This is a good example to see what young bee larvae looks like in the comb. You see some eggs and the larvae which are probably 2-3 days old. You will notice a white liquid inside the cells, that is royal jelly. Worker bee larvae are fed royal jelly for the first 3 days, after that they are fed nectar, honey and pollen. Only larvae that have been selected to become queens will be fed royal jelly the entire time of their development.
We opened up one of our hives and found some small pieces of burr comb attached to the hive lid. When we find the bees building burr comb we tend to remove it just so they don’t start building all over the place and make a mess inside the hive. After removing this piece I noticed it was full of eggs. For those of you who have never seen bee eggs they look like tiny grains of rice.
Sometimes when you install a new queen in a nuc they don’t always release the queen on their own. There is a layer of candy (similar to fondant) that keeps the queen trapped in her cage and the bees eat through that to release her. Strong hives can accomplish this in a day or less. For young, small nucs this can take more time and sometimes we step in to help them out. Here is how we released a queen from her cage into the hive.
You can see her come out of the cage at 0:49.
We have been busy with life and our bees the past few weeks and I realized I haven’t posted on my blog in a while (shame on me). We had been preparing and building up our hives for splits and swarm prevention and everything went well. All the splits are doing great and we prevented swarming.
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.
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.
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.