September 14, 2008

Drunken Bees

Much like human beings, drunk bees can't walk a straight line. They sort of stumble and stagger and just look lost. As soon as we saw the tiny bubbles in the jar, it was confirmed... the feeder had to come out. We replaced it with a feeder filled with thicker syrup. The higher sugar concentration is supposed to prevent fermentation. Hopefully this jar won't be in the hive long enough for us to find out. I shook a stick at them and commanded the bees to "Take this thick syrup! Quick!"

We'll be feeding them through the Winter, too. Both Corwin and Karen (the folks that run BackYardHive and its newly formed bee club) think it may be the only way our bees will survive until February. Our Winter cluster - the blob of huddled bees that forms when it's cold - is about the size of a baseball. Corwin's colony that was installed from a swarm (like ours, only 3 weeks earlier) has filled their hive completely, with all 24 bars being built out and comb attached to the window. Looking through the window of his Golden Mean Hive, which is larger than ours, it's SRO. The bees are packed up against the window from front to back. It's kinda scary looking, actually. I can't imagine having that many thousands of bees ready to burst out of the box.

I think our bees came from a cast swarm, which is a swarm after a swarm. It's half of the half left behind, and a virgin queen. I'm guessing that's why our colony has been slow to build up and is so small. I also suspect they swarmed from a Langstroth hive. Their cell size (the diameter of one hole in a comb) is well over 5mm, which indicates they'd been building on foundation for a while.

Corwin thinks our bees are "Florida bees" – he was flabbergasted that we still have drones. All of his were kicked out a month ago, but he lives in a valley at the foot of the Rocky Mountains and it's much cooler there than our out-on-the-Plains apiary. It's still in the 80s here with nighttime lows in the 40s. Anyway, since our bees are behaving as if there's plenty of time to do things - like supercede the existing queen and keep drones around - he doesn't think they know what Winter is, or even though they're in Colorado.

Florida Bees
The U.S. has no native honey bees – they are all imported from somewhere else. Semi-tropical in nature, their lifestyle follows that type of environmental formula and they do best where there are early, early springs, and late or even no fall and winter breaks. So they get busy very early in the season, and keep busy very late in the season. If you live in Florida, that’s a good thing. If you live in Ohio it can be a challenge because they don’t care if it’s winter outside or not when they begin raising young right about the first of the year, eating lots of food, and needing lots of room. (Excerpted from Kim Flottum's " So You Want to Be a Beekeeper, Part III" on

Supercedure is when the worker bees make a new queen to replace an existing one that is not laying well. Maybe she's old or injured, or she's just a bad layer. New queens are raised while the old one is still around, just in case. This is the absolute latest time of year to requeen because the virgin has to mate and the drones will not be flying for much longer. The workers usually build several queen cells at a time, hanging them from the edge of a comb. They need to be long to accommodate the bigger size of a queen. These may or may not be queen cups (click on the photo above for an enlarged view). We'll keep an eye on them to see what develops.


Pat R. said...

I noticed the cell size in my Warre are big too. Hope they make it through the winter. I'm capitulating on the feeding...I fixed a sugar concoction with some peppermint oil, stinging nettle, chamomile and green teas. Not sure what all the ingredients are for, a local Master Beekeeper gave me the recipe. The thing is, the Warre bees are not flying nearly as much as the log hive, but they never did...Hope they get through the winter.

HB said...

@Pat R. Are they taking down the syrup? I hope they are, and that they make it to March (or whenever it is that your Winter ends).

I've changed my hive configuration and replaced the quilt with the hive top feeder. So now, on top of the box they are living in, there is the eke (aka Mountain Camp feeder), the syrup feeder (aka hive top feeder) then the roof. This will allow me to feed both solid and liquid food, as temperatures permit. Right now the syrup feeder is occupied by blocks of insulating styrofoam, in hopes of preventing condensation forming over the cluster. As there is no quilt, the only place for moisture to escape is the screened slot in the hive top feeder. With the small population and screened bottom board, I'm not too worried about excess moisture. My big concern is keeping the cluster warm. We had a string of nonflying days (while we were out-of-town, of course) but were happy to return home and find that they'd survived 3 overnights in the teens.

The Warre traffic is not nearly as high as that at my Top Bar Hive, which is a much larger colony. But both colonies are are bringing in gobs of orange pollen, which I love to see. My guess is asters and mums.

How big is your log hive, in terms of combs/frames?

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