May 13, 2013
Installing New Honeybees and Checking the Queens
Like many beekeepers all around the world, my beehives failed over the winter. The bees simply vanished! This mysterious and disturbing condition is called colony collapse disorder (CCD). It’s estimated that CCD has wiped out from 20% to 60% of colonies in the affected areas. Experts are looking at a range of possible causes, including the parasitic Varroa mite and several viruses. There’s also a bacterial disease called European foulbrood that’s increasingly being found in U.S. bee colonies and, of course, the use of pesticides may be a real contributor to this very serious problem.
Whatever the reason, we needed to replace the four bee colonies we keep at the farm for pollination reasons, as well as for honey, so I ordered four packages of live bees. Each ventilated package contains approximately 12,000 honeybees, including the all-important queen inside her own little cage. It's absolutely necessary to keep the queen separate from the bees inside the box, as they are from different hives. Until their respective odors mix and become one, the bees will kill the queen rather than protect her. After a few days, the worker bees eat the candy plug on her cage and the queen can safely be introduced into the hive. D.J. Haverkamp of Bedford Bee Honeybee Service helped me install the bees. For a detailed look at how I regularly care for my hives, look for the July/August issue of Martha Stewart Living, on sale on June 24th.
1 The bee hives are now located next to the cutting garden near the greenhouse. They were cleaned out and given a fresh coat of paint.
2 Most hives are started with a 3-pound package of live bees, which contains approximately 12,000 honeybees, including one queen, who is in her own separate little queen cage. We needed 4 such packages, one for each hive.
3 D.J. helped me install the bees and 6 days later, he came to check the hives to see how the queens were doing in each hive. A bee smoker is used to calm the honey bees.
4 You want to use a fuel that will smolder, such as dried leaves, pine needles, and grass.
5 The fuel in the smoker's burner smoulders slowly because there is only a small amount of oxygen inside, until a squeeze of the bellows provides a blast of fresh air, forcing the smoke through the spout.
6 D.J. and Carlos removed the lid from the first hive.
7 Then the top honey super was lifted off.
8 More smoke was introduced.
9 D.J. lifted out a frame and liked what he saw. There was larvae forming in the comb, a sure sign that the queen was alive and well and producing eggs.
10 In fact, there is the queen at work! The queen bee's abdomen is noticeably longer and lighter in color than the worker bees surrounding her.
11 Introducing a queen into a hive requires removing a frame to accommodate the queen cage. The bees fill up that space by building burr comb, which is easily scraped away with a hive tool. When the queen cage is removed, the frame is replaced.
12 After putting the first hive back together, the second one was opened. Here you can see the queen cage, however, the candy plug had not been eaten, which meant the queen was still inside. D.J. expressed concern.
13 He lifted out the frame, finding more burr comb attached to the queen cage.
14 Opening the screen of the queen cage, he found that the queen had indeed expired.
15 Her death may have been caused by the stress of travel. In any case, D.J. would have to introduce a new queen into the hive using the same method of a queen cage. A hive must have a queen to produce future generations of bees.
16 Because this hive had no queen to lay eggs, there was nothing but honey upon these frames.
17 The third hive was entered.
18 This queen cage appeared empty.
19 This is a very healthy and active hive.
20 D.J. removed the burr comb.
21 He pointed out a worker bee whose legs were covered with bright red pollen, perhaps from a blooming red chestnut tree. It's very rare to see such a color!
22 Busy bees at work
23 D.J. inspected a few frames.
24 The active queen was located quickly.
25 The fourth hive was opened and the queen cage appeared empty.
26 And there she was.
27 Removing some of the burr comb exposed some honey, which was quite pale in color and tasted very sweet and flowery.
28 There was a rather large piece of burr comb.
29 The queen in this hive got to work quickly and laid eggs. You can see the eggs at the bottom of the comb.
30 Here is D.J. looking at all of the burr honey he collected from the hives. He uses this wax to make candles and skin products.