuc

I wanted to see if this nuc has a laying queen - it's about the time it could have one. When I pulled out one of the frames, this is what I found:

Those milky white cells contain bee larvae! The larvae are anywhere from 4 days old to almost ready to cap. So this nuc has a laying queen - I'm 2 for 2 this year - yea!!

Here's the foundationless frame I put in the nuc when I made it. You can see that they have almost completed building out the frame:

At this stage of the comb creation, you have to be very careful in handling the frame. The wax is held only at the top, and with the bees on it (and starting to use it), the weight of the comb means that any tilting side-to-side can cause the wax to break. So I didn't manhandle this frame too much.

I really wanted to find this queen in order to mark her, but even looking through the nuc twice I didn't spot her. You'd think with only 5 frames it wouldn't be to hard, but they are crafty. But that's OK - I'm happy to know she is there. I'll mark her another time.

Brown Nuc

I pulled out the first frame of the brown nuc, and look what I saw right away:

That blue dot sure makes things easier! This nuc is doing fine, and had almost completed drawing out the foundationless frame. So I thought I'd give them a little more to work with.

I mentioned last week that I made a medium "super" for my nuc. I asked my 9-year-old son to draw me a bee on the face of the super, and I went over it with black paint. Here's the finished item installed on the nuc:

Zoom in - it's super cute!! One thing you may notice is that the corner of the top cover has come up - the wood warped! I didn't expect that, but I made this cover a little different than normal. Other covers have a horizontal piece of wood fastened to the front and back edge of top cover (as shown in this post). But here I put some rims of wood underneath, and there wasn't anything to keep it from warping. So I'll put together a more normal cover and replace it.

White Nuc

Ah, the white nuc. This is the new one which contains bees from the Sutton Hive 1, but without a queen. Hey, what a coincidence - I happen to have an extra queen with no home! What are the odds...

So I put this nuc in my back yard, took out one of the frames, and wedged in the queen cage in between two of the frames, with the candy plug accessible to the workers so they can release the queen in a few days.

Once I put the queen in the nuc, some bees at the front entrance started "scenting" - lifting up their tails and using their wings to spread the pheromones from the Nasonov gland. This tells the other bees of the hive that "this is where home is!" It is only done when there is a queen present, so they recognized the new queen cage I put in there. Here is a closeup picture of a couple of the bees scenting:

Now I have a White Nuc.

So here's where the craziness sets in. Counting all the nucs and the hives in Sutton, I am now taking care of 7 hives! Five of them are in my own back yard!!! Take a look:

What do you think? Should I make an appointment to see a psychologist? Any 12-step groups I can join? "Hi, my name is Steven, and I'm a beekeeper." [group] Hi Steven...

I'll probably put an ad on Craigslist to sell one or two of the nucs. But there's something comforting having those extra queens in reserve. Comments from my more experienced beekeeper friends?


  1. How do you transition a nuc to a regular sized hive, and when would you decide to do so?

  2. Todd, it's actually quite straightforward. The nuc contains 5 deep frames, and a single regular hive body holds 10 frames. You transfer the 5 nuc frames into the hive body, and add 5 more empty frames (split on either side of the group of 5 nuc frames). Hopefully you can put the regular hive in the same location as the nuc, so the foragers don't have to re-find the hive.

    Last year when I started my green hive from a nuc, I put the nuc in the eventual location of the green hive. Then when I moved the frames the bees had no problem.

    As to when to do it, it can be done any time. A nuc usually has 5 established frames, and the bees will transition just fine.

    Good questions!


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