Friday, April 17, 2015

Best luck I've had in years, and I may have stomped it into the ground.

We ordered bees for two hives this year.  We really should do a lot more, but we're being cheap.  Maybe if one makes it through winter and the other doesn't, we can split the good one.  In order to hedge our bets, we bought one package from R Weaver Apiaries, the same place we bought our last package, but we ordered a different breed.  Then we ordered a nuc from BeeWeaver Apiaries, Inc., mostly because they were sold out of packages.

The package from R Weaver was shipped 2 day via UPS on the 6th.  But then UPS left it stuck on a trailer in Mesquite for a day and a half or something.  Plus, when we got it, the package was inside of another bag, and I found out that UPS stopped letting the shippers include liquid feed.  So the bees sat in a hot trailer, inside of another bag cutting down ventilation even more, with no food and no water.  And they all arrived dead.  R Weaver guarantees the bees and queens, and they had another one available on the 14th (it would have been sooner, but they said UPS was screwing up every package this year, and they had 30 so far that had arrived dead).  We drove 4 hours down to Navasota on the 15th and picked them up.  Bee Weaver doesn't ship nucs, but they were trucking them into Dallas on May 19th for us to pick up there.  We went ahead and called them to see if we could pick it up early, and they let us.  (I knew they were in the same city, and were started by the same family.  The brothers had split based on breeding philosophy; R Weaver breeds for traditional targets of gentle bees and good honey production, but you should use the normal medications and such, while BeeWeaver breeds for disease and mite resistance so that you don't have to use the chemicals as much.  But I didn't know how congenial the split was, so I didn't know exactly how close they were.  Well, they are literally right next door to each other.  I have a feeling they probably just split to separate two breeding bases that they already had anyway.)
So we got home around 4 o'clock Wednesday and I started installing the bees.  Initially, I put them both on my hive stand facing opposite directions, but my wife made me paranoid about it, so I moved the R Weaver bees 10 minutes later. I noticed that the old comb I had put in was leaking and appeared to be blocking the small entrance.  So I opened the top just a little to let the bees inside out.  At that time, there were a lot of bees still in the box, so I don't think enough workers had left that moving the hive could have confused their location.  

But a couple of hours later, most activity at the hive had died down, much further than it should have.  At about the same time, I noticed that my largest bait hive had a lot of bees flying around it, a few clustered at one side of it, and a lot going in and out of it.  I checked the other bait hive, and it had no activity at all, so I thought maybe a swarm.  It would have been a big coincidence since there were no bees on it the day before, but possible.  But I had also just refreshed the paper towel of lemon grass oil inside the previous week, when I moved it to get it out of the way of the hive I would set up for the packaged bees.
So I thought maybe the package had thought the lemongrass was a stronger queen pheromone, and chose it over the caged queen.  Or that I had disturbed them too much (or let in robbers, which may still be possible) and they just decided trying their luck elsewhere would be better, even without the queen.  There was also the rare possibility that the package had included a virgin queen that the apiary hadn't realized was being raised.  But without a queen, the colony would die, and if too many had left, the colony left in the package hive would die as well.  I looked inside, and there were only 10 bees or so on the queen cage.  But, I was going to leave well enough alone.  I think the bees last year died because I managed them too much, and this disaster could have come from me messing with them too much when I installed them.  So we should wait and see and at least the nuc would do fine.

But, I let my wife talk me into emailing R Weaver for advice.  They suggested, based on what I had told them, that it did sound like the package had left, and that I needed to take the frames from the bait hive and put them back in the other hive and close it up for a few days.  So I rushed home and started doing that.

I found eggs and new comb, but I had only seen "laying worker" eggs in pictures on the internet, and I reasoned that these looked like they could be that.  I didn't see a queen anywhere or anything.  There were about 3 frames covered with bees, mostly hanging together for support, since my frames didn't have foundation.  I started putting them over in the bait hive and set the eggs aside so I could take a picture.  About the time I was ready to close up, I noticed bees coming back out of the package hive and clustering on the frame with eggs.  When I brushed them aside, I found a very large queen.  I immediately put the egg frame and another frame of bees back in the bait hive, put the rest of the empty frames back in, and put both boxes back where they were.

So, I had gotten very lucky and caught a swarm the same day I brought the other two colonies home.  And it was doing great, building comb, and already laying.  And then I ripped it apart and threw them into another box.  I'm hoping that maybe some of the swarm bees will stay to take care of the other queen, but I mostly want them to be able to leave and find the bait hive without killing what's left of the package hive.  And I'm hoping that the swarm won't be too disturbed if the bees get back to make them leave.  But the possibility is that I threw strong workers into a weak hive who will simply strip it of everything useful, go back to their own hive, and then build back up strength to leave the obviously unsafe bait hive.  For now, both have activity, but I'll just have to watch to see how they do.

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