Beekeeping and Honey!
Cast of 'The Hive' - Part 1- 'The Queen' August 15 2013, 0 Comments
Out and about in the community running our honey stall at markets, I often get asked about who does what in the hive. Questions like 'is the Queen the Boss?', 'what do the boy bees do?', 'how do they produce different flavoured honeys?'...This post is about trying to sum up some of these questions.
The Queen of the Hive is about half as big again as the worker bees. She has a sleek, shiny abdomen that has paired ovarioles numbering about 150 within her large ovary. Some say she is waspish in appearance, as her wings are smaller than a workers', as is her head. However, she does not have any of the waspish tendencies such as twitching and edgy movements.
Once the Queen has hatched from her cell and has done a small orientation flight, she will go on her 'mating flight'. This entails flying around and emitting a 'come hither boys' pheromone. Once the boys do 'hither' along, she has copious amounts of...copulation with as many males as she can (usually about 8-20!). She then heads back to the hive to start her life of Queenly state.
After her day of passion, the Queen becomes pretty much like the Queen of England. She produces a pheromone called the Queen Substance. This is spread around the hive, and basically tells the workers that 'everything is fine, go about your business'. This is very much like the Queen waving at the people from the Balcony- Yes, dears, everything is fine, go back to your lives! [insert calm wave here]. And now she starts laying eggs. Lots of them. Up to 1500 a day in the peak of spring! She doesn't clean herself, or feed herself. The Queen has a retinue of worker bees who attend her, and spread the Queen Substance around the hive, and direct the Queen to comb they want her to lay eggs in. She remains in total darkness (except during an inspection from a beekeeper ;-) and lays eggs for the next 2-4years! When she is judged by the hive (or beekeeper) to be too old, she is deposed, in fact, laying the egg that will be the new Queen... and her own doom!
(Photo Source: http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/324761/Diamond-Jubilee-Queen-s-heartfelt-Jubilee-message)
First Split February 14 2013, 0 Comments
Over the spring we noticed that our first ever hive, dubbed the very original name of 'Hive 1' was getting very full. As in VERY full. Even on the 'cooler days' there were bees all over the front of the hive, and at 2 full depth supers already on the brood box there was no way we were going to repeat the lunacy our first summer and go to 3 supers! As novice beekeepers we made the mistake of supering up, but failed to harvest at the same time, which lead to the problem of a huge summer hive with no space. Having read in the books about this magical solution, we added another super, then another... You get the picture, and by the end of summer, trying to do anything with Hive 1 was near impossible.
Soooo. After reading more, and some free advice from the local beeman - 'oh, ya don't need more than 2 supers' (you know what they say about free advice) we got them to a manageable 2 supers over 'winter'; you know when it is supposed to rain but doesn't (I have read about winters in books too) and waited for the activities of spring.
All through the spring we held our breath as we buzzed around the garden with our new nucleus and a caught/then hived swarm - dubbed, you guessed it, Hive 2 and Hive 3! And miracle upon miracle they didn't swarm. Even though alot of the bee books say that queens under the age of about 3 don't tend to swarm, the worry was there with such a strong hive. Finally, we plucked up the courage (probably bolstered by our successful removal of a hive out of a wall - Hive 4 - which is a story for another day) and decided to do a split.
Following the 3-P rule of preparation, preparation, preparation we picked a good weather day (only about 35degrees) and hopped to it. It started with removing the two supers from Hive 1, reducing the faces (exposed area of bees ie if the lid is off, that is an exposed face of bees), and opening up the brood box. BTW, a related side note. When getting a queen excluder - don't cheap out. Get a metal one that won't going to bend when it warms up. In Australia, the summer heat is HOT (we have had so many over 35's that I have lost count!) and the plastic ones bend. Add all the propolis the girls slather about and the excluder gets struck on the middle brood comb frames. As you go to lift the super from above, the frames stuck to the excluder, lift at the same time. This is NOT recommended! Your queen is most likely on these centre combs and if they get dropped, you run the risk of damaging her.
Anyway, back to the split-story. We decided to do a 4/5 frame split, leaving the queen in Hive 1 and taking about 1/2 of the brood combs to the new hive - Hive 5. We took 2 egg brood frames, 1 capped brood frames and 1 mixed brood. The egg brood is so the new hive can raise up its own queen. These must be less than 3 days old. This is because all bees are the same at this stage and can become either a worker or a queen bee, whereas at day 3 where their food changes and the nurse bees treat them differently. Once the hive realizes that there is no queen present (no queen substance can be smelt throughout the hive) they begin to raise a new one from the eggs on the frames, building a peanut shaped casing around a selected (or several) cells. We took all the house bees on those frames too, and shook quite a more bees into the new box too to add to the hive strength. Giving the new hive a variety of brood combs meant that there would not be so much of a gap between the raised queen's new bees and the old bees that would soon be passing. Summer is a hard time for the ladies; they tend to only last ~35 days and with a gap of about 18 days of no laying, there is a gap of about 2 weeks after the new queen starts laying.
It was fascinating to watch how despondent the bees became in the first three days without a queen - milling around on the alighting board, weaving back and forth on the sides of the box. It was like they had no sense of purpose that is so obvious with a 'normal' hive. Once the queen cells were built we saw renewed efforts in cleanliness, gathering behaviours and guarding the alighting board once more. At least, this is what we think because of course, we couldn't check inside the brood box to see if this was the case (with such upheaval if we had done an inspection, the bees would most likely have abandoned the attempt to re-queen themselves and absconded/swarm)About 8 days later we carefully cracked open the boxes, and to our delight, there they were - beautifully made queen cells. Unsure whether we should remove all but one, we left them and I hopped online to ask the other beeman about them. He suggested removing all but one, and I intended to... well you know what they say about intentions. Anyway, several days later, all the queens had emerged and upon inspection we found new eggs in the brood comb...
This weekend we will confirm Her Majesty by actually sighting her... how exciting!