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I've been keeping this blog for all of my beekeeping years and I am beginning my 19th year of beekeeping in April 2024. Now there are more than 1300 posts on this blog. Please use the search bar below to search the blog for other posts on a subject in which you are interested. You can also click on the "label" at the end of a post and all posts with that label will show up. At the very bottom of this page is a list of all the labels I've used.

Even if you find one post on the subject, I've posted a lot on basic beekeeping skills like installing bees, harvesting honey, inspecting the hive, etc. so be sure to search for more once you've found a topic of interest to you. And watch the useful videos and slide shows on the sidebar. All of them have captions. Please share posts of interest via Facebook, Pinterest, etc.

I began this blog to chronicle my beekeeping experiences. I have read lots of beekeeping books, but nothing takes the place of either hands-on experience with an experienced beekeeper or good pictures of the process. I want people to have a clearer picture of what to expect in their beekeeping so I post pictures and write about my beekeeping saga here.Master Beekeeper Enjoy with me as I learn and grow as a beekeeper.

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Queenly is as Queenly Does

So today was the day to check on the red dot Mississippi queen in Ron's hive.  First I went to check on Sebastian's hives.  The first split hive was doing well.  The queen was laying.  I saw one frame that was almost 100% eggs!  They were also storing honey but not going gangbusters so they didn't need another box.  I gave them a powdered sugar shake and moved to the survivor hive.

The survivor hive over there was also doing really well.  They had completely filled the top box and were putting honey in odd comb formations between the boxes so even though there was one unused frame in the top box, I thought they needed a new box.

I am using the ventilated hive cover to help do powdered sugar dusting:

It's much simpler and faster than using a sifter.  I put one Sierra cup's worth of sugar on each hive on top of the frames in the brood box.  

I took a frame of brood and young larvae from Sebastian's large hive to give to the hive at Ron's.  I put it in a green pillow case to keep it relatively warm; closed up the hive; and drove to Ron's.

At Ron's my first concern was the Mississippi Queen.  Had she been released now that I removed the old queen on Monday?  I opened the hive and found her still in her queen cage.  The bees were acting eager and friendly around the cage and had eaten all but the last sugar barrier.  There were dead workers in the queen cage.  I opened the queen cage and direct released her.  She moved rapidly into the hive box and I cheered her on her journey and her life.  

I also added the frame of brood and young larvae to the same box in the position where the queen cage had been.  That should give a little boost to the hive and keep them busy.   I marked that frame as Sebastian's R's Hive so that I wouldn't give the Mississippi Queen credit where credit wasn't due and left, hoping that the next time I visit, there will be new eggs on a different frame laid by her.

Before I walked away I glanced at the hive box (no bees in it) next to the Mississippi Queen hive.  There on the side of the hive was a newly hatched luna moth.  So GORGEOUS.  She probably had her cocoon on the side of the hive just under the top cover.  They have to dry for two hours before they can fly.  Here she is in her regal glory:

Monday, May 27, 2013

A Queenly Adventure

At Ron's house we are having hive problems.  If you'll remember he got the queenless side of the Lenox Pointe split and all of Colony Square (which at the time looked queenless).....Since that time, the Lenox Pointe hive simply dwindled away.  The Colony Square hive appears to have gone through two queens.  Neither were any good.

The most recent decision I've made about that hive was to take a queen from Mississippi that I got from my friend Steve Esau and put her in her cage into the Colony Square hive.  There was no brood and hadn't been except for about three or four capped drone cells.  With no eggs and no capped brood, I assumed the queen had died.

I put the queen cage into the hive on Monday last week.  On Friday I went over and found that the hive had not released the queen.  This would imply that the hive with no brood and eggs, has a queen.

I looked through every frame and found the queen.  She was small, with a small abdomen.  I wanted to kill her but just couldn't so I tried to pick her up on my hive tool.  Instead I flipped her out of the hive.  I looked on the ground and couldn't find her, although I found several bees who were flipped out with her.

I didn't have a queen excluder with me.  Jeff suggested that I put it under the hive so she couldn't get back in and that might have worked, but I didn't have one.

What to do?  I decided to break open a honey cell in one of the honey combs and get honey on my finger.  I held it to the openings in the queen cage and let the caged queen lick it off of my finger so she wouldn't starve.  When she quit licking I put her back into the hive in her cage in case the queen I flipped was injured and the bees would want a new queen.  I went to the mountains for the weekend.

Today I went back over there and the queen had still not been released.  I took a queen clip (borrowed) with me and on my second try was able to capture the queen (along with a drone and about three bees).  I dropped the whole contraption into a pillow case, made sure the Mississippi queen in her cage was placed well and went home.

I didn't know what to do with the queen.  She obviously is a dud and I should kill her.  But remember my experience back in 2009?  I swore I wouldn't kill a queen again.

So I brought her home and made a nuc.  I took a frame of brood and eggs from my MS nuc, I took some honey out of Drone Layer, and a frame of capped brood from there as well.  I added a frame of nectar and an empty frame.  I closed the front of the nuc up with screened wire and left them.

I still had the queen in the clip in the pillow case.  I decided that I would slip her in the clip between the frames overnight for the bees to get used to her.  Well, I opened up the pillow case.  All of the bees except the drone and the queen had escaped the clip.

Remember how she is a small queen?  As I picked up the clip, the queen slipped between the slats of the clip and flew away.  Exasperated and relieved, I released the drone.  As I leaned down to pick up the pillow case, the queen landed on my hand.  She had returned to me, since she didn't have a home to go to and the pillow case was her last resting place.

Really?  She wanted to come back to me.....OK, so now I have her in my possession again.  I clipped her back in the clip and put her in the pillow case.  She'll probably get out and be running around the pillow case.

I decided that at dusk, I'll put her in the nuc to be with the bees there.  If they don't want her, they can kill her.  I've given them a frame of brand new eggs to use to make a queen of their own.  I've closed off the tiny nuc so that they won't return to their own old hives and tomorrow I'll open the entrance back up again.

Also tomorrow I'll take a frame of brood and eggs to Ron's hive, just for support for the new queen.

Bee Art at the Hambidge Center in Rabun County

On Betty's Creek Road in Rabun County is a gem of a place called the Hambidge Center.  Mary Hambidge was an artist/weaver who started the Hambidge Center in 1934.  She believed in art and sustainable farming.  I took a weaving class there about 30 years ago.  The Center has a gallery associated with it where art is displayed and sometimes sold.

My friends and I went to the mountains for the Memorial Day weekend.  We walked a trail on the Hambidge property (it covers 600 acres) and visited the Hambidge Center Gallery.  My dog Hannah swam in the N Georgia creek on the trail!
 To my surprise one of the items on display was this:

The sculptor had put sculpted busts into the beehive and let the bees have their way with them!

My friends put me with one of the hives for a photo:

While in Rabun county, I drove to the garden to check on my hive there.  To my shock as I drove up, I could see that the top of the hive was upturned on the ground.  The hive had the inner cover slightly askew.  I ran over to the hive.  One of the gardeners said he thought the wind had blown the top off.  

There is a surround box on top of the inner cover with a Rapid Feeder inside it on that hive.  As a result the top cover isn't propolized as it would be if it were directly on top of the inner cover.  

I checked on the hive which didn't need a new box, but I gave them a new box anyway since I may not be up there for another month and the blackberry is in voluminous bloom right now in that county.  I don't understand why the bees don't do really well in that location, but they don't seem to.

I left the hive with a brick on top of the top cover. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Bee-zy Sting-filled Day

This morning started with the dentist - no fun ever.  I had planned to go to the Chastain Conservancy to check on the bees there after my visit to the dentist.

I arrived at Chastain to discover that in my stress over the dentist, I had left both my camera and, more importantly, my smoker at home.  I live about 20 minutes from the site so I decided to go into the bees anyway, using hive drapes and trusting in my slow movements to keep the bees calm.

First I opened the drone-laying Don Kuchenmeister hive.  They have a queen cell but no queen yet so for insurance I wanted to move another frame of brood and eggs from our nuc that lives at Chastain.  I removed a frame to make room for the brood and eggs and promptly was stung on my left hand.  I covered the hive with drapes and opened the nuc.

The nuc is full of bees.  It has rained a lot over the past few days and the bees were none too happy with my intrusion.  A bee flew under my bee jacket and stung me through my t shirt.  Then as I removed the frame, checked to make sure I wasn't taking the queen, and shook most of the bees off of the frame, I got attacked full force.  I usually wear hiking pants to inspect the hives - they are loose and I rarely get stung through them.  This morning I had on jeans and got five stings on my legs during this process.

I closed up the nuc and headed for home, put on my work clothes and headed for my office (I do have a real job!).

I had a break in the afternoon and came home to walk my dogs.  I thought I might stop by the Morningside garden to see if the pesticide kill is still ongoing.  I stopped and walked up to the hive - no protective gear - all in my work clothes.  I walked up to the hive as I often do in my street clothes and took a photo with my phone.  There are a lot of new dead bees so the kill is still happening.

One of the bees really didn't appreciate my presence.  She began head butting me on the side of my head, the back, and finally she landed on my nose right by my nostril where she planted her stinger.

I've gotten stung once before in the nose and it was the worse sting ever. This one matched it.  I began to sneeze and sneezed once per second all the way to the car.  In the car I sneezed all the way to my house where I took Benadryl and put ice on my nose!

Then, lucky, lucky me, my dear friend Julia called me to tell me that she was going to pick up a swarm at Atlantic Station.  She doesn't want/need it and wants to give it to me.  I was thrilled but I wasn't going to be home from work until around 8 PM.  Julia said she would leave the swarm in my backyard and I could install it when I got home.

 Julia sent me photos of the swarm collection.  Atlantic Station is a pedestrian mall in Atlanta near Midtown.  Here's what she found when she arrived:

                                                                                                                                                                            I'm not sure if the blockade was for the bees or for something else.

You can see the bees on the center part bench below.  The are clustered on one front leg.

Here they are up close:

Julia brushed and cajoled them into a large file box that she covered with screen.

At my house when I arrived at 8, I found the bees clustered together in the box - about the size of one cat.

I set up a two box 8 frame medium hive with the insert in the screened bottom board.  I shook the swarm into the hive:

Julia, with all the brushing, wasn't 100% sure that the queen would have escaped without injury, so she suggested that I put in a frame of brood and eggs.  I took one from the package hive in my apiary and put it into the hive box before shaking the bees.  And then I got another sting on my finger.

While I was out there, even though it was getting late, I decided to check and see if the Mississippi queen I had installed in a nuc was released.  I opened the nuc and to my dismay, my nuc making was unsuccessful.  Most of the bees had returned to their original hives (I should have closed it up for 24 hours, but I didn't) and the queen was in her cage surrounded by a handful of bees, but not released.

I pulled the cage out, jumped into the car, drove to Ron's and put the queen cage in his queenless hive that we gave brood and eggs to on Saturday.  The bees seemed eager to meet her.  Her queen cage is the plastic item at about the center of the picture with bees crawling all over it.

And I got my last sting of the day....the best news of the day was that now that I have developed a tolerance for bee stings, my nose stayed its normal size for the rest of my day in the office!

Truth be told, I get stung all the time.  Jeff says that if I would just wear gloves......, but in fact I rarely get stung more than once in a round of inspecting five or six hives.  Today was rather constant - a bee-zy, sting-filled day.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pesticide Kill - Sad Story

Jeff and I checked on the Morningside hive on Saturday.  It was exactly a week ago that I discovered the pesticide kill in front of the hive.  I had been back there for the next three days after the discovery and there were no more new dead bees.

But on Saturday, thousands of new dead bees were in front of the hive.

What this means is in my mind one of two things:

1.  Someone is spraying their garden on Thursday or Friday and the bees are getting into their flowers and dying.  We've had enough rain that after the spraying, the rain washes off most of the poison, but the neighbor who sprays did it again this Thursday or Friday, bringing a whole new wave of thousands of deaths.

2.  The bees are getting nectar from Carolina Jasmine which is blooming in force right now and is poisonous to bees.

The first is more likely than the second.  If the second were the case, then there wouldn't be these gaps in bee deaths.

I'm sick about it - my best hive being brought to its knees buy someone's uncaring act of poisoning their garden.

Jeff and I took the whole hive apart again.  No pesticide smell, but fewer bees, although this is quite a hive.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Michael Young on Encaustic Painting

The fun lecture I went to at Young Harris was on encaustic painting with Michael Young, a delightful beekeeper from Ireland who is frequently a speaker at Young Harris.  Encaustic painting incorporates heat and wax to make paintings on photo-type paper.

It's hard to find the materials.  Michael Young said he got a kit at Michael's Craft Store, but they apparently no longer carry it.  Here are some retailers who carry encaustic paints.

At the end he polished the finished product with a cloth.  In Ireland, he said he would use a yellow duster (?)  From searching the Internet, these seem to be very soft 100% cotton pieces of yellow fabric, like flannel without any nap.

Below are some photos to show you what Michael did.

Supposedly below is a slide show so, if the slide show is there for you (Google+ no longer has slideshow capabilities for Picasa)  click on the photo to see the pictures larger and with captions.  I'll look for another service for slide shows since Google has let me down.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

When I Woke Up This Morning, Swarms were on My Mind

Late yesterday afternoon I got an email from a man asking if I wanted a swarm over near Northlake in Atlanta.  The swarm was at an office complex called Northlake Commons.  I didn't see the email until too late last night to reply so I called the man first thing this morning.

Yes, the bees were still there.  Yes, he'd like me to come and get them.

I threw my bee gear in the car and headed over to his location (about a half block from where my daughter Valerie lives).

The swarm was on a Japanese maple in front of the office building.

I felt so lucky it was still there.  I spread a sheet on the ground under the swarm branch.  The tree was on a hill beside concrete steps, so I had to put the sheet down the hillside.

The swarm had originated from a hive that lives in a column on the front of the building.  Even as the swarm hung on the Japanese maple, bees were continuing life in the hive in the column and I watched them fly in and out from the base while I waited for the swarm to gather in my nuc box.

The column is hollow around a metal central pole so there is room inside for the bees to live, but I expect they have to swarm every year to cope with the space limitations.

Because of the location of the swarm, I couldn't just shake it into the nuc box.  I had brought a plastic file box that was the size of a banker's box, so I shook the bees into that first and then poured them into the nuc box.  It took about three shakes to get them all.

Then because the queen was in the nuc box, the bees processed into the box in an orderly way over about 45 minutes.

When they got to this point, I brushed the rest of them into the box, closed up the box, gathered up the sheet and remaining bees and put all of it into my car.

When I got home, I hived them in a two medium box hive.  I closed off the screened bottom board.  At Young Harris, I asked Tom Seeley about the swarm we hived at Chastain that left the next day.  He imagined that it might have been because they were put in a box with a screened bottom board, giving them too much light.  So this box I closed off.  As the summer goes on, I'll probably open it but by then the bees will have claimed this house for themselves.

Within a short period of time the bees were orienting, flying in and out, and seemed to be at home.

It's late in the nectar flow, but maybe these bees can get started and collect enough to get them through the winter.

Martha Stewart on How to Make a Lemon Honey Pot

The National Honey Board posted this on FB today.  It's Martha Stewart, so no description is needed because she will cover it all!

Click here to see Martha making a lemon honey pot and filling it with honey from her own bee hives!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Tom Seeley on Bees and Mites in the Forest

At Young Harris, Dr. Tom Seeley gave a fascinating talk on bees and mites in the forest.

The first part of his talk was about how he finds bee trees in the forest.  He risks life and limb to find these bees with only his dog to rescue him should he fall in the woods or off of a tree!  He learned how to beeline with Edgell's book, The Bee Hunter.

He built a small box for putting a bee in and giving her sugar syrup.  After the bee has recognized the box as a source of food, she returns to her hive and recruits her sisters to come join her at the nectar source.  When a number of bees are feeding at the box, he closes the box up and moves it along the direction of the flight path they take when they leave.  Then he stops and opens the box and keeps on in this manner until he is really close to the bee tree.  Then his job is to look around and find where they are flying to.

He found wild bee trees in the Arnot Forest, owned by Cornell where he works.  He had found 11 colonies in 1978.  In 2002 there were 8 bee trees.  In 2003 he put up bait hives (this is where he climbs trees with no spotter other than his dog) to catch swarms thrown by the eight bee trees.  These bait hives had low mite counts.

He began to theorize about the low mite counts - what was it due to?

  • The bee trees were much farther apart than we typically keep hives in apiaries
  • This should cut down on drifting (one way to convey diseases between hives)
  • This should cut down on robbing
  • Hives not contaminated by other hives might develop Varroa mites that were not virulent
With our hive boxes, close together in apiaries, we subject our bees to drifting.  We also have low and large entrances, promoting more robbing.  We don't allow swarming, if we can help it.  More Varroa may be directly due to large brood nests and less swarming. 

In trees, bees coat the inside of the hollow tree with propolis.  With our smooth sided hives, there isn't a need for propolizing the walls.  Propolis may protect the health of the bees in trees.

Since honey bees live differently, Seeley concluded that increasing colony spacing might reduce horizontal disease transmission.  Smaller hives and smaller colonies might result in less honey and more swarming but the pay-off would be better health.  If tall hives are used this will increase winter survival in cold areas.  Perhaps we should leave the inside walls of our hives rough to encourage the use of propolis to coat the hive interior, promoting better colony health.  Finally more drone comb (in the wild bees build 15% of their comb for the raising of drone) might result in better queen mating although might increase the Varroa.

There is more Varroa in crowded colonies because the drift of bees helps spread the mites from colonies that have fast-reproducing mites.  

His take-home messages were:

As beekeepers we help the survival of the Varroa mite by:
  • Sustaining susceptible bees by using miticides (stop using miticides!)
  • Fostering virulent mites by having apiaries (have colonies in isolation)
  • Fostering mites by preventing swarming (let colonies swarm)
There are feral bees and they are good for pollination, good for drone production, and through natural selection, resistance will arise in bees in the wild.

It was a great talk and I loved seeing photos of Seeley and his dog standing next to very tall bee trees.  Wish you were there!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sad Bee Mother Reports on a Sad Bee Event

Today I had a special time for Mother's Day with one of my daughters getting a manicure and pedicure, something I NEVER do - it was so relaxing and a really lovely experience.  But before the mani-pedi, I was rushing around checking on bees.

I checked on the bees at my house.  The package installed this year was full of honey and needed a new box.  I moved one of their drawn frames up into the new box and was happy about that one.

The drone layer hive was calm.  They had not used the frame of brood and eggs I gave them on Thursday to make queen cells, so I believe they do have a queen, but I didn't go down deep into the box.  I did give them a new box because they were also full in every box with nectar being capped.

The Patty swarm hive had not filled their most recent box, so I didn't change anything in their configuration.

I only had an hour before I needed to be ready to go with Sarah.  Over the weekend, I had heard from the Stonehurst that they had dead bees all over their driveway.  I had to be creative with my path to Stonehurst because with the gorgeous day in Atlanta, everyone was trying to drive to Piedmont Park and the inn is one block away from the park.  But when I finally got there, the bees looked healthy but didn't need another box.  I didn't see that as cause for worry because it has been so rainy - when could they have collected nectar?

So I had about fifteen minutes to stop by the Morningside garden hives on my way home.  I had an extra box with me - it's a fabulous hive and was filling itself up with honey.  I also had a ladder with me which is required for me now to get the seventh box off of the hive.

I got to the top of the hill where the bees are.  Should be a great place for bees.  There are blackberries blooming all the way down the hill and kudzu everywhere.  Not to mention the organic community garden at the foot of the hill.

A terrible smell met me as I approached the hive.  In front of the hive was a dinner plate size round of dead bees in a pile about 2 1/2 inches deep.  Thousands of dead bees rotting in the sun.  What I was smelling was dead bees.

I have corks as hive entry reducers on this hive and one of them was lying at the edge of the pile.  I wanted to throw up, but what I did was cry.

This was my best hive.  And here was a pile of dead bees the size of a swarm.

I got kind of paranoid and with the cork on the ground I thought someone had poisoned the bees - pulled out the cork and sprayed Raid or something into the hive.

But there were still bees flying in and out of the hive, crowding the entrance.

I didn't have time because Sarah was coming to pick me up for our Mother's Day fun, so, sad that I couldn't figure it out right then, I went home and went with Sarah for such a relaxing mani-pedi that I almost forgot about the death on the hill.

I couldn't quit thinking about the hive after I got home, so I called my friend Jerry Wallace who lives near me and is a great beekeeper.  He came with me to open the hive around 7 (I figured with the foragers all home, we could see how bad the damage really was).

We took every box off all the way down to the bottom, figuring that if someone had poisoned the bees, we would be able to smell the Raid in the wood of the slatted rack.  The slatted rack smelled normal, no poison residue, and I have a really good nose.  Jerry nor I could smell anything.  He pointed out that even if someone had sprayed a poison in the hive with the SBB and the slatted rack, the spray would have been deflected by the slats back through the SBB.

The most likely possibility, however, is that the bees have found a nectar source that has poison on it or in it.  They don't know the difference and are taking it in and dying.  So the hive is not out of the woods yet.  I often anthropomorphize my bees, attributing wisdom and emotion to them.  The fact of the matter is that they signal each other about nectar sources but aren't wise enough to notice that each bee who goes to that source comes back and dies in front of the hive.  The bees may not yet stop collecting from the poison source.

Meanwhile there are at least two full boxes of honey in the hive and still thousands of bees - it's like a very strong hive after a swarm when you can hardly tell the hive swarmed because so many bees are still there.

So maybe there's hope for the future.   Maybe they will switch to another nectar source.  Maybe all is not lost and the Mother's Day Event may turn out better than I think.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Noah Macey at 16 is Youngest Master Beekeeper in the state of Georgia

HOORAY!  Noah, one of the best beekeepers I know, passed his qualifications and last night was awarded his Master Beekeeper.  At age 16, he is the youngest person in the state ever to be awarded Master Beekeeper.

I've known Noah since he and his mom, Julia, and I started beekeeping together at the Blue Heron in 2008 or 2009.  He was just 11 or 12 and already a great beekeeper. He has now read many books, read online, gone to and paid attention to conferences, built his own top bar hive, installed and raised many bee hives.  And he got his Master Beekeeper on his first try - unlike lots of people who try for it.  What a great guy!

Our club did really well.  There were actually 11 Master Beekeeper certifications awarded this year and at least four of them were members or former members of our bee club.

Scotti Bozeman, a former member of MABA who has moved to Alabama, achieved her Journeyman certification and won a number of awards in the honey show.   There were three Journeyman certifications and two of them came from our club - the second one was Jane Lu.

Julia, my beekeeping buddy and Noah's mom, won a blue ribbon for a gorgeous honey bee drawing with beautiful calligraphy labels.

And a member of our club, Ronnie Brannon, won best in show for his amazing close-up photograph of a honey bee on a rosemary blossom.

Metro Atlanta was well-represented in all areas at Young Harris - we had many people reach levels of certification, many honey show award winners, many attendees who came just to learn, and I taught there - low tech beekeeping - which was a lot of fun for me.

What to Study for Journeyman in Georgia

Many apologies to the man who asked me a question at Young Harris today at the lunch break.  We were leaving the cafeteria and this man came up to me and asked me a question that I failed to answer well.  I thought he asked me where on my blog could he read about how to be an advanced beekeeper.

He did ask something about books he could read and I answered that the blog included a bookstore with books that I recommend.  Then I said since I had gone through a lot of changes since I started, I guess he could just read the blog entries.

When we walked away, Noah said what the man was really asking was what books to study for the Journeyman exam.  I feel so bad that I didn't respond to or understand what he was asking.

So if I had a chance to do it over (and if he happens to visit this blog), here's what I would study for Journeyman if I were taking it next year:

  • I'd read from cover to cover Mark Winston's The Biology of the Honey Bee
  • I'd read Honey Bee Democracy by Tom Seeley - not because swarm behavior is essential to the test but because in the process of explaining swarm behavior, Dr. Seeley covers a lot of the new knowledge about bees today. 
  • I'd read Delaplane's First Lessons in Beekeeping since it's the official text 
  • I'd go to EAS or another professional bee meeting this year and listen to the featured speakers rather than to what I thought would be fun to hear
  • I'd learn everything I could about queens, their biology and behavior
  • Even though I'd hate every minute of it, I'd learn everything I could about diseases - causes and treatments
  • I'd study the bee catalogs because they always put some weird instrument or another on the practical exam
  • And I'd study insects of other species than apis mellifera because I would know I'd have to identify a number of them! (and on that item you have to get 100% right)
Sorry, nice man, that I misunderstood what you were asking.  Hope if you read this, that it helps.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Dave Tarpy on Good Queens

At Young Harris this morning I heard a talk by Dave Tarpy on how good queens = good colonies.  A study by Dennis vonEngelsdorp found that of hive deaths over the winter, 31% of the deaths were attributed to poor queens.

 Dave Tarpy is on the left, Tom Seeley on the right (weren't we lucky to hear both of them!)

Tarpy pointed out that the queen serves many more functions in the hive than simply being a good egg laying machine.  When the queen is a virgin, her QMP (queen mandibular pheromone) is low but after mating her QMP is high and stays high during her lifetime.  Her emission of this pheromone does many things for the hive.

  1. The presence of QMP in the hive suppresses laying worker tendencies
  2. Workers are instantly attracted to QMP and want to touch the queen and disperse the QMP throughout the hive
  3. QMP is a great attractor for drones - drones even have a special segment on their antennae just for smelling QMP
  4. QMP includes 9-ODA as well as 9-HDA.  The 9-HDA is needed to encourage the clustering of a swarm when the hive swarms
  5. The queen also has a footprint pheromone which is emitted with each footfall.  This pheromone inhibits queen cell production.  The queen spreads this herself as she walks throughout the hive
  6. If laying worker eggs are present, QMP influences the workers to cannibalize those worker-laid eggs.
It's crucial in the life of a hive that the hive have a really good queen.  In the hives we run where we let the hives requeen themselves, there is a possibility that the bees will not make a good queen.  I've always heard this but never understood why until today.

If the hive is queenless and desperate for a queen, then the beekeeper gives them a frame of brood and eggs to help them make a queen.  The pheromone emitted by the eggs and young larvae is helpful in making the bees react as if they have a queen.  But they are still desperate for a new queen as quickly as possible.  

In the general development of a queen, the bees feed the egg and larvae only royal jelly until the cell is capped.  If the egg is to be a worker, then after the third day, the bees feed the larvae bee bread and other things - not just royal jelly.  With their goal being to replace the queen as quickly as possible, they may very well pick an egg or larvae that is older than 3 days and start feeding it royal jelly.  In the interim, it may have had a couple of days of being fed like a worker, meaning that it has a lesser quality developmental start and will be less of a great queen.

Not only that, but a queen cell made from a four or five day larvae is going to emerge in 11 or 12 days rather than 16 (as in a one day egg).  The bees may pick for speed of emergence rather than quality so that they get the new queen sooner than later. The newly emerged less-than queen will then kill the other queens in their cells and you the beekeeper are stuck with a less than wonderful queen.

To prevent this Dave says to check the hive five days after installing the brood and egg frame.  If you find any capped queen cell at that time, remove that cell, leaving any still uncapped queen cells which were of course started with younger larvae and thus more likely to be successful queens.

That last paragraph was worth going to the conference to learn - thanks, Dave Tarpy.

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