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Nuc building, Patience with Queens & Laughable Errors

It’s been one heck of a Spring. My beekeeping pretty much consumes 80% of my spare time, although I have managed to get my garden in the ground. The weather in Richmond, Virginia has been super, in my area. We could use a bit more rain, but we’ve definitely had enough to keep the flowers blooming and full of nectar. Holly started blooming nicely in my area and the Tulip Poplar has been putting on a real nice bloom the last week. My supers are filling up quickly.

But, there have been quite a few lessons along the way. I learned a good lesson with raising queens from swarm cells. I cannot simply put a frame with bees and a queen cell into a small (3 frame) Queen Castle section and expect good results. In most of the sections, I only included that frame and a frame of honey and one with pollen. The problem, I believe, was not including a full frame of capped brood with each one. Of the 6 that I started, only two had a decent amount of brood (the rest where queen cells on the bottom of honey frames). Those two ended up with laying queens. The other four ended up with nothing that I could find. In all cases, I saw the queen the first couple of weeks after she hatched, but somewhere along the way, she vanished. Without the capped brood, I suppose there were not enough bees in the cell to tend to her needs. I may have monkeyed with them too much too, as I was enthralled with watching the progress (and those 6 starters were just experiments anyway – I wanted to learn.) On a positive note, all of the queens that I started normally (in Nucs with 1 brood, 1 pollen, 1 honey, 1 partially drawn empty and 1 foundation) have done very well. In fact, one of them is literally building up almost as fast as a swarm! That queen is on steroids. I only had one queen that I was not happy with (poor brood build up) and I killed her, letting them raise another one as we speak. The bottom line is that I am very comfortable making Nucs now and will definitely make a few to sell next year (I will probably sell a few this year, since I have more then I want at this point.)

Another lesson that I learned was to have patience with the queens. Most of my queens do not start laying on Day 25 and one waited until Day 41! I do think that I ended up losing a couple of viable queens due to my impatience this year (there were TONS of dead bees after two of my combines) and, looking back, I only gave the queens 31 and 34 days to show signs of laying. I really need to have patience with everything related to bees. I have been told that I have the patience of Job, due to the projects that I start related to growing trees and shrubs, but that is clearly not the case with the bees. When you know that the flow is on, you want all of your bees to be kicking at 200%. I am constantly worried that I need to do something with a hive or queen to make sure they are hitting on all cylinders. I need to remember my lessons from last year – let the bees do their own thing and stop messin’ with ’em!

I will close with a dumb error. The Westcastle swarm was building up strong. It was definitely the original, old queen (as opposed to a secondary swarm with a virgin queen) and she pretty much started laying on Day 1. Those bees were taking down the syrup nicely, as they build up all of the fresh wax. After about 10 days, they were 90% done with the deep and I dropped a medium on them. I put 2 gallons of syrup on them, thinking it would tide them to the next weekend. Once the week was up, I went to check the feeder and expected it to be empty so that I could give a peak inside (this hive was going to get moved to an outyard back on the 22nd.) But, only about half of the syrup had been taken… This was a drastic slowdown, but I figured it was because the main flow was on. Finally, I checked yesterday and there was still about a gallon left! Frustrated, I gingerly removed the feeder and attempted to pour it into a nearby pitcher. Finally, I could check on the hive. What the heck!?

To my dismay (cheered on by a couple of foul words out of my mouth), I had put a super full of empty, foundationless frames on them! Good lord. They had drawn wax all over the center of the frames, exactly perpendicular to how the frames sit (across several frames.) I had to pull it all out and put it in a tray in front of the hive. They began to work on it (getting the honey out to take back into the hive), while some tried to work on me (for messing up all of their hard work.) I marked the queen (Blue, for last year) and put a super of foundation on them. I’ll check the feeder in a couple of days to see what we have.  Hopefully, they will go back to consuming a lot of it and drawing out the Medium. I want to get a frame of eggs from them to secure the bloodline and then move them to one of my Varina outyards (aka my honey and drone yards for the Nucs that I raise in my backyard.)

I guess that was not my last point, as it occurred to me that I have one other big lesson for this year. Four times, I have noticed swarm prep (either actual swarm cells or back-filling of the brood nest.) In all four times, I took the old queen and (in some cases) half of the queen cells. In all cases the bees swarmed anyway. Although I will take old queens with solid history in the future, it will not be because of a swarm management strategy. I will try something else on that. I can say that the one time that I did prevent a swarm (and who really knows if they were going to swarm or not) was when I took the old queen at the first sign of massive drone laying (something I had learned, this year, was a precursor to other swarm prep), it did stop the swarm and the bees appear to have built up nicely even without a queen through late March and early April.

But, who knows. I might be learning the exact wrong things. Regardless, I will continue to use my experiences to drive my adventures and mishaps!

3 comments to Nuc building, Patience with Queens & Laughable Errors

  • Robert Heiskell

    I too have had one colony that I split the 2nd of April to produce 3 swarms from just 5 frames….. It has really set me back in my thinking. I really have enjoyed learning from your blog about spring management. I need to build some wooden nucs.

  • You’re right about that. I am building them myself right now – I had hoped to pick up a few more from Dadant this past weekend, but they are out (and have been out for months, according to the fellow down there.) Takes a bit longer, but it’s better then nothing by a long shot!

  • Doug Ladd

    Mann Lake is free shipping above $100… i know buy everything from them.

    Al Hollins in Mechanicsville sells things as well email if you want his #, hes next to the hospital off 295.

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