Thursday, August 6, 2015

All hives re-queened and creatures of the night

Since all of my hives were feral hives, the State of Florida requires you to re queen them within a reasonable time.  Not all beekeepers follow this but I felt it should be done for my hives.  I chose a queen breeder in Ohio that specialized in Italian Cordovan queens which is a gentle genetic line of honey bees.  Plus those queens are a beautiful yellow color that stands out.

The re-queening was somewhat difficult while experiencing the worst weather we've seen in the 20 years we lived here.  Finding the existing queens for some reason was difficult for myself and another very experienced beekeeper that was helping.  In between monsoon downpours we would quickly look  through some frames until we had to close it back up.  Felt bad for the poor bees that put up with our intrusions.

On one particularly difficult hive where we just could not find the queen, I was taught a technique he called the "shaker method".  Basically a last resort effort to find a queen.  This entailed shaking all the bees off the frames and putting the empty frames in a brood box off to the side.  Then take another empty brood box with a queen excluder taped to the bottom and shake all the bees into this box.  Even shake the bees that are on the base into this empty box.  Place the box with frames on the bottom board/base and then place the box of bees (with queen excluder) on top of the box of frames and close it all up.  All the nurse bees in the box of bees will go down through the queen excluder to work with the brood in the frames of the lower box.  Several bees will be stuck in the top box including the queen and drones.  I did this and two days later went in and found the queen on the excluder.  Then this hive was ok to be re-queened.

On another hive I found the queen after a lot of intensive looking.  Very happy so I installed the new queen cage and then closed everything up.  Then while moving the caught queen I accidentally opened the clip holding the queen and she flew away.  She would likely fly back to her hive so I immediately slipped a queen excluder above the entrance to prevent her from returning and also preventing the new queen from getting established.  And that worked just fine other than the fact drones couldn't leave or return for 2 days.

The queens all come in their own little cage with several nurse bees.  The cage has an entrance capped with a plug of candy.  If you were to put a new queen directly into a hive, the worker bees would immediately kill her.  By leaving her in the protective cage for several days, her pheromone  scent permeates the hive and the worker bees get used to her .. all the while eating away at the candy plug to open the entrance of her cage.  Often the queen and her attendants with her will also nibble away at the candy on their side of the candy plug.  Usually only takes a couple days.

Yesterday was the second nice sunny day we've had in a long time so the hives were opened and  queen cages were checked.  Sure enough all the of cages were opened.  And the bees were like a bunch of excited little kids running in and out of the cages.  They just love that strong queen pheromone smell.

A friend suggested I put a few mouse traps on the hive to see if we have any animals coming in the night to try and access the hives.  Sure enough the traps were snapped when I arrived yesterday and one hive had the entrance reducer pulled out about 8 inches.  Some critter was trying to reach into the hive.  They were able to pull it out since the entrance reducer was loose from the temporary queen excluder.  Now that the queen excluder was removed that will hopefully not happen again because the entrance being wide open also started a massive bee robbing war.  Plenty of dead bees on the bottom board and a pile on the ground out front.  This time of year bees robbing hives is common.  Hopefully the reinstalled entrance reducer will make the hive easier to defend against robbing.

I've heard that your first year of beekeeping is the hardest and I believe that statement.  It's the year where you learn so many lessons .... often, the hard way.  It really is a lot of work but it's worth it.  These bees are fascinating and nobody .... and I mean nobody has them completely figured out. 

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