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It has been so dry that not even the cactus is blooming, so I was surprised and happy to see a few bees carrying in some pollen today. You can spot at least two bees on the left side of the frame carrying some yellow pollen on their back legs. I am always amazed at how resourceful the bees are – able to find something blooming in our environment that is becoming more desert-like by the day. Still, I will continue feeding pollen substitute until we get some good rains. I would imagine that pollen substitute to the bees must be like when we eat a veggie burger instead of a cheeseburger – it’s healthy, has plenty of protein and tastes ok, but it’s just not the same. I know these girls will be happy to get the real thing, hopefully soon.

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Baby Hives

Our collection of baby hives at Deadman Creek is slowly growing. All but one of these has a queen and hopefully all will be accepted. We’ll know in about a week. These queens are from Derwin Thrash, a student of the late J.N. Russell, and an all around great guy.

Our success with these first new hives will determine when we do the remainder of our hive divisions. Last year we split our colonies twice after the honey flow. This year, with the drought, there is less brood and fewer bees. This will mean only one division, and that will only be with our strongest hives. As Thien wisely noted, better to have fewer strong hives than a lot weak ones. I couldn’t agree more.

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Today the waiting period was over for checking on the released queen at the Coyote Yard that we described in the previous post. Isn’t she a beauty? When I checked the hive today she was already laying eggs in a good pattern and the whole hive was so gentle that I could check them without a veil and with minimal smoke. So that makes five out of five successful queen introductions with our new Koehnen Queens. I’ll check them again in about two weeks and if all still looks well I will buy several dozen more for our re-queening and hive-splitting project in July – if Koehnen does not sell out before then. Sure hope not.

Before that, we will do another honey harvest in about a week. We’re very happy to have more to harvest during this dry year.

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Sometimes we talk about releasing a queen into a new hive. What we really mean is enabling the bees to release a queen that is in a queen cage. Here are the steps:

First, we put the queen cage (with a queen) inside a hive that needs a queen. For two days we seal the cage so that the bees cannot release her. We want the bees to gradually get used to her scent so that by the time she’s released they will accept her as their queen. If they do not accept her they will kill her upon her release.  After being sealed two days in her cage, we remove the queen from the hive.  It is usually covered with bees, but it’s hard to tell at this point if they are trying to feed her or trying to kill her. You can see that one end of the cage is filled with a white candy. We brush off some of the bees clinging to the cage to make sure the queen is still good to go.

Next we unseal the cage by removing the cork (or sometimes a piece of duct tape) that is at the candy end of the cage.

Removing the cork will allow the bees to eat through the candy and release the queen.  If the bees are not acting aggressively toward the queen, I will hasten the process by poking a small hole with a wire through the center of the candy, being careful not to nick the queen.

Then, I put the queen cage back into the hive, between two frames of brood. That is where the young “nurse bees” are usually hanging out (to care for the baby bees that emerge from the brood), and they will be friendlier to the emerging queen than the older field bees. I don’t have to worry about getting stung. By handling the queen cage my hand becomes covered with the queen’s scent making it practically invulnerable to bee stings. I usually give the bees some feed (sugar syrup) because they are more prone to accept the queen if they sense that there is a honey flow in progress.

Then I wait 5-7 days. It’s a long wait, but opening the hive too soon could doom the queen. I am thrilled when this is what I find at the end of my wait – a big, healthy queen already laying eggs and moving about the frames like she already owns the place. This is one our five Koehnen that we installed recently. Four of the five were accepted by their respective hive, and the fifth is still in the waiting period at the Coyote bee yard so we will check on her early next week. Cant wait!

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New Hive

With our spare queen we divided a hive from The Farm and placed it at our relatively new Coyote Yard. The queen is still safely inside her cage and I will release her tomorrow (Thursday). Several days will pass before she is released, hopefully enough time for the bees to accept her as one of their own. With temperatures over 100 this week, I thought a spot with a little more shade was in order. By the time I left the yard, the bees from this small hive were already busy with their first flights to orient themselves to their new surroundings. I will bring in several more hives when I divide in July, bringing the total number of hives at the Coyote Yard to at least 10. This has been a good yard, and will be even better when it gets some rain.

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I lost the queen from this hive back in April when I was trying to put her in an observation hive. She simply flew away and never came back. The hive languished for weeks and the bees were unable to make a new queen. When I checked on it last week I expected to find a small cluster of bees huddled against an onslaught of hive beetles and wax moths. Instead I found a healthy, growing hive with a great new queen. She is in the upper right corner of the photo. The white brood in the center of the frame, and several other frames of brood, speak to her fertility. I’m usually wary of locally produced queens because of the aggressiveness of their offspring, but these bees were as calm and gentle as could be. I am really at a loss to explain how the bees made a new queen after being queen-less and brood-less for so long.  After losing some hives this year, it felt great to see one saved. It reminded me of one of my first lessons in beekeeping: the bees can usually fix their problems better than I can.

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Evicted

A key step in harvesting honey is evicting the bees from the honey supers because you don’t want to carry them back to the honey house. If you do, they will never find their way home, and they will sting you. When I had a few hives I could simply brush the bees off of each frame using a special brush. Now I use a chemical that produces an odor that the bees strongly dislike. It doesn’t hurt them or make them angry, but it does force them outside the hive, leaving the honey supers free and clear for me to rob. This is how the hives look when the bees are outside rather than inside. I’m guessing that’s around 60,000 bees, about average for this time of year. They will gradually move back in as the odor dissipates.

We are about done with round one of the honey harvest. What we lack in quantity (because of the drought) we have made up for in quality. This year the bees produced a light, very sweet mesquite honey. It is lighter in color than any honey that we produced last year. We couldn’t be happier. If our recent rains perk up the wildflowers and the bee brush, the bees might produce some wildflower honey later this month. Might…

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