Sunday, August 6, 2017

Bees are Buzzing

Don would be the first to admit that after three years of beekeeping the most important thing he's learned is that he has a whole lot more to learn. The apiary came out of winter with three strong hives and one that looked kind of weak. In mid-March he started feeding them a concentrated sugar syrup to help them start building back up. This year Don added a new supplement containing essential oils and kelp (Hive Alive) to their sugar syrup. Hive Alive's components are proven to strengthen a hive and help them resist disease and parasites. 

The plan for this year was to add two more hives, one purchased as a package and hopefully one caught as a swarm. We picked up the package in early May and Don installed it in Hive #5. Then in mid-June we got a call from a neighbor that they had a swarm in an old apple tree. We loaded up the swarm capture supplies and headed over to find that the swarm was in almost the exact same spot as one we collected in 2015. The new swarm capture went well and Don installed it in Hive #6. All was well in beeville.....until it wasn't. 

By early July it was obvious that Hive #3 was definitely failing and the bee numbers were dropping quickly. And then in mid-July the event that beekeepers dread happened - three hives swarmed. Bee hives swarm when they sense that their conditions are too crowded. The existing queen takes half the colony's bees and departs, seeking a new home. The remaining bees make a new queen (hopefully) and continue on in the existing hive. 

The positive effects of the Hive Alive and our lack of knowledge lead to the over-crowded hives. An experienced beekeeper would have noticed the problem and provided more space in the hive by adding empty frames or another box but we did neither and off went they went. Hive #1 swarmed first and Don was able to capture them. Several hours later Hive #2 swarmed and again Don was successful in capturing them. Since he was pretty sure that Hive #3's queen had failed he installed the swarm from Hive #2 in with the remaining bees from Hive #3. With no extra hive boxes available he gave the swarm from Hive #1 to another beekeeper. Then two days later Hive #4 swarmed and departed before Don could collect them.

So now we had bees in Hives #1, #2 and #4 without queens because they had left. It can take three to four weeks for a new queen to be created, to go out on her maiden flights, get mated, return to the hive and then start producing brood for the next generation. Don breathed a sign of relief when he found evidence that all three hives had new successful queens and that Hive #3 (with the captured swarm from Hive #2) was also successful. And the new Hives #5 and #6 were in full production. 

The bees have several more weeks before preparations for the fall and winter begin. Somehow we got lucky and our plan for an apiary of six bee hives with a nice diversity of genetics is on track.

From Fleur Creek Farm