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.

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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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Spring Splits

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.

Getting our equipment ready.

Getting some of our equipment ready.

Grabbing a frame with plenty of brood.

Grabbing a frame with plenty of brood.

Grabbing a frame full of pollen, which serves as food for the brood.

Grabbing a frame full of pollen, which serves as food for the brood.

Splitting-hives

Going through the hives looking for good frames to use in the splits.

More hives, more frames.

More hives, more frames.

Providing additional nutrition with bee patties.

Providing additional nutrition with bee patties.

Finally, new nucs ready to go.

Finally, new nucs ready to go.

 

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

Wasp_3

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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.

How to Identify Elements on a Bee Frame

I thought it would be helpful for some of the beginners out there to see a frame with some important elements pointed out. I’m also providing a link to the full resolution versions so that you can zoom in.

Frame_small

Frame with important elements marked.

Click here for full resolution file of marked up frame.

Unmarked frame for comparison.

Unmarked frame for comparison.

Click here for full resolution file of unmarked frame.

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.