Invading Africanized Swarm

A small swarm of Africanized bees tried to enter and invade one of our European honey bee hives.  This is the second time we have been able to witness this interesting and natural phenomenon. The first time we witnessed a swarm trying to enter a hive was a year ago.

When we arrived at our bee yard and got out of our truck, we were met by a few aggressive bees.  We thought this seemed odd since our gentle honey bees usually don’t chase us unless something is wrong, so we continued as usual to inspect our hives.

We opened up the first 2 hives and everything looked normal – the bees were calm and we saw eggs, a sign that the hives had a queen.  We closed up the hives and moved along to our next set of hives about 25 feet away from the first set.  Within about 10 mins I saw bees swarming – a cloud of bees flying around.

We rushed back over to see what was going on, and found that one hive was being attacked. There was a gathering of bees on the back of the hive and bees in the front of the hive were fighting.

Swarm on back of hive

Swarm gathered on back of the hive.

Bees fighting

Bees fighting

Bees fighting

Bees fighting

Bees fighting

Bees fighting

As my husband took a closer look at the bees gathered on the back of the hive, he saw a queen!  This was the queen from the small swarm.  What are the chances we would see that!

I caught the queen to make sure she would not enter our hive and try to kill our good queen.  In the meantime, the worker bees continued to fight.  I put the queen to the side and after about 15 minutes the swarm gathered around the trapped queen and things started to calm down at our hive.

Africanized queen

Queen from the swarm caught!

Swarm around queen

I put the queen aside and the swarm gathered around her.

As I walked around I found where the swarm originated from in a small tree close to our hives. Africanized bees usually have small swarm clusters that are capable of invading established hives and taking over.  This is part of their natural behavior.

AHB-Swarm-3

Tree where the small swarm was hanging out.

Since the swarm was close by they probably smelled our hives when we opened them up for inspection and were attracted to them.  Before we left, we had to take care of the swarm queen. In order to make sure she would not invade our hive we had to kill her.  Sad, but necessary to protect our hive.

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Installing a new queen

We requeened a few of our hives this weekend. We buy our queens from a local supplier. I took a short video showing how we install the queen cage. You can see the bees immediately smell the queen and come towards the cage to release her. The tip of the cage is full of fondant. The worker bees will eat through this and release the queen into the hive. We usually go back in 24 hours to check and see if the queen has been released. If not, we open up the cage and set her free into the hive. The next week will be crucial to make sure that she is fully accepted and will begin laying eggs. It is best to leave the hive alone for the next 7-10 days.

Splitting a hive

Two new splits.

Two new splits.

This weekend we split two of our strongest hives and created two new hives.  We did this to increase the number of hives we have, but to also prevent swarming.  Spring is prime swarming season, so we do what we can to reduce the chances of that happening.

There are several ways to make a split, and every beekeeper will have different methods and advice.  I will explain the method we used, but before making a split of your own always make sure the hive is strong enough to split, that you have the necessary equipment (including ordering queens ahead of time if you go that route), and that the weather is warm enough.

Here was our method:

  1. Make sure the strong hive has at least 8 frames of brood.
  2. Move 4 frames of brood and 1 frame of honey into a new hive.
  3. Locate the queen and move her to the new hive.
  4. Make sure the old hive has at least 4 frames of brood, including a frame with eggs/uncapped brood, and 1 frame of honey.
  5. Fill in the rest of the old and new hives with empty built or new unbuilt frames.
  6. Put entrance reducers on the hives.

The eggs/uncapped brood in the old hive will give the worker bees what they need to produce a new queen.  We’ll give them 2-3 weeks to produce a queen. If they are unsuccessful, then we will introduce a mated queen from a local queen supplier.  Alternative method: After the split you can wait 24 hours and then introduce a new mated queen instead of waiting for the hive to produce their own queen.

If you are using new unbuilt frames, then you should also feed.  Feeding stimulates wax production so the worker bees will build out those new frames faster.

Entrance reducers help the smaller population guard the entrance of the hive from pest and other intruders.

I’ve put together a Q&A list of some common questions.

Why to split a hive?
There are a few reasons to split a hive.

  • To discourage swarming
  • To increase your number of hives for honey production
  • To control mites

How does splitting discourage swarming?
When a hive becomes strong, it is a natural behavior for part of a bee colony along with the queen to leave the hive and create a new hive. This is the way bees reproduce in nature.  When you split a hive you are removing half of the bee colony.  This makes the bees “think” they have swarmed.

How does splitting control mites?
When you leave a hive without a queen for 2-3 weeks that breaks the brood cycle.  Mites reproduce by laying eggs on bee brood, so if the bees are not producing brood, mite populations decrease.

Do I need to feed?
If you have introduced new unbuilt frames into the hive then, yes, you should feed.  This will help the bees draw out comb faster. Just use a 1:1 ratio of sugar and water. If you are using empty built frames and have enough honey in the hive, then you should be okay not feeding. Bees consume about six pounds of honey to produce one pound of wax.

Here we are with our 2 new hives.

Here we are with our 2 new hives.

Hive Combination & a New Queen

Just wanted to give a quick update of our weekend inspection.  A few weeks ago I posted about a queenless hive and a round queen cell.  Well, we have a new queen!  We didn’t see her, but we did find new eggs and very young brood, positive signs that there is a queen. 🙂 We’ll try to find her and mark her during our next inspection.

Then we had a hive that was not doing so great these past weeks.  It happens.  The population was dwindling and the queen was not laying,  so we had to make a decision.  We killed the old queen and combined the weak hive with one of our strong hives.  We decided not to requeen because the population was small and could not support a new queen at this time.  Soon we’ll split the strong hive, thus creating a new hive and give the bees a chance to produce a new queen.

Well fed bees

Two weeks ago we added a second floor to our strong hives and they are doing very well. Here is a frame we pulled from the top chamber.  You can tell right away that these are well fed bees.  The brood (baby bees) are clustered together and capped in the center. Very nice laying pattern, meaning the queen is good.  Lots of capped and uncapped honey surrounding the brood, meaning they have plenty of food for the adults and to feed the larvae.

well-fed-bees

Round queen cell

In the 2 years we have been keeping bees, I have never seen a round queen cell.  Most queen cells are elongated, but this one is a round ball.  A week ago this hive was doing fine and had a queen, then while inspecting them we noticed they were a little aggressive.  My poor husband got stung 4 times and finally put on his gloves. We looked and did not see any new eggs and searched for the queen, but did not find her.  There were 3 other queen cells in the hive too.  Maybe the queen died from natural causes? Maybe she was rejected from the hive for some reason?  Who knows for sure.  The queen cells look like emergency cells, so we left them as is and will check this hive in 2 weeks.

A round queen cell.

A round queen cell.

Close up of round queen cell.

Close up of round queen cell.

Time for a second floor

We check our bees once a week and when we arrived we found one of our hives bearded up.

Bearded hive

Bearded hive

We initially thought the bees were just hot because we have been having record heat for late February.  It was 87°F (31°C)!  But after we opened up the hive to really see what was going on they were full and needed a second floor.  The bee population within a week literally exploded in this strong hive.

Full hive

Full hive

We will likely split this hive very soon to prevent the queen from swarming.

Yanni with his hive.

Yanni giving the all good thumbs up.

So before we said goodbye we added a second deep with both built and unbuilt frames to give our bees some more room.