Friday, June 19, 2009

LESSON: 56 HOW TO TELL WHEN YOUR HIVE IS QUEENLESS


Hello, from Long Lane Honey Bee Farm. We are David & Sheri Burns operating a honey bee farm in Central Illinois. We not only enjoy beekeeping, but it is a passion for us too. We especially enjoy helping more and more people enter the wonderful hobby of beekeeping.

Beekeeping is more than just a few crazy people, wearing funny hats and risking their lives while playing with killer bees. First of all, beekeepers keep gentle bees. For the most part, honey bees are gentle, busy and are not aggressive. We raise queens, and we make sure that the queens we raise are from hives that are not aggressive. Of course the worker bees do have stingers, so proper handling of the bees along with adequate protective clothing is necessary. Beekeeping is a billion dollar industry. Millions of hives are kept by beekeepers across the US.

Because honey bees are becoming scarcer, it is important to educate our local communities on the important role honey bees play in providing us with healthy food through pollination of our crops. Without the honey bee our fruits and vegetables would be at great risk.

Here's a squadron of bees returning to base loaded heavily with nectar. Beyond needing our bees to provide our food, bees are just fun to keep! There is so much to learn and learning is fun. To keep bees and broaden our understanding of the honey bee is a wonderful and very therapeutic past time and hobby.

To help beekeepers enjoy beekeeping even more, we provide these beekeeping lessons, containing our own photos along with important information and advice in being a good beekeeper. If you enjoy these free online beekeeping lessons we encourage you to donate toward these lesson. There is a place at the end of lesson to donate, and we do appreciate it in advance. When considering a donation, think about how much it would cost if you had to purchase books or take a college course that contains all the information in these lessons.

Today, I want to share about keeping a strong queen in your hive.

Lesson 55: HOW TO TELL WHEN YOUR HIVE IS QUEENLESS

Queenlessness is serious. In fact, queenlessness is the single most greatest threat to a hive’s survivability than any other disease or pest. Yet, it is easier to correct and overcome than other pests and diseases. Then why is queenlessness such an issue? In this lesson I want to address several key factors about queenlessness: 1) Why do queens die or disappear? 2) How to determine if your colony is queenless 3) How to make a queenless colony queen right 3) What to look for when your hive is about to become queenless 4) How to determine how long your hive has been queenless 5) What causes a worker to start laying in a queenless hive 6) How to deal with a laying worker 7) Suggestions to help avoid your hive from becoming queenless.

Every hive has only one queen. Her primary role is to lay eggs, sometimes 1,000 – 3,000 a day. Without a prolific queen, the colony will never build up in population and will always lack adequate foragers, thus there will be a constant lack of incoming pollen, nectar and water. The colony will eventually become so weak that it will succumb to pests or diseases.

However, with a young and prolific queen a colony will quickly increase in population and ample supplies of pollen, nectar and water will allow the hive to expand, be productive and resist most common pests and diseases. Therefore, a queen right hive is essential at all times during the year. Queen right is a term used to define a hive that has a prolific queen. As you can see in the picture below of a hive, it is full of bees. We believe that by keeping a hive very crowded, but not congested, a hive remains strong enough to resist most pests and diseases.


Notice how the many bees cover almost all of the frames on top. I removed one frame to inspect and to be sure the queen is laying good. But even hives that are queen right can suddenly become queenless. How does this happen so quickly?

Why do queens die or disappear? Remember, honey bees are livestock. More specifically, bees are bugs, insects that are at great risk not only from the normal threat of nature, but also from the hostile world beyond the sweet clover fields and tranquil meadows. Traffic, pesticides, insecticides, and those who see all insects as a pest pose a great threat to the survival of the honey bee. Because a queen is a small ¾ inch bug, she too can perish for various reasons. She can become ill or old and die. She can accidentally be smashed by the beekeeper when frames are pushed back together or covers are placed on a hive. She can be killed by the other bees if she shows signs of inferiority. And when another queen is raised in the same hive, the queens will fight and only one will survive, but certainly they both can perish in the fight.


A virgin queen must fly out of the hive several times to mate. This mating flight can be very treacherous. She can easily become a tasty meal for a bird or fall victim to nasty weather while she’s out. And even if she does make it back, the question is, did she mate adequately. So even though a hive can successfully raise their own queen, there is no better proof that the colony has a prolific queen until eggs are visible.

How do we determine that our colony is queenless? No eggs. You can click on the images to see a larger version. Study the picture and familiarize yourself in identifying eggs and larvae. An egg stands up in the bottom of a cell. By day three, the egg has laid down on the bottom of a cell and hatched into a larvae. You can see the royal jelly surrounding the larvae in the picture.

Even if a mated queen is present but we see no eggs, we are essentially queenless. You’ll develop a skill that will allow you to open up your hive and listen to the bees and observe their behavior. A queenless hive usually has a louder roar, and usually appears more disorganized. If you do not see any eggs on any frames, then you are queenless.

How can we make a queenless colony queen right? Purchase a new, mated queen in a cage and introduce her to the new hive with a candy plug. Or if the hive is raising their own queen, allow them to do so. If you allow the colony to raise their own queen, you will have to wait longer until the virgin queen emerges, matures, mates and starts laying. If you purchase a mated queen, she will start laying within a few days.

Is there a way we can tell if our colony is about to become queenless? Yes and no. Obviously if the beekeeper smashes and kills the queen, this cannot be known in advance. However, if the current queen has space to lay but is laying poorly, then the colony may try to replace her soon or they may not. Or if you see mostly drone brood, which sticks up above the smooth worker brood more like bullets, then you know your queen will soon perish. Also, if you see queen cells, either swarm cells on the lower part of the frame or supersedure cells on the upper half of the frame, then watch your hive carefully. Something may be wrong and it may become queenless. Finally, if you know the age of your queen, then you can determine how long she has left. This is somewhat unknown because some queens can do real well for several years, maybe three or four years. Some are only good for one year. Therefore, it is best to requeen your colony each year.

When you find that your hive is queenless, it is important to know how long it has been without a queen. This will tell you how long you have to obtain a new queen. For example, if you see only sealed brood as in the picture to the left, you know that your queen has been gone for more than a week. Sealed brood looks different than sealed honey. Sealed brood is usually darker and more textured looking. Whereas sealed honey is brighter and looks more wet. If you need help learning the difference, just use a tooth pick and poke a cell to see what's inside. If you see unsealed larvae, then you have some time before your hive experiences the affects of queenlessness. But you should work promptly to provide a new queen.

The unsealed brood means that those bees will be hatching in about 15 days so you still have new bees on their way. Let me test you. If your queen is missing but you see what's in the photo to the left, how long has your queen been gone? You can click on the image to enlarge. Some of the larvae is sealed or capped, but some are exposed. So we know the capped larvae are atleast 8 days old and the uncapped ones are large enough to be atleast 6-7 days old. So you've been without a queen for about a week. You have time to act, but you must act fast to purchase a new mated queen so there will be a minimal gap of emerging workers to keep the hive strong.


However, if there are no eggs and no sealed brood, it means that you will have nothing more than what you have. Each day, your hive will become smaller in number because without emerging brood the older bees will die. If you have no brood at all, sealed or unsealed, then you have an emergency! You must get a queen within the next few days. Pay extra and have her sent overnight. Every day counts. Your hive is a mere 30 days away from total collapse. Act fast.

Once the queen has perished, and the hive has attempted but failed to raise a replacement, you must act fast because without a queen, workers could become what is known as a laying worker. With the strong pheromone of open brood, not the queen pheromone, the other female workers’ ability to lay is suppressed. But without open brood pheromones, several female workers may start laying eggs. But since a female worker is not fully develop as a layer nor has she ever mated, nor could she, then her eggs are all infertile thus they will only become drones, male bees.

A laying worker in a hive usually means certain death of the colony. Since a laying worker will only produce male drones, the absence of workers means certain collapse of your hive. A laying worker does not have the long abdomen of a queen so when she lays, she cannot always place her eggs on the bottom of a deep cell. The eggs are often found on the side of a cell. But the obvious sign that you have a laying worker is that each cell contains many eggs. Sometimes a newly mated queen or a queen without room to lay may lay more than one egg in a cell, but a laying worker will fill up a cell with eggs. Study my photo here to familiarize yourself with what the eggs look like from having a laying worker. See the numerous eggs in the cells. Remember to click on the image to enlarge for a closer look.

It is suggested that even strong, queen right colonies always have a few laying workers, but the bees keep them in check. From the photo, can you see which one is the laying worker? No, you cannot. They are impossible to spot.

How do you get rid of a laying worker? Some say you can dump all the bees out in the yard, twenty feet or more away from the hive and the laying worker cannot find her way back in. Others say she can and will fly back. Some claim to have made special queen introduction cages which allow the newly mated queen to lay eggs on comb under a cage and eventually the bees will kill the laying worker. But introducing a queen into a hive with a laying worker often means the laying worker and her gang will attack and kill the newly introduced queen. And you’ll never find a laying worker. Don’t even bother trying, they all look the same.

I’ve had success by introducing new queens in cages into a laying worker hive, but it does take several tries. Unless you raise your own queens, this can be costly. It is easiest for me to remove a few frames from a queen right hive with the queen on it, and place them against the wall of a laying worker hive. The good queen along with her two frames of bees seem to seek and destroy the laying worker. Then you can easily replace the queen that you removed from the queen right hive.

The traditional solution is to take all the frames out of a laying worker hive and give them to strong colonies. The strong colony will usually kill the laying worker.

Finally, how can beekeepers protect their hives from becoming queenless?

Inspect your hive every 2 weeks. You do not necessarily have to spot the queen as long as you see that there is a good number of eggs and larvae. The photo to the left is what you want to find. Brood in various stages including eggs. This photo shows eggs near the edge of the frame.

Also be sure there is plenty of room for the queen to lay. If you see your hive is honey or pollen bound, you either have to shake out the pollen or extract the honey or put in empty drawn comb if you have some available. Failure to provide room in your hive for expansion can cause the bees to become congested. Remember we advocated crowded hives, but not congested hives. A congested hive means there is no more open, drawn out cells for the queen to lay in, or the forages to store pollen and nectar. Thus they will prepare to swarm.

Yesterday one of our hives did just that. Because we crowd our hives, they can become congested faster than we can sometimes give them drawn comb. But we'd rather err on the side of being too crowded than having a small and weak colony. Swarms are friendly. This swarm was gracious enough to agree to have their picture taken with me. I later shock them into a new hive and they are content now. By the way, if you are a beekeeper, you absolutely must have an extra hive on hand to catch swarms, swarms that come from your hive or for when you are called upon to help save a swarm near you. Yesterday a gentleman called us because he caught a swarm and had nothing to put it in.

Fortunately, we rushed him out a hive. But we cannot always send a hive right out, so please plan ahead. June is a big swarm month. Hives seem to swarm more on the first nice day after a storm or rainy weather. Now the hive that produced this swarm may become queenless. Hopefully they did their job, and produced a new queen. The old queen leaves with the swarm and the new emerging queen takes over. But remember, she is virgin queen, and must fly a mile or two away to mate with other drones, not from her hive. She can be killed in her flight by birds or storms. Will she make it back, and will she be mated well. Much is at stake.


Replace your queen yearly to ensure you have a young, prolific queen. Each day we send out queens to beekeepers across the country. These are queens that we raise from our honey bee farm that show the characteristics that we want in a honey bee.

We gather queens from their mating nucs once they've proven to be good layers. Then we add 4 attendants to care for the queen during shipment. Then, we add the candy plug along with one drop of water for the 1-2 day trip. It works out well.



We have mating nucs scatter throughout. The queens do not mate in the nuc, but it merely provides a place for the queen to live, be cared for and to show how well she can lay after she mates.


These mating nucs are near a cedar tree and use it as a land mark to find their way back to their specific hive. It is amazing that a queen can fly out, travel for miles to mate, and return home.

I was holding a virgin queen in my hand a few weekends ago, showing her to several people. She took flight, flew around a few times and was gone. The people were sad that she flew away. About twenty minutes later, she came back and landed on my leg. I picked her up and put her back in her cage. She did not mate on this flight. When queens return home from mating, they have the last male's genitalia still attached. Even though she returned home without a mating sign, it was still impressive that she had such a great sense of orientation and returned to her original take off point.

In fact, in my main mating yard, I can't even find my way around, but the queens do great picking out which hive is their home.


Some people use colors or markings on the hives or physical land marks, but we've found that for the most part the queens do fine finding their way back home.

Well, this concludes today's lesson and I hope it has been helpful to you in being able to keep your hive queenright!

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Until next time, BEE-have yourself!

David & Sheri Burns
LONG LANE HONEY BEE FARMS
http://www.honeybeesonline.com/
217-427-2678




Friday, June 12, 2009

LESSON 55: SWARMS, HOW TO MAKE A QUEEN INCUBATOR & MORE...


Welcome to Long Lane Honey Bee Farms! We are David & Sheri Burns, and we enjoy making a livelihood from bees. Now that it is June, our bees are really keeping us busy. It has been another challenging spring. We've had our share of rain and cool weather, but as the season progresses the weather conditions improve. We are producing lots of nucs and queens. We were issued a clean bill of health from our state's apiary inspection program through the Department of Agriculture, so we are happy about that! Now, I'm spending long days preparing the nucs. We sold over 60 nucs, so that's keeping me out in the bee yards all day long.

Our queens are doing great again this year, and filling up the brood area faster than we can keep new frames supplied for the queens to have room to lay. We are working hard every day grafting and raising queens! We are having very good results both in successful queen rearing techniques as well as the characteristics that we are seeing in our queens. Our queens orders are about a week behind but we are producing queens as fast as we can. It does take time to properly test the queens characteristics and make sure they are mated well. Queen rearing is a fine art. We have even added a few "trade secrets" to make our queens even better this year. We had to take the queens off our website due to demand out running supplies.
This is the time of year for swarming and we are having our fair share of swarms this year. No matter how many swarms we have, it is still beautiful to observe. A swarm is worthy of our full attention. Until you've stood in the middle of a swarm before, you can't say you've really experienced a swarm. My son was weed-eating and heard a swarm roar over the sound of the weed-eater!
Below is a video of a swarm that I shook from a tree near my nuc yard. Healthy hives swarm! Seriously, a reproductive swarm means that the hive was strong and healthy enough to produce another colony. Another reason bees swarm is because they become congested. Another "trade secret" that I will share with you, is that we overcrowd our hives and in so doing, they often become congested. I feel it is better to have a strong, crowded colony than a weak and struggling hive. Strong and crowded hives are more apt to resist pests and diseases. There is strength in numbers. As a result of the way we overcrowd our hives, we do have the occasional swarm like this one. Let me show you how I shake swarms from trees.

video

For the most part, swarms are not aggressive. I am occasionally stung by bees from a swarm but usually not. If you keep your hives near bushy trees like pines or a blue spruce, they usually land in the tree low enough where you can capture them and put them in a hive.
I learned something from an "old timer" beekeeper who said if beekeepers would stop chasing swarms and spend that time taking care of their own hives, they'd have better hives. I tend to agree with him. We have turned down most of this year's swarm calls. It just isn't worth it.
I' ve found that swarms like to land in my old ceder tree. This tree has been the resting place for many swarms over the last few years.

Not all swarms land low. Here's my oldest son, David, after he climbed a 30 foot tree with a Bee-Vac and captured a swarm that filled this entire holding cage. It was on the trunk of the tree and would have been impossible to remove without a bee-vac. We sell these, by the way.
The only reason I occasionally catch a swarm is to use it to draw comb. Swarms are good comb builders! Sometimes that's the only thing I use swarms for is to draw out foundation.
It's usually the old queen that leaves with the swarm, so when you catch a swarm it is usually a good idea to re-queen that swarm or it may not make it through the upcoming winter with the older queen.
In April, I flew down to Florida to shake packages and as you may remember from an earlier lesson, I mentioned that I was able to visit with commercial queen producer, David Miksa. In the April and May issue of the American Bee Journal, David was featured in a large article about his life long pursuit of producing queens. Every year I continue to sharpen my queen rearing skills and it is through knowing people like Dr. Joe Latshaw and David Miksa and others that I am able to improve my line of queens. I added about 5 different "survival" genetic stocks that I purchased from other parts of the US. I believe genetic diversity is crucial to very productive queens.
When I visited David Miksa, I was impressed with his incubator. When you produce large numbers of queens, you will need a place to hold sealed queen cells, especially when there is a bottle neck, say your mating nucs are still full as you wait for those queens to mate and to be used in hives or sold. What I like about David's incubator is that it has a glass door. And as we talked about it, he told me that it was just a glass door refrigerator. He added a heating element along with dual thermostats in case one goes bad.
Last year we used a "Little Giant" 9200 chicken egg incubator. They are around $50 and you'll need to keep your cells at around 92 degrees.


When I was at Sam's Club a few weeks ago, I noticed that they had a nice size, small, pop-can refrigerator just alittle over $150 with a glass door. With a glass door, you can more easily see your cells and monitor the temperature and humidity. It fits nicely under my counter.
I bought it and then removed the important parts from my 9200 chicken incubator and placed the heating elements and thermostat on a piece of plywood. Then, I placed the electronics on the bottom shelf of the fridge.
I wired the heating element up by routing it through the drain hole in the lower back part of the inside fridge. So, I didn't have to make any alterations to the fridge. So when I'm not raising queens, I can use it for an extra fridge.
You'll find as a beekeeper you can save lots of money by making your own incubator instead of buying one. Many queen producers make it even more simple by taking an old fridge, even one that no longer works, and simply place a low wattage light inside. You can wire the door switch so that the light is always on, and then put it on a thermostat to keep it around 92 degrees using a VERY low watt bulb. That's right, a light bulb will keep it warm enough. This works well too. There are lots of old refrigerators out there, and you may even fine one with a glass door.
I hope that by sharing insightful information about queen rearing, that more and more beekeepers may try their hand at it. It is quite easy and very enjoyable and rewarding, not to mention it can save you money from not having to buy queens when you need them. And by raising your own queens, you can also raise queens from the hives that you like best.
Also in this lesson, I want to WARN you to keep an eye on your queen. Inspect your hive every 14 days to be sure she is alive and laying well. If you lose your queen, your entire hive will all perish within 6 weeks, so be sure to keep an eye on your queen, and replace her with a new one at the first sign that she has perished.
Here's a picture of one of our "Pioneer Queens" this year. Also, I must stress how important it is that you replace your queen every year. When a virgin queen mates, she stores the sperm from the drones in her spermatheca. She usually mates with 15-20+ drones on a few mating flights. Because she stores the sperm, she will eventually run out. Then, she can only lay unfertilized eggs, which only makes drones, male honey bees. So by requeening your hive every year, you are insuring that she is able to lay strongly throughout that year and into the next spring.
People often ask me when is the best time to requeen a hive. Typically, any time is better than not doing it at all. Bees requeen their own hives whenever there is a need, so we can too. But I believe timing of requeening each year can produce different results. In other words, if your old queen is starting to not lay well in March, then by all means replace her so that you can have the results you want in March which is a better brood pattern, which means more bees. But, if you are replacing your queen simply because you want a younger queen, then you MUST do this after the turning of days (June 21).
Melvin Disselkoen became an EAS Master Beekeeper in 1986 and has worked bees for over 35 years. He wrote an article about outbreeding the mites. His research and explanation of outbreeding the mites makes real good sense, and it was while reading his work that I realized it is best to requeen after June 21.

His complete article on this can be found on his website at:


His point is that if you requeen after July 21, a new queen will outbreed the mites. The brood cycle of a mite is 13 days, and a worker bees is 16 days. Since a new queen after June 21 lays like a spring queen, she will out-lay the mites. Less mites means healthier overwintered colonies and better spring build up. That's a huge reason to wait until after June 21. Other reasons for requeening each year include: swarm reduction, stronger spring build up, better honey production due to increased spring foragers and more.
I've also been very busy preparing nucs. Some days I spend 12 hours a day working the hives to pull out 4 frames to meet our nuc demands. I'll be glad when the last of the nucs are gone! Here's a picture of my youngest son, Christian, after we packed up some nucs. These were a special order as you can see they are nucs, but they are all on medium foundation. Some beekeepers like using all medium size boxes rather than the larger deep hive bodies. We are happy to help out. Beekeeping is usually a skill based on knowledge, wisdom and experience. However, I've learned that making nucs is an art! It is not for the faint at heart.

I could go on and on, but I do want to address a very large problem within the beekeeping community. It's not CCD, though there are more cases of it than CCD, I'm sure. The problem I'd like to address is the disappearing hive tool. Where do they go? How can they disappear? Are aliens from other planets stealing our hive tools with some huge magnet from the mother ship? I doubt it. But I've solved my personal problem of lost hive tools. I bought a nice one! :)


Not only do I lose hive tools, but I leave them in the back of pickup trucks or on top of a hive, and because they are metal, they will rust. Leave one on the ground all winter, and it will almost rust away by spring.  Click here to go to our online store for this item. 
If you are still needing hive equipment you can order it online or give us a call. Our contact information is below. Thanks so much for following these lessons!
Until next time, remember to Bee-have yourself!

David & Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms
217-427-2678