Last week I wrote about the ongoing drama in the bee yard. If you missed the post, you can check it out here. When I wrote the last post, we had eight colonies of varying sizes and only four of those colonies had queens. These numbers are not great. Just when things were really starting to look bleak, we had a few positive developments.The first piece of good news is we had four consecutive days without rain. This is the first week where the weather actually felt like summer. Some people like sunny, warm days so they can lay by the swimming pool. We like sunny, warm days so our virgin queens can fly off and successfully mate with drones.
The second piece of good news was that Doug had a free day that he could spend painting new wooden boxes and re-arranging frames in the existing hives. I am a spring and fall beekeeper. Doug has to do everything in summer. Last year I developed bad eczema that does not respond well to heat and humidity. When I wear a bee jacket in the summer months, my skin burns and feels like it is going to peel off my body. In summer I am only good for blogging, offering encouragement, and bringing Doug ice water after he inspects the hives.
Today Doug inspected all the hives. Six of the eight colonies now have queens. The super frustrating part is that we should have seven colonies with queens. One of the hives without a queen just had a newly purchased mated queen installed 2 weeks ago! That purchase didn’t help us much. We don’t know what happened to her. There is no evidence of swarming. Did the other bees kill her? Did she fly away? Was she cast out? We don’t know. In general, we have better luck with queens that the bees make than the ones we purchase and install in the hive. Maybe the bees don’t like puppet regimes and feel they should create their own ruler rather than having one imposed upon them. Who knows.
The only reason our bees have been able to withstand these long periods without queens is because we have multiple colonies. We take frames from the strong colonies and move them to the weak ones to keep them going until they make a queen. For anyone considering beekeeping, I would strongly suggest having at least two colonies if you can afford to do so. If you only have one colony, you don’t have many options to help your bees when they are in trouble. Beekeeping is a lot like chess. You need to have pieces to move if you want to win the game. The more chess pieces you have on the board, the stronger your position. In beekeeping the more hives and frames you can move around, the better your chances of keeping all the colonies strong.
The last piece of positive news is that disease and pestilence seem to be in check…for now. Beekeeping requires hyper vigilance as it relates to pest management. Small hive beetles decimated one of the cells of the queen castle last month. Today the small hive beetles all seemed to be in check. Nearly all the colonies have had brood breaks because they went for so long without queens. Varroa mites like to feed on the capped brood. Brood breaks are a chemical free way to help keep varroa mites in check. Varroa mites are the beekeepers worst foe and must be actively combatted or you will lose all your bees. Next month, I will do a mite check. Look for a blog post all about that in the future.
Now we need our existing queens to stay put and lay eggs. We need our queenless colonies to make new queens. I am not buying anymore queens this year. Those fickle queens just fly off and waste my money. If the bees don’t make new queens, we will just have to combine hives to make larger colonies. Keep your fingers crossed for a coronation.