Orientation flights occur when bees graduate from being house bees to foragers. They emerge from the hive in a huge cloud and fly in ever expanding figure eight patterns in front of the hive until they have their bearings, then they take off and start foraging.
At the end of May I did a full inspection of the top bar hive, and was somewhat alarmed at the number of drones that were in the hive. Almost every frame seemed to be dominated by drones, and there were two fully drawn out combs packed from top to bottom with capped drone brood. (Drone brood is larger and has a more pronounced dome cap on it than does worker brood.) I didn't see the queen, and although there was some larvae and worker brood, I was concerned that I had laying workers in the hive. Laying workers are a sign of a queenless colony. When a colony loses it's queen, worker bees sometimes will develop reproductive parts and start laying. But since workers are sterile, their larvae are always drones. I was also concerned because there didn't appear to be very much in the way of food stores in the hive, and I figured the drones were eating them out of house and home! However, upon checking the hive again briefly, last week, I found that much of the drone brood had hatched, and most of them were gone from the hive. And I also spotted the queen, so I assumed that they knew what they were doing! After thinking about the situation, and doing some more reading, I realized that the queen had laid the drone brood in the comb that the previous colony had drawn out for honey storage. Honey comb has larger cells, and larger cells induce the queen to lay drone eggs.
As I said earlier, the Langstroth hive was doing very well. It came through the winter easily, and has been busting at the seams with bees.
So we decided to do a "split" or an "artificial swarm" to try to prevent it from swarming on it's own. By doing a split, we are able to create a new colony, relieve the overpopulation of the hive, and we also hopefully eliminate the possibility of losing a swarm. When a hive is preparing to swarm, the workers select a handful of larvae to become potential new queens. They build out the cells that those larvae are in, and start feeding them royal jelly to create the new queen. To do a split, we checked the hive a couple of times, and when we saw the queen cups that had eggs or larvae in them, we knew it was time.
Then, we set up a "nuc box", which is just a small hive box with five frames in it.
Then we find the queen in the original colony, and take the frame that she is on, along with two other frames that contain brood and honey, and place them all in the nuc box.
The queen is on this frame, you'll have to take my word for it!
Queen frame in the nuc box.
Completed nuc box.
With the split done, we now had two and a half hives! That is, until last week, when the original Langstroth hive swarmed, despite having done the split! Thankfully, we were home and were able to capture the swarm. And, thankfully, we had another nuc box that we could put the swarm into.
Here's a picture of the swarm, about eight feet up in a pine tree right next to the bee yard.
We donned our gear, gathered our tools, and collected the swarm. First, I shook as many bees off the branch as I could into a five gallon bucket, and dumped them into the second nuc box.
This swarm wasn't as docile as the one I captured last year, and they didn't appreciate being shaken out of their cluster! I didn't use any smoke or sugar water to calm them, and all of that shaking made for some angry bees! As such, I received my first sting as a beekeeper! It was bound to happen sometime, but I had been pretty proud of the fact that I had not been stung, with a year of beekeeping under my belt!
It's hard to see, but that red dot right between my fingers is my first battle scar.
In the end, I had to cut the branch out of the pine tree and shake the remaining bees into the box. Once I felt confident I had the new queen in the box, I was able to put the cover on and let the swarm settle into it's new home.
Now we've got two hives and two half hives! That sounds pretty good, right? Well.....
Last week, Sue was checking all the Langstroth boxes, just to make sure they were all queen right, which they were, and she found that the split we did was going gang busters, building comb all over the place, and once again, chock full of bees!
So, we decided to move the split to a full sized Langstroth hive. Sue went and purchased new woodenware and this morning we moved the bees into their new home.
New hive box set up and ready to receive the frames from the "split".
Scraping off excess wax after the frames are placed in the new hive.
The newly completed Langstroth hive and the now empty nuc box.
We had to shake the bees from the twisted honeycomb they had built on the inside of the nuc box cover several times to get them all off, and into the new hive.
It's fascinating to me how, when left to their own devices in an open space, the bees will build comb in all sorts of shapes and in many different directions. But when we give them frames and foundation, or top bars, they build comb that is straight and plumb, and to our minds, perfect. Makes me wonder if the methods we have "introduced" to the bees contribute to or hinder their survival.
So, now the hive count in the bee yard is three and a half! Hopefully, we'll have a good nectar flow this year and we'll be able to pull a good amount of honey off all these hives this year! 100 pounds sure would be nice!
Until next time...