As you can see my own little back yard apiary is expanding. It hasn't been easy, but with baby steps, we've done pretty darn good. And I do have to admit I'm proud.
It was this time last year I started my beekeeping voyage with one package of bees from Georgia, most of them dead and the rest struggling for life. But with some quick thinking, a new queen, two frames of brood from another apiary and lots of TLC, it became the thriving colony it is today.
As I mentioned awhile back, I found all kinds of swarm cells in the yellow hive, so I moved those over to a new hive (green) with brood and bees to start a new colony. My inspection about a week later indicated that the swarm cells were gone and a lot of supersedure cells had popped up -- a situation that perplexed me and more experienced beekeepers too. But I decided to wait it out because I wanted to see if a virgin queen might be there...and see if she may fly away to mate, come back, then come home to begin her own family.
That never happened it seems. Apparently the queen (if there was one) never returned and so my worst fears came true. When I opened the green hive, I found eggs alright. Two or three eggs per cell. Some had one, but many of them had two and three eggs -- meaning that I now had evidence of a laying worker. Since that means the colony is headed for disaster, I had to act quickly -- so I took the hive to the other side of the yard, almost a couple hundred feet away -- and I shook every single bee off every frame. And when I got back to the hive stand where the green hive rests, a swarm of the bees from the hive had covered the entire inner cover which I propped up. And as I sat the hive back up where it belongs, the bees started marching back into their home. It was a great sight to see. I'm just hoping the young laying worker wasn't able to find her way back to the hive.
I ordered two new queens from an apiary in Winston Salem, North Carolina, called Tate's Apiaries (on Union Cross Road, 336-788-4554). Larry and Janice Tate raise Carniolan and Italian queens, and since my good friend Jared Watkins had such great success with his, I decided to get two Carniolan queens. There they are on the right, and although they're hard to see, if you click the picture to enlarge it you can almost see the blue marks on their backs.
The colony in the green hive had been queenless for weeks, so I went ahead and introduced one of the new queens that same day. But since I was doing a second split (making it my third hive) -- I decided to move frames of brood and pollen and nectar into the newer orange hive, wait for 24-hours for them to realize they're queenless, then introduce the new caged queen and let them slowly get used to her. As you can see, there are quite a few bees from the mother hive in the new orange hive. And after making a small hole in the candy with a nail, I tightly wedged the cage between the frames so the workers can take care of the new queen and her attendants.
Take a good look at one of the brood frames I moved into the new orange hive. Nice, huh? This is from the mother hive or the yellow hive. As you can see, the queen is a laying machine, so I had enough frames to move into the green hive and the orange hive. And guess what? While I was busy looking to make sure I wouldn't move the queen from the mother hive, through the corner of my eye, I happened to see something green lumbering across the frame. It was the original queen I introduced in 2009! For the first time since last October, there she was moving ever so graciously through her daughters on the frame. Her green dot (indicating she was a 2009 queen) was worn but still there. Am I planning to replace her this year? No way. If she continues to do this well, she's got a home for as long as she wants. I was very careful to make sure she stayed in the yellow hive because I separated the frame she was on from the colony...and was careful to put it back when I was done.
As soon as I put the cage with the new queen in the orange hive, the bees went to work checking her out. No aggression or anything to indicate they wanted to harm her. They just appeared to be curious and even started working on the candy stopper. I'm hoping that she'll be released in the next few days, and as it stands, I'll give them the standard five days to see if she's out and hopefully laying eggs. I'm hoping I'll find pleasant surprises in both hives in the next few days.
As you can see...this is a happy update and I'm excited. My mother hive is ruled by an Italian queen, and the two new hives will be dominated by Carniolan queens. I am looking forward to working with this race of bee since I've heard good things about them. I hear they're hard workers, gentle, and adapt to local conditions better than Italians. And besides, if it doesn't work out with them, Larry and Janice Tate sell Italian queens too.
So it looks like my apiary is moving right along and now I'm thinking about at least one more hive behind the house. If I decide to expand beyond the four, I think I'll have to find another location. My neighbors seems to be very cool with my backyard apiary so far -- and I just want to keep them that way.
Expect an update soon with the details of how my new colonies are faring.