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Another Honeybee Update

honey bee on flowers

(Photo: dixit M/flickr)


There have been interesting developments since my prior update , a mere seven weeks ago.

I have been noticing, after a huge store of honey early in the spring and lots of bees coming and going from the hive entrances, that the hive populations have been diminishing. Chris Harp, my beekeeper, came to inspect yesterday.

Indeed, there is almost no stored honey or pollen, no capped brood cells.

Chris did find brand new queens in both hives, who have just started laying, so populations should recover quickly. Once she gets into the swing, a queen will lay 1500 eggs per day. When population is back up to snuff, honey storage will proceed apace. I did see Queen Anne laying eggs, and also workers touching her to get her scent to spread around the hive. That is how workers know which hive to return to even when there are many hives next to each other. I did not watch the inspection of the other hive, as those girls were pissy and I didn’t want to take a chance of getting stung.

I had to start my queen-naming scheme from scratch, as I had run out of Victoria’s (my original queen) female descendants and because of swarming, generations got too confusing. My new queens are Anne and Alexandra, and I will go alphabetically if I can keep track of generations in the future.

Creation of new queen and swarming to create a new colony are the honeybees’ manifestation of the usual spring birth cycle. In a swarm, the old queen leaves with maybe a third of the workers. They might hang out on a tree branch for a day or two while scouts find new house, like a hole in a tree. The swarm settles in and starts building comb. The swarm must leave the old hive with enough nourishment in their guts to get them through that transition.

One might be able to capture a swarm if it is spotted in its hanging out phase, which is how I got my second hive. If one finds the old queen in the existing hive, she can be put into a new hive with her capped brood cells and she will think she’s swarmed.

After a swarm, new queen is born in the existing hive, she goes on her maiden flight, gets fertilized, comes back and starts laying.

That I have so little of anything in my hives now, versus the riches that were there earlier this year, suggests my hives have had several swarms that used up the stored honey. My beekeeping neighbor captured one of them. There is also a pile of dead drones outside one hive, suggesting that they were dragged out to allow more food for about-to-swarm workers.

Multiple swarms in the spring is an unusual event. Two hypotheses are the record warm spring and/or varroa mites. The stronger of the two hives definitely had a varroa problem. Varroa feed inside capped brood cells, so if there aren’t any, the varroa starve. A swarm creates a hiatus in queen’s laying, until new queen can start up again, thereby causing dieoff of mites. The white board under the hive had lots of dead varroa in evidence, which were probably cleaned out of old cells.

Variations of nature, weird weather and how the former and latter interact have created many experiences in my short honeybee keeping experience. Honeybees are one of the more closely watched phenomena of nature and therefore create an important vision of what is happening to the environment in a larger sense.

I’m happy that both hives should recover, although the swarming means that I won’t be able to harvest a lot of honey this year. The hobby is about the bees, not about honey for me.

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