Although I’m not able to post to my blog as often as I originally intended, I did have a fairly eventful year beekeeping in my second season. I managed to raise a few queens, had several queenless colonies to deal with, harvested over 100lbs of honey, and doubled the size of my apiary even after giving away a nuc. I sold enough honey to pay for a very nice 4 frame extractor and still has some cash left over.
As we dove into one of the coldest winters in several years last year my thoughts were with my bees on an almost daily basis. I would put my ear to the hive bodies at least once a week, and knock on the hive to hear the increased buzz with every tap. Every time I knocked they always replied with a very distinct roar. While every week I went to check my hives I thought back on what my first season of beekeeping was like. A beekeeper’s first season is in general not very eventful. Your main job is to keep the new colony fed, queenright, and make sure they have enough space for expansion. I decided that with my second season I would take the road less traveled.
With the onslaught of spring time is a precious commodity around our farm. Beekeeping had to take second string to all of the other chores associated with living on a family grazing dairy farm. Planting season always seems to creep in faster than we plan every year. This brings me to the point of the second season being much more eventful (and time consuming).
One afternoon in fairly early spring I broke into my best colony. My plan was to give them their second frame by frame inspection after I had the bee club come out for the first. This queen was a particularly prolific layer, therefor the population was heavy. I made it through the bottom brood chamber with little to no trouble. Then about half way into the top chamber, there they were about 8 swarm cells of various levels of maturity. Most were not yet capped, although I guessed them to be within a day. Luckily I located the queen, and split her out into an unpainted nuc that I had just finished. (You can see that post titled “Then there were three”) The sad part of this is that there were about 6 queen cells on one frame and two on another frame. I could only make one extra split from all of these swarm cells.
After waiting a few more days I checked on the newly built queen cells (swarm cells) in the main hive and the split. They were indeed capped and “ripening” as I learned later that is what we call queen cells that are capped but waiting to emerge. Now we wait. I think it took about six more days then the new virgin queens emerge. On a lazy Sunday afternoon I was out in the alfalfa field mowing hay just getting to the half way point. I walked in for a drink and to pick my daughter up because she being almost two years old was very curious as to what daddy was up too. We walked past the bee hives on the way back to the hay field she said, “Daddy your bees are happy.” I told her that yes they probably are and didn’t give it much thought. Then I saw what she had been talking about. The sky was filled with buzzing “happy” bees. As it turns out, one of the 8 queen cells had emerged and with about half of the colonies population on board they decided it would be a good day to get out of there. They swarmed with a newly emerged virgin queen. Luckily they landed in a very tall maple that resided directly above the hives.
We walked over closer to the tree surrounded by thousands of flying honeybees. I noticed that there seemed to be a small cluster of bees on a branch that looked to be about 30′ up. Being on a dairy farm, and we also sell used farm equipment at the same location there is no shortage of heavy equipment around. I started gathering the things I needed to retrieve the swarm. Hive body, frames, top and bottom board, telehandler. Then I realized I had no one that could help get me up to the bees. I went down to my uncle’s house and asked him for help. We put the cage on the forks of the telehandler and went to work. The bees finally seemed to settle down on the branch for the most part so up I went. After getting up there it seemed much higher than it really was. I did video a portion of the capture. I will try to find a way to post that on here. I shook the bees from the branch into a box waited for a moment then motioned to be brought down. I landed on the ground and waited for a while, we noticed after a short time that the cluster on the branch was rebuilding. Up I go again, this time I took a lopper so I could take branch and all. I waited until they settled down a bit then installed them in their new hive. It was an experience to be sure; we have several pictures and a short video of the event. I still have this queen as well she is queen number 4. I hope to raise several daughters from her this next season she has a very gentle demeanor.
After the swarm capture I gave the colonies time to make sure both queens had a good chance to mate. I inspected both the mother and the swarm colony. I found eggs and larvae just as you would hope to see. We did have a slight problem with the mother colony though, they were becoming quite honey bound. I borrowed an extractor from another beekeeper friend so I could remove the excess honey as soon as possible. I was able to harvest honey from both of my original colonies. I didn’t weigh it but I know from what I kept and sold that it was right around 100lbs in total for the year!
I made several trips to my new outyard, which housed both the mother queen and the swarm colony. On this particular trip the old mother queen threw another little wrench into the simple lazy plans. By this point she has built up from the original 3 frame split into a two deep 20 frame brood chamber in about a two month span. Two weeks ago I installed her second brood box. This was the first opportunity I’ve had to check on her after the hive expansion. I decided to just inspect the top box and call it a day. I think it was the third frame in when I noticed the small peanut shape hanging off the bottom of the frame. This time they were capped; the queen was gone. Fortunately the workers made queen cells on five frames. I came back the next day; made four new splits using the extra cells. Not all of the queens were successfully mated, however it was a pretty good experience when all said and done.
Like I said season two of beekeeping can be a much more eventful year if you choose to work at it. Now that my four colonies are buttoned up for the winter I find myself looking to the season ahead. I’m not sure what time will allow with my wife and I expecting our second daughter this spring. I may be forced to allow nature to take its course, and leave the bees to their own devices. If I were to have my way I will still try to raise enough queens to get through the season without buying. I have also made several contacts to trade genetics. I’m very excited for the season ahead and looking forward to what the year will bring.