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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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Oh Honey

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Cutting the cap off a beautiful honey laden frame releases a burst of honey and floral aromas. Mmmmm finger licking good!!

Includes screen shots from the uncapping video.

That pure and clean capping wax is used in the Rosemary/Peppermint lip balm that I make in my spare time! FYI – I don’t make it very often!

TTFN

Bishop

Green Beans Anyone? 

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A few days ago I wrote about enjoying late November strawberries. Today, November 29th, I cruised through the the garden and snacked on the only ripe strawberry as I picked a handful of green beans, a pole bean variety that I planted in early fall. They keep blossoming and they keep producing! 

  
In another two days, barring a freeze – not likely- I will have enough to share with my wife… Although, She would rather have Del Monte canned green beans but I will continue to expose her to fresh green beans. Don’t tell her, but I sneak a handful every now and then into the canned green beans….. I do have to overcook  them to disguise them! 

I will have to plant more beets. It seems like every time the seedlings have emerged, still fragile, we get a heavy rain and they get pounded flat! 

  
Poor little guy! They should look more like this! 

  
Replanting tomorrow. Not a bad approach, staggered planting a will spread the harvest out a little more through the spring and early summer. 

PS- the sugar snap peas are about a month away from producing. 

Honey. 

  
This was the remaining comb honey still taking up space in the freezer. We sold about half of the harvest leaving me 9 squares to squeeze. Too bad I waited so long. Between the low honey temperature and the fact that our house is mid 60’s in temperature….. The honey flows very slowly. 

  Dump a square in the pan and mash up with a potato masher. Hands work well but I decided to take a less messy approach……my bride tells me that my less messy approach is still messy! I am guessing almost 4 pounds of honey will be captured. 
  
Sitting in the sieve and waiting and waiting and waiting. It will be at least an overnight weight and if push comes to shove I could crank up the central heat to 70 or more! 

TTFN 

Bishop

All photos from my iPhone

First Harvest From The Top Bar Hive

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Yum, Yum, Yum……I pulled 3 bars with huge slabs of beautiful fully capped honeycomb 20 minutes ago and I was totally amazed. I cut up and saved 20 3X3 inch chunks,  had a few to snack on and have a freezer bag full of odd sized pieces. Yum!

Getting ready to cut them lose.

Getting ready to cut them lose.

My son Joe suited up and gave me a hand. Thanks Joe.

My son Joe suited up and gave me a hand. Thanks Joe.

This will give you an idea how big the slabs of comb are. This one had an ear on the left hand side broke off.

This will give you an idea how big the slabs of comb are. This one had an ear on the left hand side broke off

The combs pulled on the top  bar hive are much thicker than those in my Langstroth hive. The broken pieces are so good to snack on!

The combs pulled on the top bar hive are much thicker than those in my Langstroth hive. The broken pieces are so good to snack on!

I separtted the slabs with parchment paper....they caught the dripping pretty well but I was sure tempted to lick them clean....I resisted!

I separated the slabs with parchment paper….they caught the drippings pretty well but I was sure tempted to lick them clean….I resisted!

I caught a shot of one of my bug catchers hanging out on a banana leaf with my iPhone the day before....They are so good looking.

I caught a shot of one of my bug catchers hanging out on a banana leaf with my iPhone the day before….They are so good looking.

More Top Bar adventures soon!

TTFN

Bishop

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