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Good Times with the Westover Hive!

With the recent disappointments of slow build up in my established hives, today was a great boon in my first ‘real’ inspection of the Westover Hive. I actually found eggs and they were working on their seventh frame already!

A week-and-a-half ago, I captured my first swarm at Westover Plantation. This hive I am calling the Westover Hive. It is a new experience for me in more ways then one. To begin with, this swarm was a feral swarm, so no breeding for gentleness has been done. I can observe them from a foot away with no worries, but both inspections have been a bit hairy. Some folks recommend requeening a swarm (with a queen from a proven breeder of hardy, gentle bees), but I am leaning towards letting them be (unless I take a lot of hits from them over the Summer!) The big bonus of a feral hive, in my mind, is that these bees have been making it in the wilds without the bumbling hand of a beekeeper. No chemicals. No sugar dustings. No screened bottom boards. No feeding during tough times. Even so, they have survived mites, wax moths and a whole slew of other things. They not only survived, but they did so well over this past (rough) winter that they thought a swarm would be a wise move! I have to believe that this gene pool is a boon, not something to toss because of a couple of stings.

Westover Hive Eye-balling Me

Westover Hive Eye-balling Me

After I got them back to Varina, I tried to follow the generally accepted practices and put syrup on them by day 2 and was waiting for this past weekend to check for eggs. Unfortunately, it was very windy and intermittently cloudy. Folks say bees get cranky in these conditions and these bees definitely didn’t like it when I pulled the first frame. They were so agitated that I simply put that frame back and left them be. I received no stings, so we are still in the testing phase. Hopefully, they will calm down on a better day (plus, bees might be overly anxious when they are trying to build up a new hive and some joker keeps poking around in their new  home.)

So, we were getting out to 10 days since I picked them up and I had not done an official inspection. Why is this a concern? When you get a swarm, you really do not know if you have a queen or not. Plus, their cranky nature could be another clue that the queen was missing (I’ve read where folks say that bees become very agitated when they do not have a queen.) I needed to confirm this. So, today was the day. It was very sunny, but equally windy. There was nothing for it, so I put on the full stormtrooper suit and went at it. I decided not to use smoke, as this can set them back a bit.

A few were still taking syrup, but I will probably not have to refill until late this weekend. I removed the top feeder from the hive and exposed the crew working on the frames. A good point was that no guards ran up to hamper me. But, there really were a million bees on those frames. Most of them were looking at me, lined up on the frames (a bad sign, or so I have been told.) I gritted my teeth and went onward.

At this point, a buzzing erupted right in my ear! I steeled myself for a sting, which did not occur. The buzzing was a weird, high-pitched whine and sputtered like my old outboard. Several times, I stopped and tried to look around my veil, to no avail. It was not until the end that I determined it was a daggone mosquito! The thing must have been sleeping in my veil before I put it on! Oh well…

I went to pull the first frame and, wouldn’t you know it, I got it about an inch up before I dropped it back in the hive! I have not fumbled with a frame since last year! These daggone gloves were making it difficult and now the entire hive was giving me a good loud buzz. Several were flying about, bouncing into my veil, but I was determined to move on. Fortunately, I was able to get the frame out (northernmost frame), examine it (nectar being cured and some stored pollen) before dropping it in the frame holder.

The next frame was the bonus frame. It was fully drawn with fresh wax (thus, it was as white as it gets.) Seeing eggs in these white cells is difficult for anyone. Add this to the fact that I seem to have difficulty seeing eggs at all, and I was a bit worried. But, I put it real close to my face and held it in the sun and, lo-and-behold, there were eggs! But, I was not done yet. Everyone talks about ‘laying workers’, which happens to queenless hives, when workers start laying useless eggs. But, the sure sign of this is that they drop several eggs in the same cell (I am not sure if the same worker lays multiple eggs or if different workers each lay one egg in the same cell.) So, I continued to scan. The whole frame had cells with a single egg in each. This was a GREAT sign!

So, the primary goal was attained. I had planned on looking at each frame, but there were a couple of  squadrons buzzing around me at this point and I decided it was time to cut bait. I got the frames back into the hive and then did a count of the frames that actually had some drawn wax on them. Seven! Wow. These gals were really drawing out some comb! I wish my other hives worked with such diligence!

I decided to drop another deep on them and move on. At this point, I will probably move them to the 2 week schedule and only check the feeder more regularly.

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