Bee update: maiden flight?

We had a few minutes today before leaving for Spring Daze in Cary so we decided to do a quick hive inspection.  As soon as we opened the nuc, I knew something was wrong.  The buzz from the hive was different than usual, and the girls seemed quite agitated.  Inside we found frames of honey, but absolutely no brood.

Frame from hive with no brood

Unfortunately, the large hive was the same.  The bees who are normally so gentle and friendly were actually flying up at us without significant provocation and inside we found this:

Honey and pollen, but no brood.

Since I couldn’t steal a brood frame to move into the nuc, we closed both boxes up and unsuited.  I started trying to figure out the dates in my head and played a lovely game of bee math.  Assuming my numbers are correct, here’s what I decided:

Queen piping – April 20th (I’m assuming that the queen had not yet emerged)

Emergence – 1 – 2 days later – April 2oth – 21st

Egg laying – 12-17 days – May 2nd – May 7th

That allows time for the maiden flight and for her to return and have a day or two to begin laying.  From what I read, we basically checked the large box too early.  Most beekeepers will wait at least 15 days after emergence to look for activity.   So, I’m not panicking.  Yet.

The nuc, on the other hand, is obviously queenless.  If a queen were to have returned, she should have started laying already.   We’ll likely add those bees back into the big hive the next time we open it up.

I’m regretting our lack of diligence in early spring.  Lesson learned.  Again.

Piping!

I’m a bit late posting this, but Wayne peeked in on both bee hives last week to see if there was any activity.  In the nuc he thinks he saw eggs, but he’s not completely sure because of the light.  Nothing else exciting in there except the continued precense of lots of bees.

The big hive, on the other hand, was quite exciting.  He heard piping!  So, we do have a queen….or at least two I guess.  If the weather is decent, we’ll be inspecting on Sunday and I’ll post some pictures.

Concern with Lack of Activity?

I’ve been watching our nuc carefully and am a bit dismayed to see a significant lack of activity.  The video below will give you a good idea of the difference between what’s going on in the blue hive and what’s {not} going on in the nuc.

You can hear Wayne in the background…he decided that what the bees were lacking was music…he serenaded them with his ukulele for a bit…we’ll see if it helps.  In the meantime, he popped the top off and took two quick pictures:

I believe those are still queen cells at the top of the frame although its hard to tell from the picture if they are intact or not (click on each image for a larger version).   There are definitely bees on a couple of the frames, so its not completely deserted (yet anyway).  Wayne closed up quickly, not pulling out any frames as we don’t want to disturb them too much.

I guess we’ll just have to keep waiting….this is not a game that I’m good at.  In the meantime, Wayne will keep playing and we’ll cross our fingers that the girls are enjoying it.

And then there was one…and then there were two again

I recently got a message from a friend who was looking for a hive.  Since he had given us our original hive (which we still have), we offered it back but warned that we found the bees to be quite aggressive.   They weren’t bothered too much by that, so we set a date for Friday night for pickup (this has to be done after dark to ensure the most number of bees in the hive).

At 7:30p, Wayne was sitting in his jacket and hood on the front porch waiting for them to arrive.  Although I was quite amused by this, I’m not sure our neighbors found it as funny.  We had two slow-down drive-bys – slightly strange considering we live almost at the end of a cul-de-sac.   David arrived around 8pm and they set to it.  I didn’t join them, but Wayne tells me that the stings started almost immediately and it took a while to get the bee-laden box through the garden and into the truck.  Even then, from in the house (and in the dark), I could see unhappy bees swarming around the box.

Although I constantly had trouble with the bees David picked up, they were still my first hive and they were strong little suckers and got through two winters without too much extra help from us.  I’m glad to know they are heading to a good home.

So, this morning, we woke up to this:

A quick video of the same hive:

It is clearly a strong hive, but does look a bit lonely on the hive stand.

Since we had a bit of sunny weather, Wayne and I decided to do our long overdue inspection of the blue hive.  I’ve been avoiding it a bit, mainly because the aggressive hive was always causing trouble for me.  We opened the blue hive and I was immediately sorry that we hadn’t done it sooner.  The bees were hanging out all the way to the top of the box.

From what I understand, not adding a super early enough in the spring is a common newbie mistake.  I was horrified to see that I had done it not only once, but two years in a row.   As we pulled out frames, I could tell that the queen was strong; however, there was little honey (all brood).  Instead of the usual brood surrounded by a small amount of honey or pollen, we found this:


There were NO empty frames.  At all.  The hive was horribly overcrowded.   A couple frames in, I asked Wayne to pause as I noticed queen cells off the bottom of the frame.  Two in fact, both open.

And then there were more.  Many more, most of which we appear to have torn in the process of pulling out frames.

Looking down into the super below from the top, we saw clusters of bees obviously attending to something.  I was fascinated by it and took a video.  Its actually rather nice as you can see and hear what the inside of the hive sounds like.

(As a side note, Wayne’s comment is SO true.  We adore these bees and can’t wait to get our two new colonies which should be ready for pickup in a month or so.)

And then we saw what they were doing.

Queen Cells - open

Wow.  I had never seen a queen pupa.  It’s pretty amazing.  She’s huge compared to the other bees and startlingly white.   Since there is no question that the queen is alive and laying, the hive is overcrowded, and all the cells are on the bottom of the frames; theses are clearly swarm cells, not supercedure cells.

We closed up the hive as they were starting to be bothered by our presence and returned inside.  We were a bit stuck on how to proceed.   I went through this panic last year and from what I read, it is a bit too late at this point.  All the same, doing nothing seemed like a very poor option.  After a bit of debate, we decided to take the nuc we had in the garage and try to put it to good use.   So, we grabbed the equipment and put our bee suits back on and went out for round two.  This time, we were fighting against a storm which was just starting to darked the sky.

For the first time, we removed the top super completely to get into (what should have been) the brood chamber below.  Wow.

I was overwhelmed to see the number of queens they had been rearing and quite saddened to see that we had clearly killed a large number of them.  I did get this picture from the top of one frame.  I need to do more reading about queens as I’m ashamed to say I just don’t know much.  I did notice how much the eyes have darkened on this one compared to a few others.  Maybe this signifies a different place in the life cycle?

We pulled out a few frames that were completely packed with brood, checked them carefully for a queen, and moved them into the nuc.  One of these had a queen cell on the top of the frame.

We also moved a frame of honey we found and added a few empty frames to round out the five frames.  We put an empty nuc box on top to prevent any additional damage to the queen cells and closed up that box.  We then added empty frames with foundation into the hive where we had removed frames and added a super to the top.

So, we started this morning with a lonely but clearly strong hive, and ended like this:

Not what I expected to come out of today at all.  I’m going to cross my fingers that if our hive swarms (which I imagine it will), they will choose to head into the woods or the field behind us and not into the neighborhood somewhere.  I’m going to watch them carefully and plan for another inspection in the next week or two.