Bee Update May 3, 2012

Pat and I looked at our first 10 nucs and our parent stock that we used to make splits yesterday to see how they are doing. At first, we were only looking for eggs and didn’t see any so in the first two nucs we did not look closely for queens (which are small at first and grow their ovioules over the next week). We did find some queens in the others but we didn’t find queens in all of them. After awhile of checking, one hive seemed to gather a lot of bees on the nuc’s entrance, perhaps a mated queen was coming back from flight. Yesterday was a beautifully (hot) day for mating flights.

It is officially day 25 from the OTS method of notching the cells which means that if the bees used one of my queen cells that I notched, then she would be ready and may be laying, but if they chose an egg, we are 5 days from seeing a mated queen and adding time on the end for her to develop her ovrioles. We will check the other nucs in 5 days, since everything seems to be running behind a bit.

My very first nuc getting acclimated to its position before I install it, May 2008.

All of this nuc rearing makes me remember when I went to buy my first nucs. When I bought my nucs in 2008-2010 I never asked how old the queen was. I know that I got a queen that had overwintered the first time I got my nuc in 2008 (her color marking was the year before’s color). That was an awesome and strong hive that overwintered well and I loved having as my first beekeeping experience. The next year, I bought two nucs and I think those were from the previous season’s queens, but I am not sure because I didn’t want the queens marked as I wanted to stay as natural as possible. I only believe they were the previous season’s queens because, when buying them, the nuc provider said it was the first time getting into those hives that spring. I was on the waiting list for both of those nucs.

On the right, my friend got her first nuc a couple weeks after mine 2008. She kept hers on my property for awhile and I helped to care for it.

The spring of 2010, I planned on using the OTS method of splits (so didn’t get on a waiting list), but, unfortunately, that was the year every single one of my hives died – about 6 of them, which made me sick. We had built a pond the fall before and spring of 2010 was very cold.

Making the pond in the fall of 2009

I had about 5 hives, because I had tried to practice the walk away split method on two of the strongest hives. I had even gotten a late swarm, but it didn’t prepare for winter fast enough, so died early into winter. Basically, all the bees froze since they were so close to the pond. They still had some honey but they didn’t leave their cluster to go get it and they froze and starved. There was still activity at the hives that spring [robbers!], so I didn’t realize it until opening them in early April. Seeing all of them dead was so discouraging; I seriously almost gave up. I felt so bad that I had not only killed them, but had wasted so much money for my family. Every single one of my nucs were just less than $100 and I had driven 4 hours round trip to pick them up each time I did. This was a serious investment that just went away so quickly!

To add insult to injury, the wax moths found my hives so tasty that they demolished all of my comb. I was leaving the comb out until I could get some more nucs (I wasn’t on the waiting list this time, so ended up having to wait until the middle of June). I bought my nucs from a provider who doesn’t treat the bees with chemicals which is very important to me and the way that I want to manage my hives. I don’t want to tell others how to manage their apiaries, but it isn’t easy finding non-chemically treated bees I have found, so waiting is what had to happen to get those nucs that year. When the nucs were ready, I bought three nucs with 2010 queens (marked blue) then and told the nuc provider that I really wanted to make my own nucs one day. He grafts his queen cells but he was also trying the OTS system. So the summer of 2010 was spent recovering comb (feeding lots of sugar syrup regularly and often) and trying to figure out how to keep the bees alive through the next winter and especially those few weeks before the maples bloom.

Remembering all of these episodes in my beekeeping experience makes me want to have quality nucs for the people who have asked to be on my waiting list this year. I know the sacrifice in money it is to purchase (insects!) these honeybees that can be challenging, frustrating and downright mind-boggling at times. But, I also know that the challenge that our apiaries create are also ways to make us grow in problem solving and perseverance. Maybe I should have just made enough nucs last year to sell as overwintered nucs. But, I am creating nucs with this year’s queens and there is a risk in that. I don’t control the weather or if the queens get eaten on their mating flight from a bluejay. I must trust that the decision I have made on management is the one I have made and to see it through, knowing that whatever happens, I will surely learn from it.

So, I pray that my queens are getting mated well and in 5 days when we look at the nucs again that we will see well grown queens laying a great pattern of eggs. And I pray that I can deliver quality nucs to those trusting me with their nucs this year. And, still I play the waiting game