Bugged By Bees

We’re having an ‘interesting’ bee year. I guess it’s as good as any Murphy-fearing farmer will ever admit to.

Beehives surrounded by dead bees Only one hive made it through the winter. The original hive made it to March. I fed it. They died in a cold spell. There were a couple frames of last year’s honey left, right up against the outer walls. I guess it’s asking a lot from a bunch of bugs to use a warm day to haul food in to where they can reach it on a cold day. However they also had a bunch of uncapped syrup honey right in the middle where they could reach it and they died anyway.

The July split died too, but it was my fault. I left their upper hive body with its ventilation hole facing north and uncorked. A bunch of snow got in and killed about 80% of the hive including the queen. There were a few left in March, but with no queen and no brood they were doomed.

Last year’s May split however came through in style. Honey left, lots of bees, and a big “We’re going to swarm” sign under the inner cover. I split them as soon as I found capped drone brood. This hive will now be referred to as the original, and the split is the “May split”.

Getting ready to install bees Meanwhile, Pitcher Mountain CSA contacted Lisa about putting a hive or two up there. With only two, I wasn’t willing. But the local bee store New Hampshire Honeybee found a second truckload of packages down south, and jumped on them. Lisa in turn jumped on two of those packages. Lucky me, I got to install them at twilight in spitting rain. The worker bees in both packages were probably the most vicious I’ve ever met.

The package down here took. When I went in to check, the workers from away tried to kill me, but I saw brood. When I added the second deep a few weeks after that, I had very nice bees to deal with.

Things did not go so well up on Pitcher Mountain. The first queen never got out of her cage, and the workers tried to kill me. I had to jump into the back of the pickup truck and have Lisa break the speed limit to get rid of them. The little !@##$%s were slip-streaming the truck.

We bought another queen from Charlie Andros at Linden Apiaries and did a textbook install. Yes, they tried to kill me again. It rained for a month before I could get back up there with a second deep. When I finally did, what did I find? Another queen dead in her cage (candy eaten, but the marked queen dead) and a bunch of mini-drones hatching from laying worker’s brood. I hope they didn’t find any virgin queens. That line is bad news.

Bee swarm The weather didn’t help down here either. I knew from last year’s experience that the original hive would swarm despite the split, just later in the year. So on June 15, the first dry day in about three weeks, I was going to split them in the afternoon. They swarmed at 11. Per usual, they formed the cluster high up in the pine tree that is next to the house, way too high up to attempt to retrieve, so the swarm got away.

The good news is, they left honey behind, unlike last year. I gave them a second honey super just to be sure and carried on.

Then three weeks later, the package swarmed. This was a small grapefruit size swarm, high up the same unclimbable tree. We thought they got away, but see below. BTW, the package should not have been crowded enough to swarm. Ready for a honey super, yes, swarm, no.

Bucket of bees I had to get a honey super out of the storage trailer down by the pig pen, so, three days later it’s finally good to go and I’m down feeding the pigs. Lisa heard that classic “tornado” sound around the hives, and sure enough, they swarmed again. (This is why I suspect the first swarm may have been reabsorbed.) It was a much bigger swarm this time, and it landed in a forsythia bush where I could actually reach it. We shooed 90% of them into a 5 gallon bucket, and tied a piece of window screen over it. We’re pretty sure we got the queen because the last third or so walked in voluntarily. The leftovers of course just flew home when they lost track of the queen.

Painted BeehiveThose gals are now happily ensconced down in Keene, and we have high hopes for them. The hive is located at the C&S employee gardens out by where the new YMCA is being built. It was painted by Tina Siart Boylan. We filled the hive body with some of our own drawn frames, and as soon as Lisa gets more new frames assembled, she’ll give them the second hive body immediately. There should be enough of a honey flow happening right now, but just in case, we’ll probably feed them anyway, as soon as we buy them a feeder.

Meanwhile, back at our farm, I looked into the old hive, and this time it did indeed look like it had just swarmed. Few bees, little honey. I wanted to look at the lower hive body as well, and discovered the hard way that the queen cells were built in the gap between the two supers. I have a bad feeling about that. I’m refusing to panic however because I saw something that was either a queen or dronezilla. The eyes looked droney to me, but wow was it big. I’m hoping for queen, and I’ll check for brood in a couple of weeks. As long as I’d messed things up anyway I reversed the hive bodies. They’d clearly moved up when I gave them the second, and they need to have both ready for winter.

I decided to give both hives a frame of new brood just to be sure. So I opened the old hive. The honey supers hadn’t been filled any more. I’m hoping that means the swarm had emptied the main hive and it’s being refilled, and I’ll get some more honey soon. The bees weren’t happy about this, but things were ok. Then I tried to lift a frame from the top hive body. They decided to try to kill me. They chased me all over the farm and would. not. give. up. When I was down to the last few, I had to go back and put the honey supers back on. This time they stung less (yes, fewer, not none) but even more persistent. I finally had to go into the dark cold basement to leave them behind.

I did not have the ambition to try the May split after that, so neither of the package hives has a gift of brood. I’ll keep an eye on everyone.

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