Sunday, June 14, 2009

Swarm Cells and Alfalfa Honey

We're back after almost two weeks off. The weather turned south and for about a week and a half it rained almost constantly and rarely got above 60 degrees which kept the bees inside the hives and us out. The weather finally broke and the days warmed back up into the 70's so we finally got back in to inspect the hives last Friday.

During the cold rainy weather the bees couldn't really get out and forage a whole lot. As they were kept inside the hive they really went through a lot of sugar syrup. Since it had been two weeks since the last inspection we weren't sure how much the hives would have progressed (we are never sure of anything) but were hoping that things were moving right a long. We brought out 2 medium supers just in case we needed to add them to the hives.

As soon as we opened Virginia's top cover and removed her feeder we could see that it would be time for a super. Nearly all the frames in the top deep hive body were full of comb. The bees had just started building comb in the second side of the 8th frame. As we moved through the hive we became concerned and more than a little confused. We were finding lots of capped brood, eggs, and larvae all through the upper hive body, which is good, but we also came across four queen cells hanging down off the bottom of a couple of frames. Remember from an earlier post that queen cells hanging off the bottoms of the frames are swarm cells and mean that the bees are running out of room and are getting ready to split the hive in half leaving us with only half of the bees to produce honey. We destroyed those swarm cells and moved on to the lower deep hive body. This is where we really got confused. We found some capped brood and lots of empty cells. The queen had obviously not been down there for a while, but did have lots of room to lay eggs if she just would. So why were the bees creating swarm cells? And how do we prevent them from doing it agin?

Well, we put Virginia back together the way she was and added a medium super. Between the top deep hive body and the super we inserted a queen excluder. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of beekeeping, a queen excluder is a screen-like device with holes large enough for the wokers to pass through but too small for the queen to pass. This excludes the queen from the super ensuring that only honey is stored in the super and that the queen doesn't lay eggs up there. Who would like to be squeezing honey onto their toast in the morning and have a bee pupae pop out onto their breakfast? Ok- that wouldn't really happen. The honey is all filtered after it is extracted and before it is bottled. It is exciting to have added the super- now the bees will fill out the frames with comb and start storing honey! We have been told not to expect honey for ourselves this first year- but we can hope.

We spoke with a more experienced back yard beekeeper today about Virginia's swarm cell situation. He said not to worry too much. Destroying the swarm cells and adding the super were the correct things to do. He also suggested that we reverse the positions of the deep hive bodies. The queen likes to move up but rarely moves down. By switching the deeps we can let her move up into the hive body with more room for egg laying. This combined with the addition of the super should be plenty to prevent any swarming. We will see if we can make that switch tomorrow.

Also- we have removed the hive feeder now that we have added a super. If the bees fill up the super with sugar syrup instead of nectar we will end up with thick sugar syrup insead of honey.

Georgia seems to be cruising along just a little behind Virginia. She was not ready for the addition of a super yet. It seems like about six of the frames in Georgia's upper deep hive body were filled with comb. I am guessing that we will add a super to Georgia in the next week or two.

While we endured all those days of cold and rain I got to worrying that there wasn't going to be enough nectar sources close enough for our bees to forage effectively. I read an article about how far bees will go to forage and decieded that 3 miles would be their effective foraging limit. That article was quite interesting- you can read it here . Anyway, I got on GoogleEarth and plotted a 3 mile radius from a center point at our house. If you are familiar with geography around Lovell, WY you will be able to visualize the following: Three miles from our house goes south into the hills beyond the cemetary, west just beyond Midway Motors, north into the hills beyond the river, and east almost to the junction heading to the National Recreation Area. This is a much larger area than I though it would be.

Back in March I was talking to a member of the family that owns Queen Bee Gardens. He says that most of their honey comes from alfalfa. Well, there is plenty of alfalfa within 3 miles of the hives so I think they will be fine. I found the following interesting as well. I had always thought that honey bees couldn't work alfalfa because when a bee tries to get in the flower it triggers a release mechanism in the flower and part of the flower pops open hitting a honey bee in the head. That is why smaller cutter bees are always used to polinate alfalfa fields. It turns out that honey bees figure out how to stick thier proboscis in the side of the blossom to get the nectar but are not then able to collect pollen from those plants. Honey bees are just so cool!


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