It’s the end of May, which means I’ve been doing this for just over a year. My biggest accomplishment to date is getting two hives through the mildest winter on record. Not exactly a stunning achievement, but I’m relatively pleased my one starter hive did well enough to split into 2 and both are still buzzing.
Early inspections this year showed very little honey in either hive. I did not harvest any from them last year (save about a 2 inch square of honeycomb so I could sample it) and I’m glad I left them plenty of food. I made a couple of attempts at putting jars of syrup out for them, but this was largely ignored. With the unseasonably warm weather we had an early bloom of many trees, and the bees were busy stripping the nectar from my willow for several days.
Things seemed to be going well and the population in my first hive exploded, quickly doubling in size. I soon saw queen cells being built and figured a swarm was inevitable. I don’t really have room for a third hive, so I was just going to let them swarm and contribute to the stock of feral bees in the area. As long as they didn’t go somewhere that annoyed the neighbors I figured it would be a good thing. One of my neighbors a couple of houses down had been following my endeavors and asked if he built a hive if he could get some of the bees from me. I said sure, but do it quick because I think they will swarm in the next few days. I gave him the plans for the hive I had built and some instructions for the bar size. The next day when I got home from work he showed up with some strange cross between a Langstroth and a TBH. He used two rectangular boxes stacked on top of each other, each containing a series of square frames. He had been exposed to beekeeping in the past and wasn’t sure the TBH was the way to go, so had built something different. Unfortunately, this meant that I couldn’t just move over a few bars of brood and bees for him but instead we had to perform a rather messy chop job. We cut comb from the top bars of my hive, cut them down in size so they would fit, and wired them onto his frames with bailing wire. I made sure that a few queen cells remained in both hives, so ultimately it wouldn’t matter where the queen ended up, though I thought she was most likely still in my hive.
When all was said and done I didn’t think he had enough bees in his hive to make it. He kept the box in his yard for a few days and I did see bees flying in and out of it, though not a lot. He then took it out to a friend of his property that has 80 acres, mostly covered with clover, and he tells me the hive is doing really well. I need to go take a look and see how they are building on his frames.
My hives though seemed to have some issues after this. A couple of weeks later when I checked my bees it appeared the population in both hives had declined, there was no capped brood and no larva that I could see, and very little honey. This was occurring in both hives, so it wasn’t simply the result of a poorly executed split. I made some hard candy and put that in the hives, which the first hive quickly devoured, the second barely touched it. I kept an eye on them and a couple of weeks later an inspection once again showed no brood cells. There were more queen cells, but without eggs and larva there was very little chance of rearing a new queen. I’ve heard theories that they can rob other hives for eggs or larva in an emergency, or that it is even possible for an unfertilized egg to develop into a female with a full set of chromosomes, but the opinions and evidence for these things are mixed.
I figured something must have happened to the queens and that the hives were probably doomed. I know a neighbor two houses to the south of me has been liberally spraying his yard and the one between use with pesticides, and I wondered if the wind had maybe carried enough over to do the hives in. However on Memorial Day when I did another check I found a good deal of capped honey in both hives, and at least a couple of bars with some capped brood. I stopped my inspections there, not wanting to disturb them if they were recovering. My wife spotted what may have been a queen in the second hive, but I never got a clear enough look to be sure.
It would appear that both hives are actually doing ok. After an initial early bloom we had a long dry spell and that may have contributed to low nectar flow and maybe the hives reacted naturally by stopping laying eggs for a while. Now the clover and a bunch of wildflowers are blooming in the area they may be ramping back up. It is also possible the hives are truly queenless and I’m seeing the work of laying workers. A closer inspection of the eggs should be able to answer if it is a queen or a worker laying them. My eyesight is beginning to fade just a bit and I have not yet gotten glasses, so I was unable to get a clear view of the eggs. My wife took some pictures, so I can review them and see if that reveals anything. But the bees seem to be going on about their business as normal and or very docile. I guess only time will tell.
The other thing revealed by the inspection was that there were very few Small Hive Beetles in the hives. I saw one or two in each hive, so the threat is not gone, but the bees seem to be keeping them in check.