Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Great Divide and Mr. Abbott's Little Bee

We have a new pollinator in the hood. Mr. Abbott's Little Bee, named in honor of the very generous man who lets us keep our hives on his land.

Our apiary is in Northfield, MN about an hour away. Situated on a small apple and apricot tree orchard with a lovely vegetable garden. The property itself has been chemical free for over 20 years as have four out of five adjacent pieces of property. One farmer nearby uses heavy chemicals. Can't help where the field bees will forage but we seem to have a large area of organic property at hand.

Last evening we set out to do our first "split" or more commonly know as a divide. Overwintered hives can get too crowded and swarm. Other factors can contribute to swarming including a warm mild winter, early spring, and older queens. I'd say here in Minnesota we have the perfect storm for swarming. The experienced beekeeper stays one day ahead of the bees and recognizes signs of swarming. Bees that are slightly agitated, a queen laying excessive drone cells, bees that seem to be building queen cups or swarm cells and queens that are slimming down. Now I am going to be honest I still struggle with knowing the difference between a queen cup and a swarm cell and I wouldn't know a skinny queen if I saw one. I am always so firkin protective of my queen that as soon as I see her I am getting her back into the hive. I am scared to death she will up and fly away.

It didn't really matter if we could see swarming signals or not, we knew the hive needed to be divided. In order to divide a colony you need yet another queen. The goal is locate your queen in the original colony, also know as the parent colony. Isolate her and then divide your frames of brood evenly, taking half for a new colony and setting up a new brood box with those frames. You can also move frames with honey, nectar, pollen and comb to the new box. Put your little caged queen inside, wait four days for queen acceptance and release her and vuala you now have two hives.

It reads so simply, completely fooled me. The bees, they were not happy, we had a total royal ruckus on our hands and got so overwhelmed we forgot some important steps. Nothing we can't fix mind you but it will require yet another trip to the bee yard.

Before tackling the divide we checked our other hives. Katrina's Drone Den is building comb nicely and her queen is a layin' we had some really nice brood on several frames. She is also taking the sugar syrup and pollen patty so we replenished both. So far she seems like a happy docile group of girls. We only saw a few drone cells. We can't check Royal Ruckus for another few days, they are still working on the finishing touches of queen acceptance and can't be disturbed until at least Friday. Crazy Comb, well she continues to live up to her name. We though that maybe with a new queen the genetics would change and temper her behavior. Those girls just love to pack the comb in all the wrong places. We spent some time cleaning her out and trying to find her queen. No luck. Now had we been on our game we might have realized that she is backed full of brood and bees and had one or two swarm cells or queen cups. Had we been thinking we probably would have selected her for the divide instead of the Turquoise Bee. However in fairness to us, we don't know where our queen is and we had not taken any measure to isolate her. We were thinking clearly enough to throw on a queen excluded to find the little dickens and moved on.

We opened up the Turquoise Bee and found our queen, we always do, 100% of the time. She seems to be an easy target. Focused on our mission we overlooked the fact that this colony didn't seem as strong as we had thought. Maybe it is because the bees are spread out in 3 boxes but it took us awhile to find enough frames of brood to split. We went though each and every frame painstakingly assessing which to move and which to keep. Within a matter of minutes we had created our own little swarm. I got stung, twice and had to leave the bee yard. I am taking a lesson from Paula, get out quick, remove the stinger and get on the deodorant.  My elbow is the size of Texas, feels just like how I imagine Tetanus would feel and I grew a third breast over night, sweet. Paula, well you can hardly tell she was stung last Friday so it didn't seem to matter that she got another on the ankle. We finally got the new hive situated and put the Turquoise Bee back together again, forgetting that we wanted to move the box with the queen to the bottom of the hive. DANG IT! We made a quick executive decision that we had caused enough disruption with the hive that we had to leave the girls alone. No more meddling. We got the new queen in her cage nestled in between two frames inside Mr. Abbott's Little Bee and closed her up, admired our work and took a few pictures. It was a beautiful evening, the sun setting just in front of the bee yard, smoke from the smoker bellowing away. Nothing could be more perfect.

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