Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Two honeybee queens

It was a mild winter, and I was lucky to have all five of my honeybee colonies make it through to Spring. Two of them were baby hives- five frame 'nucs' (nucleus colonies). Those two nucs I sold a couple of weeks ago to a beekeeper who lost all their hives this winter. This helped offset the cost of buying hive equipment, and enables me to free up some space to make more new nucs later.
Now that leaves me with three full sized hives- two in my backyard and one down the road at a friend's house.
It's still cold at night here in the 30's, so the bees are not in full speed laying mode yet. A couple weeks ago I switched their brood boxes vertically, to put each brood nest down in the bottom box and an empty comb brood box on the top for each hive to expand upwards into.
Today I checked my two home hives, which I call Aurora and Maybelle, to see if their populations were doing well and their queens laying.
As I expected, Aurora hive (which is in a slightly shadier location) had a small patch of brood and small population. But there were eggs and brood, and I took a few nice pictures of Aurora's lovely queen. Click on the photos to see them full size with lots of detail:

Thus, though Aurora's population is low, the queen seems to be laying and may be getting a slow start simply due to the current chilly weather and her slightly shadier location.

I moved on to inspect my Maybelle hive and was pleased that there were many bees and a lot more brood. I expected to see this due to the busy traffic going in and out of that hive. Again I found the queen in Maybelle hive, and photographed her. She looked a little more golden colored. I took the opportunity of removing a frame with brood and nurse bees from Maybelle hive and giving it to Aurora as a little boost. When moving a frame from one hive to another, I only include the nurse bees on a frame of brood if I have located the queen first, so that I don't accidentally move her as well! I replaced the stolen frame with an empty frame from Aurora back to Maybelle.
Things seemed just fine in Maybelle with a good amount of brood in progress, and I closed everything up.
It was obvious that it would be a while yet before being able to make any new nucs or splits off these hives, or to bother trying to prevent a swarm, or put on honey supers. They both still had a full 10 frame deep of totally empty drawn comb frames in their top brood boxes. The Spring nectar flow has not started in earnest yet even though dandelions are beginning to bloom in some spots. I expect everything to get on the fast track in a couple more weeks, towards the end of April.

Later on my computer, I looked over the queen photos I had taken this morning. I knew which queen photos were from which hive. I was very surprised to see that the queen in Maybelle (with the better brood production) actually had a dent in her thorax that surely must affect her health in some way sooner or later. It was quite clear in the photos. I don't think the dent happened today, because I was very careful and gentle when I removed frames to look at her brood area today. The dent looked like it might have been there a while, but hard to tell. Obviously, this dent has not interfered yet in her Spring laying, but I can't help but now think it might be good to replace her later this Spring with her own daughter.
I wouldn't choose to replace her right now, since she is laying well and it's a critical time right now with the cold weather and not an abundance of drones yet. 
The dent was not visible at all when I was looking directly at her through my veil, but it's quite plain to see in these photos:

Just goes to show you the value of taking photographs of your bees once in a while!

The queen in Aurora hive, meanwhile, looked perfect and had a very black shiny thorax, easy to see her. I remember seeing her just once after she was born last year, June 2011, and I had written down that I noticed her pretty 'toasted' color appearance. She will be 1 year old this June, and I suspect she will be laying just fine after Spring warms up a little more. Aurora was the hive from which I got my one unexpected harvest of a medium super of honey last Fall, yielding my first one gallon honey harvest.

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