Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Multi Queen Swarm

It's warm, flowers are blooming, and nectar/pollen can be found in abundance which leads hives start their natural reproduction cycle called swarming.  When things are this nice it is highly likely that strong hives will issue not only a primary swarm but also secondary swarms.  The primary swarm is generally headed by the existing queen and any after-swarms will be headed by newly emerged virgin queens.

I recently picked up a 6ish pound swarm (18K bees) that was half on the side of a raised bed and half on the ground inconveniently located under a bush.  My guess is it started out on a branch that drooped down to the grass.  When they are on the ground you mostly have to scoop up bees until you get enough of them in the box to attract the rest, or the queen goes into the box.

So away I work and as I'm scooping I noticed several bees clustering around one spot in the grass.  Thinking the queen might have been there or still be there I gently moved the bees around and my heart sank at what I saw.  There in the middle was a dying queen.  I carefully helped her into a queen cage and added a few attendants and put her in the hive box hoping the scent of her dying body would be enough to get the workers into the hive.  

Wondering what happened I kept scooping up bees and then again at that spot were I found the dying queen a new small cluster of bees was forming.  I brushed the bees around once more and to my surprise found another weak queen but maybe not dying.  Not having a second queen cage on me just put her in the box.  Then shortly after that everyone else started going into the box and no new clusters formed.  

I didn't find a single dead bee on the ground besides that one dying queen so it wasn't an accident she was dying.  I suspect what happened is a secondary swarm issued from a hive and in the departure the new virgin queens became confused who was actually leading the swarm and all left together as one group.  Typically I hear about several small swarms on nearby branches that each have a queen, and sometimes they all end up in one mass and eventually work it out.  What surprises me is that the queens would fight inside the swarm like this. 

I suspect there were at least three queens in the cluster and hopefully the final victorious queen will be able to mate this week.  It'll be another week or so before I can start looking for eggs.

Sadly the photo's I would like to have posted aren't great since some rude bee was always flying in front of the lens, but not to leave you with nothing here's some related bee photos.

This was left over from someone's swarm and didn't have a queen, but is what I would expect to see if there were multiple queens leaving in little swarms.

Here's a photo of new comb that my overwintered hive is making.  The swarm will be making several frames of new comb like this while we wait for the queen to mate.

Back to the bees,

- Jeff

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Warrior Bees Are Early This Year

Flowers are out everywhere at the moment with some things blooming months early.  With the early warm weather and mild winter some things that usually would die back didn't and are picking up where they left off in fall.  To think just a few weeks ago I was saying how I would be worrying about swarms before I knew it, and now I am.  This is another early year and I've heard of a few swarms in the area already.  I will still try to stall the process in my hives for more reliably warm weather.  While I've had queens mate early in the year they never perform well.  I get reliably better queens if I can hold them off until a few weeks before blackberries start blooming and we are getting 65F+ days a few times a week.

After several years of looking at bloom times and different flowers I think I finally have figured out what plant makes this bright yellow pollen mark (not to be confused with the pale white one I've pointed out in other posts). Hyacinthoides hispanica has just started blooming and it's difficult for the bees to "hold on" to the flower and they appear to get the pollen all over themselves.  After they clean up they are left with a mark on their back.  I'm hoping to get some samples under a microscope to confirm soon.

This girl is getting a lot of attention from her sisters as she dances around.

Spanish Bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) are just starting to bloom.

English laurel is in bloom.

Tulips are in bloom.

I found this nearby hardy fuchsia at over 10 feet tall and it was already in full bloom and will keep blooming through fall.  Usually they die back to the ground in winter and then the bloom cycle starts again late summer.  However our winter this year was mild so they are just picking up on last years growth.

Trillium ovatum is in bloom.

Raspberries are forming buds really early this year.

Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata) is in bloom.

Redwood Sorrel (Oxalis oregana) is a native that likes shade.

Chocolate Lily (Fritillaria lanceolata) is another native in bloom.

California lilac (Ceanothus) is in bloom.

Rosemary queen.

The Quickdraw queen.  Notice there is a bee in the lower right part of the photo that has a varroa mite on her.

This frame looks pretty good for a hive in spring buildup.  Better brood patterns will come as the nights get warmer.

This is what backfilling looks like.  They should be putting those resources around the edge of the comb not in the center where the queen wants to lay.  By doing this they are forcing her to lay along the edges of combs.  If every comb looked like this then swarming would be soon to follow.

Lots of empty queen cups starting to show up along the edges of frames.  If the broodnest is backfilled the queen gets forced into laying here.

In the center of the photo is a new adult be emerging from the cell.  It's the only time you will see a head poking out of a cell.

Back to the bees,

- Jeff