Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Flight of the Honeybees

The excitement of receiving the new package bees quickly turned to disappointment at the Lazy Duck. After only two days, the new package bees were gone. "Absconded" is the term used in beekeeping when bees abandon their hive. To us, it was a big blow. One afternoon they were there, the next morning, they had absolutely vanished. If not for a few dead bees remaining in the box, and some slightly established comb, you wouldn't have even known they were there. It was heartbreaking.

Nobody really knows why bees abandon their hive, but we learned the following things (after the fact) related to successfully installing package bees in a new hive:

  1.  Always install the package in the evening. Bees don’t leave their hive at night and this allows them to become familiar with the hive and begin installing their scent before they begin scouting out the area.
  2. When installing a new package, if at all possible put them in a hive with at least one frame of established comb. This gives them a bit of a head start in having a place to put new pollen when they begin working before the queen is released from her cage. If there is hive with pollen and comb when she is released, it encourages the queen to begin laying eggs. When eggs are laid, the bees are more likely to stay as they will not abandon brood.
  3. If possible, transfer a frame of brood from another hive to the new hive. This goes along with #2, in that bees will not abandon brood.
  4. Put in something known as a queen keeper under the bottom frames for 1-2 weeks after installing the package, which allows the workers to come and go, but has openings too small for the larger queen to pass through. Since the bees in a hive follow the queen, if the queen can’t leave the hive, the bees won’t, either. This encourages the queen to stay and begin laying eggs and, as we know from #2, the bees won’t abandon their brood.

This has been an expensive lesson for us, as the package bees cost $150. Now our second hive boxes sit empty until we can either catch a swarm from our first hive or until we purchase another package or swarm next spring. 

Our established hive is working away. We are pretty certain the hive swarmed. This means they grew a new queen and kicked out their old one. When she left, she took half the worker bees with her. We were not able to recover that swarm. The new queen began laying after about a week. The honey that was built up was cleared out some, we suspect to make room for new brood. As summer progresses, they are left to do their work. They've visited the many blooms that have sprung up around the property, pollinating and doing all the normal honeybee activities. They have a few more months to build up their stores for winter, and in the meantime we simply monitor their progress.