Friday, July 3, 2015

Knowing When to Retire a Queen

When I first started beekeeping I used to try and "save" every queen.  My mistaken thinking was even the little dink hives just needed a little help (from me) for them to flourish.   However the reality is that Mother Nature is ever working to correct for weakness.  Hives need to do more than survive.  They have to be several steps ahead of the competition, and trying to "save" a weak queen is futile.  Ideally you want to propagate from the best queens to replace queens that show signs of weakness.

When it comes down to it, the hive and worker bees are only as good as the genetics of the queen.  If the queen is weak then the hive will stagnate and succumb to disease, predation, or the elements as soon as the opportunity presents itself.  A good queen needs a genetic mix from breeding with drones from other great hives.  Eventually through the supersedure process hives may correct problems on their own, but odds aren't great.  If you want better odds than what mother nature is giving you can stack the deck by breeding from your best queens.

Lavender is in bloom.

Poppies are in bloom.

Phacelia Tanacetifolia is a good pollinator flower.  This year it bloomed during blackberries and I rarely saw honey bees working them.

Senecio Silver Sunshine (Brachyglottis) is in bloom.

Borage is in bloom and a honey bee favorite.

Linden is already done blooming!

Privet is a popular shrub that produces clusters of small white flowers that are highly desirable to honey bees.  Most varieties of privet are evergreen, drought tolerant once established, and grow quickly making them an ideal shrub to use in hedges as a fence alternative.  Privet responds well to shaping but flowering may be compromised if hedged too aggressively.  Under ideal conditions they can grow into a small tree, and do well in full sun or partial shade.  The Chinese Privet (Ligustrum sinense) produces a clear colored honey with a light sweet taste.  However some varieties of privet have been known to add an undesirable flavor to honey crops.

Hive checks (6/7/2015)
They are building up fast and the hive is in great shape.  Added several bars for them to build out to help prevent backfilling.

The brood pattern we all want to see.

The hard working queen.  Hopefully her new daughters are equally impressive.

It's taken all season but the hive is now full of bees and they are starting to store nectar.  There is a pollen surplus building up as well and the queen still isn't laying robustly enough for them to use it up.  The brood pattern is getting more spotty and I found a single capped supersedure cell on a frame near the front of the hive.  I'm not too surprised by the supersedure cell based on everything I've been seeing.  I'm happy to see that they are identifying the issue while the queen is still laying.  I worry that with the heavy re-queening 1-2 times a year that commercial operations routinely run that some of the genetic sensitivity to queen weakness is getting lost.

The queen is still well liked.

Supersedure cell on the way.

The hive is looking good and I'm not seeing any new signs of Chronic Paralysis Virus (CPV) on nurse bees.  There is a bigger range in worker bee size than I usually see with swarms in that I'm seeing more tiny bees.   I expected this from a swarm of already regressed bees, but it's still nice to see.  I forgot to bring a tape measure with me for the inspection, but I want to check the cell size on the new combs they built to see what size they are building.  Added bars to help with the backfilling from the flow.

Bees of many sizes.

The queen is laying aggressively all over the hive and they have built up quite a bit.  I'm slightly worried they might try to swarm again this season.  I gave them several bars to build out to keep them from backfilling.

The queen is looking good.

Hive checks (6/8/2015)
Saw the new queen and they were just starting to cap worker brood!  We know this daughter was born around 5/24 and for there to be capped worker brood already means she started laying around 5/31.  That's about 6 days to emerge, mate and start laying.  I don't see that kind of turnaround on early spring queens.

This is the new daughter queen.

Queen Castle
Slot 4
This was the one with the failing queen I was testing.  She was still there with a small patch of workers.  She was laying drones in worker cells as I expected but wanted to confirm.  Removed the queen and combined the bees with Slot 3.

Slot 3
This is another Ballard daughter and while she doesn't have as many bee to support her, she also already had capped worker brood.

This new queen looks like her mom.

Slot 2
This was the tiny swarm I picked up a week ago and they already have larvae.  They also have somehow managed to make a new comb!  Since they have a mated queen this was not a secondary swarm like I thought based on their small size.  My best guess is that someone put the original queen in a nuc with bees that also had swarm cells, or the queen was far enough long in the swarm process that she was set to leave.

The queen looks good.

Slot 1
Like her sister in Slot 3 she also already had capped worker brood.

This one also takes after her mom and isn't quite as big as her sisters.

Hive checks (6/9/2015)
Saw the queen and she was camera shy and I couldn't get a good picture of her, but she's tiger striped like several of her sisters.  There was a good amount of capped worker brood as well.  Not surprisingly there wasn't any sign of disease which I was happy to see.

Capped brood.

Apparently the name of this hive has gone to the queens head because I was amazed at how much brood was on the way.  She had 12 or so frames with capped worker brood.  I suspect this is going to be an amazing queen.

She is well liked and huge.

Plum Creek
They also had several frames of capped worker brood and things looked really good.

Another monster queen.

There are frames of brood that look like this already!  Clearly they need to build more comb for her to lay in.

Hive checks (6/14/2015)
I pulled the queen out of this hive.  There is a decent enough looking brood pattern and the broodnest covers several frames, but they just haven't done anything all season.  I also saw a couple bees with DWV.  I will replace with on of my extra Ballard daughter queens. I don't know if the new queen can keep the DWV under control, but it will be a good test for her.

The old queen.

This hive is looking awesome and they are storing/capping honey and drawing comb.  The first big wave of workers has emerged and the queen is filling up every cell available with larvae.  Rearranged some of the frames to consolidate the broodnest and added extra bars for them to build out.

Brood is hatching out and they are backfilling this frame with nectar.

The queen looks good.

Another frame hatching out that they are backfilling with pollen and nectar.

They are building comb and storing honey.  They are still raising a lot of brood.  Some of the new comb they had built was crazy comb.  Gave them more bars to work on.

Going strong.

The hive looked good and it looked like they were finally starting to grow.  Had to do a lot to fix crazy comb.  Gave them some more bars to work on and hopefully not mess up.

Hive checks (6/15/2015)
Queen Castle - Slot 1 & Attis Nuc
Combined the two colonies together.

Hive checks (6/16/2015)
Loyal Heights Nuc
The new workers from this queen are far more aggressive than the workers that made up the original swarm.  This was a virgin queen so it makes since that her daughters would have a different temperament.  Broke them up into four parts with the queen going into Slot 1 of the Queen Castle to prep it for raising new queens. My plan is not to keep her around too long because I want to be rid of aggressive genetics, but she is an awesome layer and can build a hive out of nothing quickly so will use that to my advantage.

Ballard and Rebel got the other two parts, and the Nuc kept the last part.  I will give the Nuc a day of being queenless before I combine them with the queen from Slot 3 of the Queen Castle.

Bearding outside the hive.

The queen.

Hive checks (6/18/2015)
Queen Castle - Slot 3 & Loyal Heights Nuc
Combined the two colonies together.

Hive checks (6/19/2015)
The hive looks really good and they have started to build another new comb.  They aren't quite to a point where they can exponentially build up yet.

The queen is looking for places to lay.

Laying in cells on the sides of frames.  I saw this in another hive this year as well.  These are not going to be queens.

Rearranged the broodnest to consolidate the brood together.  The queen is looking good and there is a lot of brood on the way.

The new queen is looking really good.

Attis Nuc
Rearranged the broodnest to consolidate the brood together.  The new queen in this hive is looking good.

The new queen.

Saw a freshly laid egg in a queen cup that I removed.  Also saw several newly emerging workers with DWV.  Perhaps there is some carryover disease that hadn't fully cycled out.  I'm curious to see if it gets better or worse in the coming weeks.  Rearranged the broodnest to consolidate the brood together.

She has her work cut out for her in this hive.

Queen Castle - Slot 2
This tiny little nuc looks great and they have started building another comb on the last empty bar.  They should build up quickly once the first generation of new bees start to emerge.

A nice looking queen.

Hive checks (6/21/2015)
They are doing awesome except for the fact that every comb was firmly anchored to the sides.  The inspection took forever because I had to cut each comb free from the sides.  Despite that fact they were still pretty clam.

Another strong queen.

The hive looks great and the bees are so calm.  They also build beautiful perfect combs that they don't attach to the walls!  The queen seems conservative with her laying and perhaps is sensing a summer dearth.

Here's the queen.

Plum Creek
There is a lot of brood on the way and they seem to be stalled on their ability to build up any more until they get a fresh wave of workers.

This queen is going strong.

They are building up quickly and starting to store nectar.  Signs of backfilling have me worried they might try an attempt to swarm.

Saw a few 1-2 day old eggs in cells and a dark new queen. I know there was a capped supersedure cell 14 days ago. Give or take a week for the new queen to emerge from her cell that's a pretty good turnaround on mating and starting to lay.  I did keep looking for the old queen to see if she might also be there but did not see her.  I also didn't see any open brood so I'm guessing that the new queen eliminated her when she emerged.  I have seen the old and new queen laying side by side before, but so far that's not very common.  Something else that I was noticing about this hive was that most of the bees were not as regressed as I've seen previously in this hive.

The new queen is huge.

The empty queen cell.

Hive checks (6/22/2015)
Added some empty drawn comb and fixed some bad comb as best I could.  The straight comb should help take pressure off the need to build new comb quickly and give some them room to store nectar while they draw out other combs more inline (wishful thinking).  At the same time the new combs are straight so it gives them a new template to work against rather than letting them repeat an "off" pattern.

Honey comb is getting super wide right now.  The picture doesn't do this Franken-comb justice.

Another shot of this great queen.

Same adjustments as for the Rosemary hive and I wonder if part of the crazy comb is coming from them being in a good location.  I also noted that the bees in this hive seem bigger or "less" regressed.

I was checking this hive in the evening about 7ish and I noticed towards the front of the hive that all the drones were just huddled up for the night on the side wall.  I suspect they are staying out of the way as to not overheat the brood in this warm weather.

Back to the bees,

- Jeff