Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Queen is Dead. Long Live The Other Queen.

S.D. pulled the queen cage out from the second hive. "That's strange. She's still in there" he said.  It had only been a week and sometimes it does take longer for the queen to emerge, but we had just opened the other hive and found not only that the queen had been released but that she had already laid eggs.  "I think she's dead."


The newspaper method
The chances of getting another queen at this point in the season were highly improbable. If  we left the hive queenless for too long the workers might start laying eggs and then they'd be totally useless. We both looked at the other hive and had the same thought. "Guess we're going to have to combine

Combining hives was something we'd only heard about. When a colony is weak or queenless the best thing to do is combine them with another, stronger, queened hive. Basically we understood that the way to do that was to take the cover off the strong hive, put a piece of newspaper over it then put the weaker hive box (with the hive) on top. By the time the bees have eaten through the paper, they will have adjusted enough to each other's scent that they won't try and kill each other. That was the theory. We'd never actually seen it done.

S.D. wanted to do it right then and there and see what happened, I wanted to research the best way to do it first. (Can you tell who's the librarian and who's the scientist?).  After consulting the books and the web, hunting around for newspaper and settling for last weeks Stop and Shop sales flyer, we combined the hives - just as S.D. had originally proposed.

Can you see her now?
And all was quiet. The bees in the top hive didn't really appear to be doing much and the bees in the bottom hive appeared to be going about their normal business.  It was one of the many times a hive cam would be nice. As it was we could only imagine the action around the newspaper barrier as all the angry (?) bees gathered below and above it, buzzing loudly, fanning, and trying to chew through the paper with their tiny mandibles. Or maybe they were reading up on the weekly specials? Hard to know without the webcam.

As it was, we spent the week trying to decide if the pile of dead bees in front of the hive had risen dramatically, and looking for pieces of newspaper to be thrown out.

The next Sunday we opened the hive. There were plenty of bees in the top hive, and there was a very large hole in the newspaper. Success, the hives had combined! Down below we found capped brood, larvae and the Queen! She is a big brown one, and she is big. They'd told us she would be easy to spot and there she was.  It took two packages, but it looks like we had one big healthy hive. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

The 2014 Bee Saga

June finds us, once again, sitting on the back deck watching bees flying in and out of their hive.  We know we're a little bit ahead of where we last year, but we're not really sure how far, and we also know we're lucky just to have bees at all. 

Last winter was a tough one for all bees in New England. With a hive survival rate of only 30% we didn't feel so bad about loosing our hive. We certainly didn't tell everyone that we lost it even before the first snowfall but with overall survival rates so low, it really didn't matter.

We also started the spring feeling pretty smug as we had 2 packages on order.With everyone trying to start up 70% of the hives, demand was high.  If you hadn't already ordered your packages by February, they were going to be hard to find.

And so it was one fine morning in early May that we called to confirm our package pickup.  Ken, the bee keeper who had sold us the nuc, had included our order with his. His supplier lived in Vermont but met up with Ken in Springfield, Mass, during his return trip from Georgia. On the day Ken was supposed to meet with his supplier, and we subsequently would meet up with Ken, we called him.

"Umm, there's been a problem with the pickup you say?"
"Yes," Ken answered. "The guy's truck has broken down in New York so I didn't meet him. I'm not getting the bees this year"
"Umm. Can I go meet him in Vermont. We need the bees, and everyone else is already sold out"
"Sure," he replied, and gave me the number

I called the guy. Apparently the truck was dead, his wife was coming to get him in their car. The wife wouldn't allow bees in the car, and he sold the packages to a guy who ran a landscaping business in Connecticut.
"Umm, can I have the number for the landscaping guy?" I asked. I needed bees!!!

"Sure," he replied, and gave me the number.

I called the guy. The bees were sold.

Noooooooo.  I couldn't imagine how dull the backyard would be without the bees. How un-busy.

And then I recalled an email that had come through the Essex County Beekeepers Association list a few weeks ago. It was a vague email. Someone was compiling a list of people who needed bees because someone might have a line on some packages.  With nothing to loose, I contacted the someone who was making the list.

"Yes" they replied, "We're probably going to pick up a truckload in Georgia next week."

"Great. I'll take two packages!"  The price was double that of normal packages, but some of the money went to some group that was helping bees do something or other. Whatever. We wanted bees.  "Where will I need to go to pick these up?" I asked next. Having been  willing to go to Vermont, and Connecticut to get bees, I assumed this would require a similar trek.  The guy gave me a Boston address.

Monday afternoon I left work early, walked three blocks and met S.D. coming out of warehouse carrying two, very angerly buzzing packages of bees. Their anger all the more justified when you noticed that a good number of them lay at the bottom of the package, dead.

S.D. sprayed the packages with some sugar water, which quieted them, placed them in paper bags and seated belted them into the back. Sensing time was of the essence, we needed to get out of Boston before rush hour, and get the bees into a better environment as fast as possible, we hightailed it up to the North Shore.
A package for every hive

Once home, it only took about 10 minutes to suit up, set up the hives and begin installing the packages. With so many bees dead, I was anguesting over the fate of the queens.  As we had learned, hives without queens are really just an exercise in existentialism, and I wasn't up for another year of that.

S.D. carefully pulled the first queen cage out. We looked, and she moved! She was alive!! He shook the bees into the hive, where they gladly went, removed the plug from the queen cage and installed it in the middle frame.

He then installed the second package just the same.  We  closed up the hives, and installed the sugar water feeder.

From our observation posts on the deck we watched the orientation flights begin. It was good to have bees in the yard again, and there was a chance that they'd do okay.  We had two queens, and we had bees. A week later we'd check to see if the queen had been released and if she had begun laying eggs. The cycle had begun again.