Waiting for a queen

En maar wachten
En maar wachten

After making an artificial swarm from my main colony, by taking a portion of the colony and the queen and putting them in a separate temporary hive box, my main colony had to make a new queen. They already had started by making queen cells before I made the artificial swarm, which is a good indication you need to take action or they will do it for you. I removed those queen cells because you want to know when you can expect a new queen. They had comb with new eggs so there was ample opportunity to make a new queen.

A few days after making the artificial swarm and taking the queen I went back to see if they had reacted to the emergency supersedure by making emergency queen cells. The had, I had to go through the entire hive an decide which two queen cells I wanted to keep. I ended up keeping three, you don’t want to keep to many or you still end up getting a swarm because of to many queens hatching, which can happen.

After two weeks I came back to check if the queens cells were empty. They were completely gone, the workers had already cleaned them up. Looking for the queen at this stage is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Normally is tough to find a queen even if she is marked, but a new queen is even more difficult to distinguish from worker bees. So I didn’t even try. It was easier to wait until you find eggs. I thought that little more than a week would be enough time for a new queen to get impregnated and start laying eggs. Apparently that wasn’t, there were no eggs to be found. I found out later that in a larger colony it can take the queen longer to start laying eggs. I got slightly worried then as at that time I thought I was also having trouble with my colony from the artificial swarm, it seemed the workers were laying eggs (more on that later)… So I was in a situation where I thought I had no queens and no eggs, so no opportunity for the creation of new queens. The honeybee season was nearing the end so there was not a lot of time for a new queen to get impregnated as at the end of the season all the drones die.

Just to be on the safe side I got a comb with eggs from a fellow beekeeper to see if the bees would make emergency queen cells on that comb. If they didn’t then I could be quite certain that I had a queen. After a few day I checked and the new comb was free of emergency queen cells so I could be sure I had a new queen, panic averted. Next more panic…


Swarm preventative measures

WP_001406After buying a bee colony which you will probably do in June or July, the important action you most likely will have to perform first is taking swarm preventative measures.

When a colony exceeds a certain number of bees it will want to swarm. If a colony becomes to big it will most likely overheat the hive, which will kill the colony. A colony will swarm irrespective of the amount of room it has. The colony will need a new queen to swarm, worker bees will initiate the swarming by building queen cells. The old queen will take about half the colony and leave the hive to find a suitable place for a new colony.

To prevent loosing half your colony you will have to anticipate the formation of a  swarm by being watchful and notice when the colony begins to make queen cells. When you notice queen cells you can immediately make an artificial swarm. If you’re not quite ready removing the queen cells will give you some time. When you have decided to make an artificial swarm there are a number of ways you can proceed, some methods require more work than others, I’ll cover a few here.

You will need to make a number of decisions when making an artificial swarm. You first decision concerns the old queen, do you keep her with the old colony or will she accompany the artificial swarm. When you put the old queen with the new colony the old colony will need freshly lain eggs (up to 3 days old) with which they can make a new queen. The same thing goes if you keep the old queen with the old colony, the new colony will need freshly lain eggs to create a new queen.

Then you have to choose where you want to place the new colony. If you want to put the new colony close to the old colony all the gathering bees will fly back to the old hive. You have to take that into account when adding bees to the artificial swarm as it will lose many bees to the old hive. The new colony also will need food to last until the younger bees start foraging. Also bees that are to young to forage don’t yet protect the hive, you will have to keep the hive entrance very small to ward of stealing, which bees will do. In time the young bees will be old enough that they will start to protect the entrance and go forage.

When you don’t place the new colony close to the old colony you have to make sure the distance to the old colony is at least 6 kilometers (3.7 miles), that is about as far as honey bees fly when foraging. Placing the hive inside that range will cause many bees to return to the old hive.

Getting a new queen in the old or new colony also takes some doing. When the bees notice that they are queen-less, which happens quite soon after they become queen-less, they will make what is apparently called a emergency supersedure (wiki) by converting a normal worker cell with a young egg into a queen cell and feeding the developing larva royal jelly. As beekeeper you should either remove all but two queen cells or be very attentive or risk an after swarm. The development of a queen takes about 16 days and the egg that occupied the cell that was made into a queen cell could have been as old as 3 days. After 13 days a beekeeper should start listening at the hive, if a queen has hatched you will be able to hear make a noise by vibrating against the comb. The queens still in their cells will do the same in their cells which will sound slightly different. When you notice this you will need to remove the other queen cells to prevent getting an aforementioned after swarm.

Mijn originele moer
My original queen

The new queen will most likely kill the virgin queens in their queen cells for you but just to be on the safe side removing them is best. Normally virgin queens will continue leaving the colony if they decide the colony is still to large. Having one artificial swarm per year is most often enough. Needing a second one is very rare.

An other thing you can do, instead of letting the colonies make their own queen, is introduce a new fertilized queen from a pure breeding line. You can do this to get a colony with more desirable traits, like docility, increased honey production and low swarm tendency. However doing this is something for the more experienced beekeeper, because it can go wrong and the bees may not accept the new queen and kill her.

After a number of generations of queens from a pure line queen the colony will lose the traits associated with the original subspecies of the first queen. They will most likely become more aggressive and the tendency to swarm will increase. Swarm management is one of the most important tasks in beekeeping, only varroa treatments are about as important to the survival of you colony.


New beekeeper

imker cursus
Looking for the queen

Also through my background as a biologist, even though I’m not a entomologist or anything, I am interested in everything animal and science related. Because I keep up with current issues related to the natural world I knew of the plight of the bees, not only the honey bees. Even before I knew this I have been trying for years for my parents to get bees in their garden. Although I know now that wouldn’t have worked without a load of help. As I have been, fruitlessly, trying for a long time I thought it time to take some initiative and research the profession of keeping bees. Together with my mom I went to visit a view day for the north Netherlands beekeeping society. After talking to the beekeepers there we learned that the next year an introductory course would be given in beekeeping.

We decided to enroll for this class. The course started in the beginning of the year in February and would last until the beginning of the fall in October and would end in an exam where we would receive a diploma stating we were beekeepers. Which would not allow us to do anything we would otherwise not be allowed to do except take an “expert” course the next year. We would get 7 theoretical lessons and 10 practical lessons throughout the beekeeping season. We were told to buy a book that would serve as basic course theoretical information. The practical lessons were given at a beekeeping society apiary where the had a number of bee colonies specially for the students, which were….. . As you shouldn’t bother the bees when it’s to cold we started the course with a number of theoretical classes, which lasted longer than anticipated because of the cold weather at the beginning of last year.

The theoretical lessons were slightly dry so to speak, without practical interaction with the bees. It would have been better when the theoretical classes would have been given together with the practical lessons. It would have put the lessons in perspective and made them better to grasp as we could have related the theory with practice.

So started my journey on the road to being an apiarist. The course is only a begining and will not make you an experienced beekeeper but you have to start somewhere. I now continue my journey of learning by letting them teach me what I need to know.