I’ve decided that this year is all about increasing the number of colonies in the apiary. I had ordered 3 VSH (Varroa Sensitive Hygene) queens way back in January. These queens and their daughters are supposed to remove Varroa mites from each other, to put it simply.
The blessed day arrived last week (beginning of April), when I met Jerry (who coordinated a group buy) at the UPS center by the Roanoke airport. After we got home, it was time to install their majesties in their new homes. I had one hive that has been increasingly aggressive, and I planned to replace that queen with one of the new ones. That left 2 colonies for me to establish.
The procedure for establishing a new colony with queen in hand is pretty straightforward. This is called making a split. You take frames of brood (baby bees in cells, some open some capped) and groceries from an existing hive and stick them in your new one, along with your lovely new queen in her travel cage. Shake in a generous amount of bees to ensure there are enough nurse bees to take care of everyone. The foragers will leave and return to the original hive, so it’s a good idea to shake in more bees than I think I need. Come back a few days later and release the queen if she hasn’t already managed to have an escape from the transport cage.
This procedure went well from the first large hive. Everyone was cooperative, and the queen was, as always, easy to spot. This queen is friendly and pops out to say hi and see what is going on. Lots of brood and groceries available to make the split. Easy-peasy lemon squeezy!
The second hive – different story. I have seen this queen only 2 times since I installed it – when I installed it as a NUC and once during an inspection last month. I had no luck finding the queen though there was evidence she was around someplace.
There was also a lovely swarm cell. Unfortunately I damaged it removing the frame it was attached to. Swarm cells tend to hatch really nice queens, and would have made yet another colony if I hadn’t damaged it removing the frame. From now on I will tip the box back and look for swarm cells before pulling frames.
Of course I did not find the queen in this hive. That is frustrating because I really wanted to remove her and install one of the new queens in her place. Since she remained un-located, I did a second split out of this hive and established a third colony, bringing the total to 5.
After the queens have been in their new homes a few days it is a good idea to make sure they made it out of the cages and into the hives. I had not removed the little corks out of the cages, opting to let the colonies get used to the smell of their new queens to lessen the likelihood of the colonies killing the queens. Unfortunately, a few days later happened to coincide with my having to work. In addition, we had experienced a couple days of cold wind, rain and snow. The only day that offered acceptable conditions for opening the hives to release the queens was Saturday afternoon. I am lucky in that my boss is awesome and let me leave for an hour to take care of this task.
The whole release the queens took all of 15 minutes, and they all paused as if saying “thanks” before diving in between the frames and getting to work doing queen bee stuff.
But wait, there’s more!
The club had also done a group buy of package bees. After I had lost 3 out of my 5 hives over the winter I felt it would bee prudent to pick up a couple packages as well. I have many boxes and enough drawn comb for a colony to not have to work too hard to get established.
The packages arrived Sunday morning. Of course I had to work but my lovely wife was able to pick the packages up not far from where I work, since Bill and Denise live nearby.
I didn’t get home from work until nearly dark so installing the packages was not a good idea, especially since it was windy and rainy as well as late. That meant the bees got to come inside and hang out in the house overnight. Overnight the heavy rains and wind woke me as if to reassure me that bringing the bees in was likely a good idea.
Today was install the bees in their new home day. I made sure their new homes had lots of drawn comb, good ventilation, and a nice view of the town. Its all about location!
Most people just spray the bees with sugar water, yank the feed can out of the transport box, stick the queen cage between some frames and shake the bees out the 3 inch diameter hole into the hive. I’m good with most of the above procedure except shaking the bees out the tiny hole.
I understand people have been doing it this way for many more years than I’ve been keeping bees. Thing is, bees are exoskeletal and shaking them through the hole probably injures a significant percentage of the 3 pounds of bees you typically get in a package. The top bar folks choose a different method for getting the bees out of the box and into the hive. They take the side of the box off and shake the bees out the large opening. I opt for this release method. Here is a n article with a video of how they do it:
I still release the queen a few days later, the only real difference from their method. I also put the transport box in an empty medium box on top of the hive and let the remaining bees walk down into
the hive on their own. When I come back to check on the queen I will remove the empty transport box and fill the medium frame boxes with frames.
I would love to have photos to show all of this, but beekeeping is often a solitary endeavor for me and my phone won’t respond to inputs from my gloved finger. Maybe when I go back in.
For now, that’s all the news to give you fits.