Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Wastefulness of the Natural Way of Queen Production

Here's the most recent photo of the yard.

I've been splitting like mad lately.  At last note, there were 12, now there are 17.  I recieved my four new queens with which I made four new hives.  There have been several near disasters with them, primarily owing to severe robbing problems.  One hive was being robbed in terrific fashion, so bad that I took the four frames of brood and queen and put them in a nuc box with a frame of capped honey and took them away.  The robbers then took after the next hive in the row which seemed to be holding its own.  I removed its feeder and the problem seemed to abate.  A third one, I opened to see if the queen had been released, and sure enough she had, just in time to fly away.  It was about five minutes before I found her balled at the entrance of a nearby hive.  It is yet to be seen if she will survive but I hope so.  If she was injured, she'll be replaced, hopefully at the very least with one of her daughters and not one of the daughters of the donor hives with which this hive was made.

Lessons learned:  Don't feed queenless hives.  Keep entrances very small on new splits.  Don't muck about with newly released queens. 

Now, about the title. 

In emergency situations, such as a lost queen or a walkaway split, the hive will feed appropriate aged larvae royal jelly and make a dozen or so into queens.  As Michael Bush rightly states, for all this expenditure of energy and nearly a month of no new eggs, the only result is a single queen as the rest get killed off.  While this is beneficial in a way to the bees in the sense of natural selection, it is very inefficient to us humans who want bees to make lots of bees and be out working making lots of honey.  This year, I have made about seven walk away splits.  That results in about seventy queens, 63 of which reach adulthood only to be immediately killed.  If I could have sold them, it would have netted somewhere in the range of nearly $2000.  What a waste.  Here's the evidence.

These are five dead virgin queens I found near the entrances of hives consisting of walkaway splits or recent supercedures.  This goes to show how inefficient it is to produce queens or new hives in this manner.  It also shows that I could have had the black queen that I've been wanting.

The solution is one of my primary goals for this next year which is to try producing queens in the more standard method of grafting.  With grafting, from a single queenless hive, you could get dozens of virgin queens to be mated in mating nucs to replace ailing queens or to add new stock.  Most rejections happen before the larva gets fed much and if you want to control the natural selection aspect of it, you can by deciding how many queen cells go into a nuc.

Here's what a freshly hatched virgin queen looks like.

In fact, this one is most likely the winner who killed one of the ones above.  You can see her fuzz is still wet, and her exoskeleton still has a milky tone to it.  She was very fresh, there were still untouched queen cells in the hive.  This is the queen that will replace the beat up swarm queen I posted about earlier.

On a final note, I don't think this location can or should support more hives than this.  During this time of year especially, there is little rain and few flowers.  Brooding is limited, and there isn't much storing of honey or building of comb going on.  Robbing can be a problem if a hive is weakened in some way.  It may well be a good time to make splits.  All splits have been successful (except those being fed who also got robbed) in the last month or so.

Unfortunately, due to all this splitting, there won't be any honey this year.  It's going to be enough of a trial to make sure all hives are provisioned for winter.  This could get interesting.  Then again, maybe everything will work out.  Always look on the bright side of life.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Then there were 12

Latest picture of the yard.

As you notice, there are now 12 hives.  Interesting fact, one hive has now been split into 5, and would have been seven if all the queens had been successfully hatched and mated.

Here's a picture I took a few weeks ago of the best kind of frame beside the honey kind.  This frame is wall to wall capped brood.  If you can get three deeps like this, and a good honey flow coming up, you have a winning situation.  This year, instead of turning this into honey, I'm turning it into more bees.  On my way to 16, I have split 5 into ten and added two swarms which makes 12.  Just waiting for my four queens to come, and then I should have my goal of 16 for the year.

Another goal reached, now all of my frames of worker comb are currently in a hive and being protected from wax moths.  Next goal is 16 hives and six deeps of honey comb on for protection, otherwise, I'll have to melt it.  Not a bad option, but not the best either.