I recently joined an online group for SE Beekeepers. (They were kind enough to let me join, despite my “west side” zip code). I’ve noticed a trend these last few weeks in comments from new beekeepers. They take different forms, but post after post I see, “Is this normal?” So whether you installed a nuc or a package this spring, here are some questions other newbies are asking:
- “I couldn’t wait 9 days and I opened the hive after 5, is this ok?”
- “Is it normal for queens to die in the first week?”
- “Is it normal for nucs/packages to swarm right away?”
- “My bees have only filled 3-4 frames, is this normal?”
- “Is it normal to see evidence of supersedure already?“
Well I’m here to tell you that when it comes to bees, nothing is actually “normal.” Sure there are things to watch out for and things to prepare for, but just when you think you have them figured out – they change the rules of the game. I liken this to parenting. Now, I’ve only been a parent for 6 years, but I can tell you that just when I feel like I’ve got things under control, one of the children decides a new “hobby” is in order (typically these “hobbies” involve crying or throwing food, I’ve found). And so you will go into your bee yard with the same trepidation as when you ask, “What are you doing?” and open a closed bedroom door to see what your child has quietly been doing for the last 15 minutes (making a mess is the answer, by the way).
And just to prove to you that bees never follow directions, I’ll show you what ours have been up to this spring.
We bought packages this year with the intent to requeen with local queens sometime this summer. Well the packages were delayed due to transportation issues, so we didn’t get them until May 16. We installed all four on the 17th. It was a warm, sunny day – perfect weather for beekeeping. Our son even helped (his first time in his bee suit while bees were actually present) and he handled it like a champ!
Then we had a of couple cooler days and some rain. On May 21, just four days later, we were walking the property and passed by the hives to enjoy the bee traffic. It was almost 8:00 at night, so we expected to see the last stragglers coming in for the evening. And we did see this, in two of the four hives, but the other two had no bee activity at all. We lifted the lids and sure enough, two colonies were missing. The queens were still inside and still in their cages. One of them was dead and one seemed pretty weak. We scoured the trees for swarms, but came up empty-handed. Before we headed back inside to cry get ready for bed, my husband lifted the lid of a third hive and looked inside – well – there were our bees, all 3 packages worth in that one hive.
When we went out the next day to really explore, this is what we found in what we are now calling Mega Hive:
Now, it was our fault for not putting the inner cover on right over top of the frames, which allowed the bees to build all of this beautiful comb, but there were so many bees and so much comb, that it became apparent very quickly that the packages had drifted.
We were left with the exciting task of removing that burr comb and attaching it to frames so the bees could continue with business as usual.
So what have we learned? (because that’s also an important part of parenting beekeeping) In hindsight, I think we may have placed the hives too close together. A fellow beekeeper who I keep in touch with, Gary Veale, said some have wondered if it has to do with the queen’s pheromones or maybe the parent colony where the package came from was in the middle of swarm preparation. I like to think that on the truck ride north the bees got to chatting and they just decided that, since they have common interests, and they all vote the same way, they should just move in together.
Then there’s this issue of usurpation. Dr. Wyatt A. Mangum detailed this activity in the December 2010 issue of American Bee Journal and his findings are summarized HERE. This has to do with one colony basically taking over another colony to the tune of “This is war!”. I’m not sure this is the case in my situation as none of the packages had really even established themselves yet, but as Gary put it, “This proves that we really don’t know everything concerning queens.”
Speaking of queens, here’s the queen in my hive #4. This is the hive that stayed put and is just doing “normal” hive things (I’m not going to say this one one is my favorite child, but….)
And so, just as you as a parent wake up each morning wondering what kind of sticky mess you’re going to have to clean up today, beekeeping is very similar. Everytime we enter the bee yard I feel excited about what we might find that will send us running to Google. And if you’re wondering if your bees are normal, the answer is yes they are, but there’s no such thing as normal (see what I did there?). Oh, by the way, this is also the answer to “Are my kids normal?”
To see what I’ve been up to, check out my blog at MyAdventuresInBeekeeping.wordpress.com