You Never Can Tell With Bees

Winnie the Pooh is not manly enough for me to mention here, but the Pooh bear does have great wisdom when it comes to bees.

Bee hive

Our queen bee arrived via priority mail yesterday!  We planned to use this queen to re-queen our existing hive, Ambrose, in order to instill in them gentler traits.  Ambrose is not a mean hive, but they are not as gentle as they were with their original queen.

Today and yesterday we put some water droplets into the queen bee cage, in which she is wined and dined by about six attendant worker bees, who eat some of the candy plugging up one of the cage entrances and then feed it to her majesty.  This morning we got ready to go and re-queen Ambrose, which involves first finding the existing queen, crushing her to death, and then introducing the new queen still caged up.

The idea is that the Ambrose bees get used to the scent of their new queen and work to release her over the course of a few days to a week by eating through the candy plug; eventually she is freed and they set her on her throne (or rather, corral her around the hive and make her lay eggs where they tell her to).

But Katie and I both had the idea of doing something different: Splitting Ambrose into two hives!  And that is just what we did.  Our other hive box, you may remember, we set out with a swarm lure pheromone to try to get a wild swarm of bees to take up residence.  It is still swarm season, but being the impatient beekeepers that we are, and since we have not yet lured a swarm, we used one of the oldest tricks in the beekeeping book: Split the existing hive by taking 4 frames of brood, that is, developing bees and their nurse bee attendants, and putting them into the new hive, where the queen cage resides.

Now what should happen is that the bees in the new hive, called Samson, will free the queen as described above, and since they have no other queen, they accept her, and she begins laying, and they are all one big happy family.

So what can go wrong?  Well a few things:

1. We tried to make sure the existing Ambrose queen was not crawling over the 4 frames we transferred over to the new hive, but, you never can tell with bees, and we might have accidentally moved the queen into the new hive!  That would result in Ambrose being queenless and raising their own new queen who would have to mate and return to the hive to continue it and then in the new hive the old queen and the new queen, once freed, would immediately fight to the death until only one of them remained.

2. The new queen could be a bum queen.  She might not have mated properly or been partially crushed while being put in her cage and mailed, etc.  In that case the Samson hive would find out she was a bum queen and would need to raise their own queen from the brood we placed in there, but that has to be done quickly because eggs after 3 days are set along the path to either being a worker bee or queen bee, and there is no going back.

3. The strong, bustling Ambrose hive could rob the Samson hive of all their honey and sugar water we are giving them.  Samson needs help to get started as a hive, so we are giving them food, but it is easy pickins for Ambrose bees to go in and rob their little neighbor.  Bees are ruthless.  The precaution we took is reducing the entrance to the Samson hive to the smallest little inch, allowing even the small hive to defend their entrance with just a few bees.

We named the hive Samson after the Old Testament man who:

So Samson went down to Timnah with his father and mother. When they had come to the vineyards of Timnah, a young lion came roaring to meet him. But the spirit of the LORD came upon Samson, and although he had no weapons, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a kid. However, on the journey to speak for the woman, he did not mention to his father or mother what he had done.  Later, when he returned to marry the woman who pleased him, he stepped aside to look at the remains of the lion and found a swarm of bees and honey in the lion’s carcass.  So he scooped the honey out into his palms and ate it as he went along. When he came to his father and mother, he gave them some to eat, without telling them that he had scooped the honey from the lion’s carcass.

Judges 14.

When was the last time that you ripped a lion apart with your bare hands and then took the honey from a bunch of bees without even caring if they stung you?

Swarm Bait Hive

We have only one hive, but we are hoping to expand to two this year by luring a bee swarm into our empty hive box.  If that doesn’t get you excited, I don’t know what will.

Bees give off all manner of pheromone for different purposes, and it turns out that a scent very near lemongrass oil (think Lemon Pledge furniture polish) is one that scout bees use to tell the swarm to “follow me to a good-looking hive cavity”.  So we put a special slow-release plastic tube of lemongrass oil in an unused hive, and tonight I set the hive out next to our current one.

Bee hives swarm in the spring when they run out of room in their current hive.  Typically some portion of the hive, with the old queen, gather together and leave the old hive, landing somewhere in a tree temporarily while scout bees make sorties to try to find a good place for the new hive.  The scout bees return, do dances to tell the swarm how their spot looks, and the most vigorous dancer wins (or something like that).  The bees all take off and occupy the new hive.

So we may get a swarm or we may not.  We’ll see, but it’s fun to try it. The hive on the right is our current one, and the left hive is the swarm bait one:

Swarm bait hive and regular hive
Swarm bait hive and regular hive