ANZ's Farms

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

It's Swarm Season

I was naive to think that all you had to do was put a stack of those white boxes in your yard and you would have happy bees to pollinate your garden vegetables and fruit trees. Who knew beekeeping was so complicated?! Fortunately Scott had basic knowledge before we started with our own hives. I confess it was all Greek to me in the beginning. Now that we have gone a full year, through all the seasons of bees, I have some understanding upon which to hang new information.
Doesn't Scott look handsome in his new hood and jacket?!

Winter is over and spring daytime temperatures average over 60 degrees. It's warm enough for beekeepers to inspect their hives and determine what they need. Scott found one of our hives dying of what we suspected was American Foulbrood. That's a really bad thing and we called the Wake Co Bee Inspector to come verify our diagnosis. By the way ... what a wonderful service provided by the NC Department of Agriculture! The visit and advice were free. He is fumigating our equipment for a nominal charge. He will revisit in a couple of weeks to make sure our other hives remain AFB-free and also follow up with the farmer from whom we got the bees. His assessment is that the bees had AFB when we got them last summer, so the farmer probably has other infected hives. The inspector's main job is to protect all the bees, and ultimately all the crops in NC that require pollination, from the devastating effects of this deadly bee disease.

Scott also found that one of our hives showed signs it would swarm -- crowded conditions and new queen cells (as opposed to replacement queen cells. More about queens later.) Instinct dictates that when a hive becomes crowded, a new queen is raised and when hatched, she leads half the bees away to form a new colony. No beekeeper wants to lose "his girls", so the swarm can be pre-empted by dividing the hive.  

Scott took frames with the unhatched queen cells, brood, some bees and honey and made a new colony. The short hive on the far left is the first new colony. Within two weeks, he realized the original hive was ready to swarm again. So he divided again. This time, he followed a good tip from the bee inspector and placed the new colony in the original spot and moved the original colony to a new, nearby spot. A comparison of the two new hive shows what good advice that was! The short hive on the far right is the second new colony. So now, even after losing a hive over the winter, we have five hives.

We haven't harvested any honey yet. I misunderstood that a harvest is imminent. We may pull off as much honey as we dare because our bees also have Varrona Mites which must be treated with an antibiotic. We can't eat any new or existing honey in the hives once we treat. After the treatment period, we can start anew with honey production and harvest again in August, Lord willing.

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