Bees Need Water Too

You may not realize it, but bees need water too.  They will seek out water sources close to their hive. They use water to cool the hive on hot days, to dilute honey and to help with digestion and metabolizing their food. Luckily, I have a pond with a waterfall in my front yard that the bees congregate to during the day.

Bees drinking water along the edge of my pond.

Bees-Drinking-Water-2Bees drinking water along the edge of my pond.

Bees-Drinking-Water-3

Here they are at the top of the waterfall. When the pump is off, water gathers at the top making it easy for the bees to drink.

Here is a video of them flying all around the pond while the waterfall is turned off.

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Burr Comb with Eggs

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.

Burr comb full of eggs

Burr comb full of eggs.

Close up of eggs.

Close up of eggs.

Wasp Versus Bees

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.

Wasp_1

Wasp_2

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Wasp_4

Wasp_5

Supersedure Cells

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 half of this picture and our old queen with a yellow dot towards the middle on the right side.

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.

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