Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hive #2 - Queenless Hive and Laying Worker

They say hindsight is 20/20. Well I can see clearly now the failure of Hive 2 as certain events from the last two years come to mind.

The second year I put a foundationless frame meant for honeycomb in the middle of the super. I wasn't using a queen excluder and this queen liked to come up and lay in the supers. The bees had drawn drone comb so the queen laid drone eggs. (If not using an excluder these frames should be at the outside edges). I was reluctant to kill the drones by cutting out the comb. That was a mistake. With more drones the mites increased. The whole year the hive was plagued with mites.

I also noticed three other things that were typical with this hive: They wouldn't take their meds, they wouldn't eat the syrup and they weren't cleaning the hive. They wouldn't use their homing scent much after I would disturb them like the other hives would.

They were just different. I thought I should requeen.  But the second year this hive produced just as much honey as my best hive.  They just did things, well, differently than I expected.  I thought I was being judgemental of their unique way of doing things and opted not to requeen.

I knew these weren't the best queen genetics, especially not being hygienic. My plan was to requeen in the spring 2011. Hindsight plays its part now.  I should have done it last year.

Spring came so cold and wet that the bees were behind. The hive had very few bees and their production was very slow to get going. But they did pick and things were slowly moving along.

Queen breeders were a month late and orders piled up while they waited for the queens to get out and get mated. Then when the weather finally got better we had a postal strike. No queens were coming by mail.

Then we were thrown a big loop--we were told the land where our bee yard is was being prepared for sale and we needed to find a new location. Immediately the focus changed to removing supers to downsize in preparation for a move and also frantically looking for another location.

The result was that Hive 2 fell off my radar.

I did manage hive inspections where I confirmed the hive was queenless and had a laying worker. The number of workers in the hive had dwindled to the point that I had to consider whether requeening was worth it.

The hive was also dealing with constant robbing so entrance reducers were needed.

I cancelled the queen order. If I added a queen the bees would most likely kill her. They thought they had a queen.

Next I hit the internet for advice and called my beekeeping friend. How best to deal with a laying worker?

It looked like my mistakes, their bad queen genetics and the weather were going to be the downfall of this hive. I wanted to save it.

I remembered reading beekeeper emails where they discussed the time when you have to weigh the effort of the economics to try to save a hive against its chance of survival.

With so few workers left and the season ending I had to face the fact that this hive wouldn't be able to regenerate itself quickly enough even with help.

But it isn't doomed. It can be combined with another hive.

The best website I found for combining options was Bushfarms Laying Worker page. Michael Bush gives many options to choose from and suggestions for what works best.

I opted for #7 - "Put a laying worker hive over a queenright hive on a double screen board and after three weeks, shake the laying worker hive out in front of the queen right hive. This almost always works."

The double screen will stop the bees from both hives from being able to sting each other. The main reason for the screen is to allow the brood pheromone to rise up into Hive #2. Over a few weeks the pheromones will cause the laying worker's ovaries to be suppressed and stop her/them laying (often there's more than one).

After that I could do the shake out front or a newspaper combine between the hives so they can finally get fully introduced.

I did double screen combine about a week ago and Hive #2 is dong well. They're guarding their entrance (reduced). They're on top of a strong hive that's doing fine as well.  They're to stay like that for 3 weeks (see photo above).

Now they just need time to let those pheromones work. Amazing how something we can neither see nor smell can be so powerful.

Amazing too how that hindsight can come back to bite you on the ass.  But the teeth aren't so sharp and painful if you can make a valuable lesson out of it.
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