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Bee Swarms – A Model of Consensus Building

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First, it may be beneficial to understand why bees swarm. If you consider the colony to be an organism, it like any organism, must reproduce to ensure its survival. If left to their own devices, a beehive/colony will almost certainly swarm. Typically there is a prime swarm, the existing queen and up to 60% of the colony gorge up on honey and leave looking for a suitable nest. Sometimes colonies will divide themselves more than once. This inborn behavior, to swarm and reproduce, is both a bane and a positive event for beekeepers.

The positive;

Beekeepers keep an eye on the colony in early spring looking for signs of an impending swarm. Evidence includes an increase in the number of drones, male bees, being produced. The next piece of evidence is the building of queen cells in preparation of the queen leaving. The colony will need a new queen to replace the departing grand dame. The colony may make a dozen or more queens, only first to emerge will survive and mate. Side note…she may not even survive a mating flight…..she could become a tasty morsel.

The bane;

The bees swarm on there own leaving behind a much smaller population that may not build up quick enough to put away enough honey to harvest.

This reproduction discussion is cursory…..it is a lot more detailed and fascinating than this space provides. What prompted this post was observing bee behavior around my swarm trap boxes. I have three swarm trap boxes in my backyard and if the timing is right I see a lot of what is described in the large paragraph I plucked from Wikipedia. It begins with a few scout bees finding potential nest site.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swarming_(honey_bee)#Nest_site_selection

“Nest site selection

The scout bees are the most experienced foragers in the cluster. An individual scout returning to the cluster promotes a location she has found. She uses the waggle dance to indicate direction, distance, and quality to others in the cluster. The more excited she is about her findings the more excitedly she dances. If she can convince other scouts to check out the location she found, they may take off, check out the proposed site, and may choose to promote the site further upon their return. Several different sites may be promoted by different scouts at first. After several hours and sometimes days, slowly a favorite location emerges from this decision making process. In order for a decision to be made in a relatively short amount of time (the swarm can only survive for about three days on the honey on which they gorged themselves before leaving the hive), a decision will often be made when somewhere around 80% of the scouts have agreed upon a single location, and/or when there is a quorum of 20-30 scouts present at a potential nest site. When that happens, the whole cluster takes off and flies to it. A swarm may fly a kilometer or more to the scouted location, with the scouts guiding the rest of the bees by quickly flying overhead in the proper direction. This collective decision making process is remarkably successful in identifying the most suitable new nest site and keeping the swarm intact. A good nest site has to be large enough to accommodate the swarm (minimum 15 liters in volume, preferably ≈40 liters), has to be well protected from the elements, have a small entrance (approximately 12.5 cm squared) located at the bottom of the cavity, receive a certain amount of warmth from the sun and not be infested with ants. In addition to these criteria, nest sites with abandoned honeycombs are preferred, as this allows the bees to better conserve their resources.

Today I witnessed what I suspect were the final two nest sites in the selection process. There were 20 -30 bees running in and out of two of the swarm traps located in my backyard. Being an eternal optimist, I thought I was about to pick up two swarms.

 

This white box is larger in volume than the brown box I will show you next. Both boxes a baited with queen scent and have at least two fully drawn frames of old brood comb.

 

This video was taken a few minutes after I shot the white box, showing a significant increase in action.

An hour or so later I realized that I was not lucky enough to snag two swarms in my backyard. Dang!!!!!

 

They are moving in and claiming the brown box. It is much smaller than the white box but has had the advantage of capturing two previous swarms. That scent left by previous bees is a strong attractant.

I am not giving up on the nice white box, there are still a few “lookie lu’s” checking it out but the consensus? A smaller box with the familiar scent of a home was the swarms choice!

As a bonus, I have a swarm trap in my backyard that will be moved within the next few days. Today, as the new swarm moved in, this box was exhibiting a curious activity called “washboarding”. Lots of theories of why, but it remains a bit of a mystery. I thought I would share the video with all y’all. I shot it in slomo but it starts full speed and ends full speed. It is just fascinating to watch them. FYI, it was very warm and humid!

When the old queen leaves during a primary swarm, she already has a few miles on her. A queens productivity declines steadily, forcing many commercial keepers to replace her every year to maintain peak production. If you are lucky enough to capture a primary swarm, you have a queen on the decline. The queen really does not rule the hive, the workers do! It is very likely that the swarm will create “supercedure ” cells and replace her!

“Supersedure cells are often begun after the eggs are laid. The bees, knowing they need to replace the queen, begin feeding royal jelly to a young larva they have selected. They build a supersedure cell around this larva (or several larvae) and it hangs down from the face of the comb. Swarm cells, however, are built in preparation for swarming and are not intended to replace the queen, but to raise a second queen. This way, there will be a queen for the part that swarms and a queen for the part that stays.”

From; https://honeybeesuite.com/is-it-a-swarm-cell-or-a-supersedure-cell/

 

TTFN

Bishop

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Tree Top Bees

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I am in the middle of trying to coerce some bees to leave a tree so the tree crew can remove it. The homeowner is pretty sure they are the same bees that have live in the soffit by the front door for more than 4 years. She claims that they left two months ago, formed up on the dead tree in her backyard and found a squirrel hole to their liking.

My job starting today, Wednesday May 8th, is to force them out, known as a forced abscond in the Bee World. I have until the end of day on the 12th to get them out…..otherwise the bees will be dispatched and the tree removed. So here is my set up up, I hung a box on the tree above their entrance. If bees are forced out they typically move up. I use smoke with a little Tea Tree oil added to irritate them enough to move. I was unsuccessful today in trying to add another hole in the tree to help get smoke up into the brood chamber. I have a bit buried in the trunk and need to get it out. Ugh!!!

This is a 16 foot ladder so you can get some perspective. I hung a baited swarm trap box 18-24 inches above the exit the bees are using.

The arrow indicates the exit. I have attempted to drill a hole to the left side of the hole. That is where the bit is stuck and I’ll need to extract it or try a little different spot.

We, John and I spent the better part of two hours pumping smoke into the hole. On a positive note, the bees do not appear to have a back door. The bees finally found the box and inspecting it much like scout bees do before selecting a home for a swarm. We shut down after about three hours on location and prior to leaving, we sprayed a little bee quick, an almond scented spray that bees detest, around the opening. It appears it may be deterring bees from returning but bees are sporadically exiting. That’s a good thing!

Pumping smoke spiked with Tea Tree Oil as an irritant for the bees. The bees are behaving nicely but up in that position I decided to play it safe and gear up.

We sought out a beer and sandwich before the storms were expected. There seems to be a lot of activity in the box hanging in tree…..a real good thing. I plan on making use of the window of time between the storms Thursday morning to attack again, get the bit retrieved, smoke again and hopefully they move. Wish us luck.

TTFN

Bishop

A post from My Beer Blog

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Sharing a post from my Beer Blog that is at least 50% about “gardening”. Elements of Beekeeping and Beers!

Hive loss but found a soothing ale….Please check it out.

 

Easing the Pain of Loss

 

A Return to the Garden

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This morning I caught a 5:40 AM flight from Lafayette, Louisiana back home to Houston. I had a short consulting job……gotta find a way to pay for my hobbies and vices…..landing here in Houston before 7:00 AM. I bought my Goo friend and driver, John, breakfast as his “Uber driver” payment for bringing me home. I was back home in the garden by 8:20 AM.

The strawberries are slowing down but the pole beans, both green and purple, are really kicking in! Here is the haul on the first pass! A token yellow squash was also discovered. On my next trip out I will pick a bucket full of sugar snap peas and an armful of Swiss Chard. The peas will give way to cucumber plants over the weekend. Side note; I have so much Chard that I can’t give it all away… the chickens at one of my apiary locations nearby happily accept every armful!!! Somehow I have earned the label – “The Chicken Whisperer” at this location. They all seem to love my visits!

FYI, I only planted one mound of squash. I have not had much luck with summer squashes in the past but it looks promising this year!

TTFN

Bishop

There Must Have Been a Reason!

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Wednesday, April 11th, my bride and I drove over to Lake Charles, Louisiana. We enjoyed a few beers at two breweries, lost a little money at one of the casinos with the intent of picking up bees early the next morning.

Early, early Thursday morning, I drove over to Jennings, LA, a short 40 minute drive from the hotel in Lake Charles, to pick-up 6 NUC’s. The pick-up went very smooth and I was back at the hotel to pick-up my wife by 7:40 AM. She was still snoozing!!!! 8:00 AM wake-up for her, breakfast and on the road by 9ish…..

Returned to Kingwood just a little before noon and now……time to install the bees. My Goo friend John……long story, went along for the ride. I was well prepared for the work. I had feeder buckets ready to install in the hives that I set-up a week ago, and……yes, I forget to put the buckets in the truck! I did bring the lids! Not much good with out the buckets!

I also made up 6 jars of sugar water for the entrance feeders on the new NUC’s…. and…… yes I left them sitting next to the back door. I set them there so I wouldn’t forget. Hmmmm, didn’t work out so well.

So now it is Friday, a storm is on the way and I had a meeting with a client on the west side of Houston early this morning! Meeting went well and now an hour drive back to Kingwood. Change clothes and…..

Ok, I remembered to load the materials and off I went into the wind and minor precipitation. First stop!

A big wad of bees, a swarm, sitting on the ground, 25 feet from one of my “empty” hive boxes! Yee haw. I positioned the empty box, fortuitous, on the board adjacent to the bees and started scooping. Around scoop 5 or 6 the bees started migrating toward the box. Success!

About 25 minutes later it looks like they are happy with their new home! If the storm had caught them out on the ground like they were when I found them, it could have scattered them or worse. My poor memory may have, at least this time, been beneficial!

If they stick around I will be managing 17 colonies. So much for being retired! Not that I really want to “fully” retire!

I put all the feeders in place and then went on up to Blakelock’s Berries in Grangerland. There are now 4 boxes of bees up at Paul’s place. The blueberries need pollination help! Paul’s plants are young but they are loaded! I did wander over to check! It is amazing to see how big they swell up when ripe! Paul, I did sample a couple as a taste test. Thumbs up!

The plants are loaded!

In a week or 10 days from now the picking will be amazing!

The Natchez blackberries are looking good too! Paul has 3 varieties which leads a long picking season.

Tons of blossoms all the way through the fields. I am looking forward to picking season!

The day, and I guess everyday upon reflection, is the way it is for a reason. The reason may not always be so obvious!

TTFN

Bishop

The Acorn Drops Close to the Big Ole Oak!

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Just a quickie. I went over to my son’s house to let his dog out while Ben is at work. I knew he was embarking on his own backyard farming adventure, starting with compost bins. He had even began talking in terms of the ratios of browns to greens in the mix. That makes my heart sing!

He brought some,very well made, pallets home from work and- lo and behold – ready to go compost bins! Hey Ben – I found a cold Sculpin IPA out there- thanks!

FYI, Sierra did her duty.

So, next up- raised beds and a fence to keep the dogs from rolling up the produce!

TTFN

Bishop

Hurricane Harvey

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Hurricane Harvey sneaked up on me. My wife and I left the Houston area 7 days prior to Hurricane Harvey hitting the Texas coast. We were celebrating our daughter’s wedding up in gorgeous Aspen Colorado. We decided to stay a little longer and returned on August 25th……coinciding with the arrival of Harvey. United pilot flew in through the storm bands circulating with Harvey and touched down whisper smooth!

On August 19th, the day after we left for Colorado, the National Hurricane Center indicated that Harvey’s circulation was disintegrating. No worries, huh? Once the storm crossed the Yucatan Peninsula and passed into the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico the energy and circulation increased. Well, my bees, in a couple of locations, were at risk from potential winds.

My biggest worry was my top bar hive in Splendora. Less of a worry were my 3 hives located up off Russel Palmer at the western edge of Kingwood. My protege, Max, took it upon himself to ratchet strap the boxes and top bar to prevent wind damage on Thursday, the day before the winds and rain began to kick up here. I had to thank him from a distance.

IMG_3915

The top bar in the background and a triple deep Langstroth in the foreground. At the right, is an 8 frame garden hive that I had placed a strap on several weeks prior to leaving.

Now…..to Splendora. My two Langstroth hive tops were weighted down – one with a large disc brake rotor and the other with a old rusty hydraulic jack. The top bar hive was MY BIG worry. I had a couple of mechanic’s wire tie downs for the top but…….after repeated use they had broken off too short…I hadn’t yet got a “round to it” given to me to fix them …….so, Friday, the day of the Hurricane as we were driving down out of the Rocky Mountain National Park, my Goo friend John and I discussed having him repair the wire tie downs…..He was my “round to it”.

John is an over achiever and wound up putting straps on all three hives….Thanks John!

part0

In addition to a strap on the top bar in the background he added some bricks….well done lad!

Now, to wait out this storm and hope the bees tolerate the rain! I hope my curiosity can be held in check …….. I want to visit my bees! Almost 5 inches of rain in the last 24 hours and much, much more is expected.

TTFN

Bishop

 

 

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