It was the afternoon of December 17th when I happened to glance outside and to my surprise I saw a swarm taking place in the backyard. I couldn’t believe I was witnessing a swarm in mid-December, but here in Florida it has been rather warm this winter, so I guess it is possible. I had to take a video of it happening.
The swarm decided to settle on one of our hives which caused me to worry about what was going on. Was this a swarm from my own hive? Was this a feral swarm trying to invade my hive? Lots of questions swirled in my head. I approached the hive after things started to calm down and saw some bees fighting, not a good sign.
Swarm beginning to settle.
Swarm finally calmed down.
A few days later my husband and I opened up the hive to do an inspection. The behavior of the hive had completely changed. They were no longer our quiet calm bees, but instead they were very antsy. Not aggressive or trying to attack us, but moving around as if they were restless. Our efforts to find our marked queen that day were useless, so we closed up the hive and decided to wait another week.
Finally on December 28th we opened the hive again to find the same restless behavior. We also found eggs, but in a random laying pattern and then…there was a new unmarked queen! Bad news for us. This means that our hygienic queen was probably forced out of the hive or killed by this feral swarm and they moved into the hive. So we took immediate action. We killed the feral queen and combined the hive with another one of our stronger hives to save any of the remaining worker bees. Combining hives has been a very successful tactic for us in this type of situation. Once spring arrives we will be able to split this hive and give them a new hygienic queen.
If you are wondering why we have paper between the two hives, this is so the bees can smell each other and accept each other. You put down a sheet of paper on top of the strong hive that has a queen, you cut small slits into the paper and then place the weak queenless hive on top. The slits allow the bees to smell each other and then they begin chewing through the paper and become a single hive. They eat through the paper pretty quick, usually within a day they are combined.
When we are working with our beehives in the backyard, we sometimes have a pretty visitor – the green orchid bee. This is mainly a solitary bee and the females gather pollen and propolis (plant resin) for nest building. We see this behavior of gathering propolis firsthand when they come and steal from an open beehive. To help, I usually gather excess propolis and place it on top of a hive just for the orchid bees to gather and make their nest.
Here are a few photos of a female gathering propolis and placing it in her pollen baskets on her hind legs.
Plenty of propolis in her pollen baskets.
She flies up and places propolis she has collected onto her hind legs.
They have strong mandibles to gather resin.
Placing propolis on her hind leg.
Here in South Florida the bees get a nice treat during late September through early November, a large fall honey flow from the Brazilian pepper trees. This honey has a nice golden color and the flavor is mild with a slight “kick” to it, however it is not spicy as some may think because of the name. I actually prefer it over orange blossom honey.
It is such a large honey flow that the bees will swarm if you don’t split them ahead of time. So we use the long Labor Day weekend to make our splits and prevent swarming.
Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius), also called Florida Holly, is an invasive species originating from South America. It is actually illegal to cultivate, sell or transport the seeds and plant. It is a very fast growing tree that spreads quickly and overtakes other native vegetation. It is very hard to eradicate because of how easy it proliferates.
Despite the negative perception many people have about the trees, we like them because our bees love them. We fully understand the environmental impacts is has had on native plants, but at the same time with honey bees on the decline, they need food sources too. This tree provides a great amount of honey for them to store and survive on during winter when not many other flowers are blooming.
Brazilian pepper flowers
Close up of Brazilian pepper flowers, they are very tiny.
Do you think this is a bee? Well, you’re wrong! It is a Drone Fly. They mimic the look of a bee to prevent predators from eating them.
Brazilian pepper seeds. This is how it got the nickname Florida Holly.
Lots of brood still being produced in fall.
Even drones being produced too!
Capped Brazilian pepper honey waiting to be extracted.
Look at that beautiful golden honey – liquid gold.
Heartland Magazine covers agricultural news, events and people in the South Central Florida region. Their October issue focused on the beekeeping industry in Florida and included several informative articles.
I was lucky enough to be interviewed for one article and to have a few of my photos featured, including the cover! I invite you to browse through the magazine and check out the articles from fellow beekeepers.
Bees protect their hive, just like humans protect their home. Upon opening one of our hives for inspection, a wasp flew into the hive. The pictures tell the story, the wasp did not stand a chance.
Supersedure is the natural way of re-queening. The bees replace an existing queen with a new queen in the same hive. There are many reasons that this can happen, some of the most common reasons are:
- the queen is old
- the queen is not laying eggs properly
- the queen may be sick
- the queen is physically damaged
- the queen is not producing enough pheromones anymore
Supersedure cells will often be in the middle of a frame, not at the bottom of a frame like you would see with swarming.
In our case we believe the bees sensed the queen was getting old (she is over a year old now) and decided they needed to replace her with a younger queen.
It was truly a sad sight to see our good old queen right next to the cells of the queens that would eventually take her place.
You can see 2 large queen cells on the left and our old queen with a yellow dot towards the middle on the right side.
Allowing the bees to produce their own queen is usually not successful in our experience. This is due to the fact that we don’t have enough hives to produce a really good drone pool and the chances of the queen mating with an Africanized drone are possible too. So this hive will either be re-queened with a hygienic queen that we will buy from a local supplier or we will combine it with another hive.
A few months ago I wrote a post about some critters that like to hide in or around our beehives. Well here are a few more to add to the list.
Southern Black Racer
The Southern Black Racer is a common snake here in the Southeast. Adult racers are usually 24–55 inches (0.6 – 1.4 m) long. They are active during the day when it is warm and will eat lizards, frogs, insects and rodents. They are not venomous, but they can bite if they are cornered or feel threatened.
This one was relaxing on top of an empty pallet next to a few of our hives.
Adult – Eastern Lubber Grasshopper
Nymphs – Eastern Lubber Grasshopper
The Eastern Lubber Grasshopper is a very colorful and large grasshopper, reaching almost 3 inches (8 cm) in size. It is native to the southeastern and south central US. The young nymphs are black with bright yellow or orange stripes and as they grow they change color. They feed mainly on shrubs and grasses.
You can see how large the adult is compared to a few bees in the background. It does not bother the bees at all, it was just hanging out in the sun.
Pink-striped Oakworm Caterpillar
We keep some of our beehives under the shade of a few oak trees. I noticed what looked like caterpillar droppings on top of our hives and shortly after this caterpillar dropped down from the tree. The Pink-striped Oakworm caterpillar turns into a colorful pink/orange moth. And guess what they eat? Yes, you got it – oak tree leaves.