Getting a little s-warm out here…

Yesterday, I was outside moving plants to get ready for an upcoming permablitz which I’ll tell you about another time. J returned from lunch with a friend who wanted to meet our hens. In the midst of our introductions, J turned around and “Oh-hh!”

A first. A call to action. Adrenaline. Awesome!

I just read this GRID article about swarms.  I was aware that we would have to deal with swarm behavior at some point and that we were due to inspect the hives for swarm cells.  I, also, wanted to work to educate others about how to respond to a swarm just in case such a thing happened. Looks to be a good time.

READ THIS:

- When bee populations are high, they may decide to form a new colony.

- They gather in a big bustling clump with their queen in a temporary location such as a tree branch until the scout bees find a new home. It will look something like this. It will sound something like this. It’s pretty intense but don’t let it scare you!

- Please, do not be afraid or create fear in those around you. The bees have no honey stores, no brood, no nest to protect and they are not aggressive. They are not interested in attacking anything or anyone. It is truly awe inspiring. It is best not to interfere. You do not want to harm them. It is safe to watch from a distance of 10 feet or so. For sure, this is an experience to be shared with friends and family!

- AT THE SAME TIME call a local beekeeper who is knowledgeable in collecting swarms.  Don’t delay because once they find their new home; collection of the hive becomes more difficult. It is not time to call an exterminator. It is getting more and more difficult to keep colonies alive amidst the stresses of pesticides and herbicides and viruses and parasites. We need bees to pollinate our crops which feed us. We do not want to kill them. There are many people willing to help and, usually, at no cost. Here are some contacts:

Philadelphia

Chester, Delaware counties and the Mainline

Montgomery, Berks, Philadelphia, Bucks and Chester

Pennsylvania

So, to continue…our bees looked as though they were readying to swarm. We didn’t want that to happen. We want to keep our bees and, yes, their honey. We called our expert Montgomery County beekeeper, Jim Bobb, for advice. He suggested switching hive locations. In essence, we would fool the bees into thinking that they had already swarmed and that they were in their new home. OK. Did it.

Whew! That’s more like it!

In the midst of moving the hive; we did see many swarm cells. These are elongated cells built at the bottom of the frames which are built for raising new queens. We removed them excepting for one very nice one. We placed that frame in a nuc box along with a couple of strong frames with brood and honey; making sure that we didn’t put the original queen in. We were going to purchase an additional nuc later this spring to replace our weakest hive..we may not have to. This is becoming quite an apiary. Our goal is to have three strong hives. It will be very helpful if our nuc does well.

I, also, had a conversation with Warren Graham, an expert beekeeper in Delaware county last week. We were talking about mites.  Warren joked that the varroa mites were the cause of all the world’s problems. OK…that may be an exaggeration but they are, definitely, a major challenge to the honeybees. He said that the mites, preferentially, went for the drone brood larvae as they spend a longer period of time in the cell before hatching out. He suggested making frames of dedicated drone brood and to freeze them. The mites are killed off and the frame can be put back in the hive so the bees can recycle the protein from the larvae. Sounds like a good idea and, as we reconstructed the hive in its new location, we put some empty frames in for the drone brood. We, also, started to pull some of the drone larvae out. Sure enough, there were many mites to be found on these juicy larvae..up to 5 or 6 on some. The battle continues!

So after the hives were inspected and relocated; the ground was littered with mite infested drone larvae. I scooped them up and fed them to the hens. You can see Top Hen guarding the delicacies here! Bon appetit!

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4 Responses to Getting a little s-warm out here…

  1. mtairygal says:

    great explanation of swarms. but what’s a nuc?

    • micvel says:

      It’s basically a small hive, often, with 5 frames vs. the 10 frames of a standard hive. The bees know each other and are centered about their own queen. Often beekeepers are able to split their strong hives and create “nucs” or nucleus hives to share or sell or to expand their apiary. I find them preferable to “packages” in which the bees are not centered around a familiar queen and the queen has to be carefully introduced. A package of bees is kind of like a bunch of strangers while the nuc is like a family. The nuc we created has three frames from the same hive with a swarm cell(an egg which is being raised to be a queen). It does not have a queen yet. Will this queen hatch out safely or will it mate well or will it get eaten by a bird as it returns to the hive? Or will everything go just right so that she becomes the center for a strong hive? We will see! We will be checking in on Frame 5 in a few days to see if she has hatched out….

  2. Trissa Elkins says:

    I had an interesting talk wtih Jerome at the art party at the Elkins Park front yard farm art installation on Saturday. He explained that bees in urban areas are highly affected by a glass of compounds widely used in urban lawn maintenance. I just received the lastest email newsletter from Park Seed Catalog – a very mainstream garden catalog – and see the information he was telling me listed in the newsletter. Hopefully the word will get out to many gardeners!

    From the newsletter:
    In late March, a coalition of environmentalists and beekeepers requested that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suspend the use of a group of pesticides frequently found on crops pollinated by honeybees and bumblebees. It is suspected that these pesticides, called neonicotinoids, may contribute to the tremendous population losses bees have been suffering in recent years.

    Interestingly, tests showed that while the levels of neonicotinoids used on commercial crops were not high enough to kill the bees, they may have led to detrimental behavior changes. Growth rates and reproduction levels in the colonies exposed to the pesticides in these tests were much lower than the norm, leading to speculation that in the case of bumblebees, fewer queen bees would be able to survive winter and start new colonies.

    Studies have found that neonicotinoids may inhibit the homing ability of honeybees, which in turn makes them less likely to survive. Honeybees are critical for the pollination of food crops, and in recent years their population has been plummeting in a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder.

    Many scientists believe that Colony Collapse Disorder is the result of the interaction of multiple factors, not a single issue. The EPA is currently investigating the possible role of neonicotinoids in the phenomenon.

    What does this mean for the home gardener? Well, if you are still using commercial non-organic pesticides in your garden, check the label! Among the commonly used neonicotinoids are:

    Acetamiprid
    Clothianidin
    Dinotefuran
    Imidacloprid
    Nitenpyram
    Thiacloprid
    Thiamethoxam
    Better yet, switch to natural pest deterrents or learn to accept a certain level of pest activity in your garden. We are all proud of our plants and want them to grow their very best, but sometimes a little natural damage is preferable to the alternative!

    • micvel says:

      Thank you so much, Trissa for the information and it was great seeing you this weekend! It is information like this that we wish to understand more so that we can educate others. (Can’t wait to use our new observation hive!) Your comment is really useful. We are headed to our monthly Montgomery County Beekeepers Association meeting tonight. We have so much to learn!

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