Facing my Fears: Time to Rear my own Queen Bees

My first batch of queen cells

Reader, I think I’m on to something around here.

Let me tell you what’s been brewing and what I’m doing about it.

As you probably already know, the honeybees are having a rough go of it these past years. People ask me everyday what factors I believe have continued to cause the overall decline of the honeybees—and I have my ideas, though I’ll share those with you in another post.

As a result of the honeybee decline, many of our managed Ohio hives died this past winter…I lost a high high high percentage of my hives. And when it comes time to replace those lost hives, lots of people purchase 3-pound packages of bees and a queen. These packages arrive in Ohio mid April from southern states…states that, because of their more temperate winter weather, can get a good jump on building their hives and queens for shipment earlier in the season. If we in the Midwest or in the North receive our bees from southern states, we can get our new hives established more quickly.

I’ve ordered many packages of bees these past few years…both for myself and for others who then purchase these bees from me. And I’m very grateful to our southern beekeepers who have continued to supply us.

However (and I am not complaining here), it would take a numbskull not to notice that these packaged bees and the queens that arrive with them limp along for a long time once we hive them. The queens often fail completely and immediately. Either the hive goes queenless or the colony very quickly supercedes the queen. So the hive either fails completely or it crawls along, using resources from our other hives in order to develop its new queen, and then waiting a month or so for that new queen to emerge, mate, and begin laying. Very few of these hives develop with the vigor we expect from a happy, healthy, robust colony. Honeybees are generally enthusiastic, friends…they don’t naturally drag around.

And then, after nurturing a slow, weak hive all season, the colony often simply gives up the ghost over the winter…which is all very frustrating and expensive. So what do we do? We then order another package the following spring. To me, this cycle feels more and more as if I’m chasing good money after bad. Over and over and over again.

This spring, more of my packages failed than ever. And I’ve decided not to climb back on that treadmill.

Fortunately, it’s tough to dampen hope. So rather than give it all up, I’ve become resourceful. This season, I’ve begun to rear my very own queens.

I’m convinced, Reader, that we Ohio beekeepers can rear our own healthy queens…proven queens from genetics that have already survived our Midwest winters…queens that can rear worker bees genetically adapted to forage midwestern flora. And if I rear my own queens, I will not churn them out for massive shipments…which means I can give the hives the resources necessary to rear strong and healthy queens. It’s all in the resources, folks…rearing queens requires strong bees, honey, and pollen…and a knowledgable beekeeper who is doggedly determined to run a sustainable operation. And that beekeeper happens to be me.





What to Do When You Discover Honeybees Living in Your House with You

At this time of year in Ohio, during what we call a strong “flow” (when nectar is flowing like crazy from trees and flowers, and when bee colonies are building their populations and storing honey and pollen with abandon), my phone begins to ring off the wall. Why? Because some people suddenly realize that honeybees are coming and going from a tiny, previously unrecognized hole in their house.

Yes, Reader, honeybees love to live in houses, too. Or in garages or storage sheds. They don’t actually want to live inside your house with you. Nor do they want to grow to the point that they take over your entire home. Unlike us, honeybees are satisfied with only a small, manageable space to call their own. They simply need a small, dry, safe, empty cavity in which to live. And they often find just the space they need in an uninsulated hollow created between floor joists or wall studs or in soffits. Etc.

So, my callers almost always ask me about their options regarding this home-sharing situation.

To my mind, there are three viable options:

  1. Leave the bees alone
  2. Remove and relocate the entire live colony…this includes responsible handling of all the living bees—all the eggs, larvae, brood, and queen—all of the honeycomb, and all of the stored honey
  3. Kill the bees

And, Reader, what most homeowners who contact me don’t yet understand is this: It’s not the bees that are the problem here. Honeybees are generally very mild mannered and don’t want anything to do with humans. We are simply movers in their world. They don’t want to hurt us. They have more important things on their minds…such as happily flying in the sunshine, visiting flowers and trees, swimming, eating watermelon, taking care of their home and their young and their queen, treating themselves to blackberries, cleaning house, and storing honey for winter. They don’t care at all about us.

Of course, if the bee colony is located near a space often used by humans or pets, then things can certainly get unsettling. None of us, not even full-time beekeepers, really want to deal with bees whenever we step outside or sit in our lawn chair or eat our lunch on our patio.

The problem with honeybees in the house lies in the honey they store there. And as long as the bees are alive, this stored honey isn’t a problem, either. In the heat of summer, the bees cool the hive enough to contain the honey. And in the winter, the bees stay in their nice cavity and eat through all that stored honey. Our problems begin in earnest when the bee colony dies off.

When the colony dies, the honey is left unattended. Let me tell you…when the weather warms up, that honey smells terrific. And who doesn’t love a great big store of sweet honey?! I love it. And so do raccoons. And squirrels. And possum. And mice and rats and ants and beetles and moths and yellow jackets and hornets…yes, now you get the picture.

Also, in the summertime, unattended honeycomb full of sweet, drippy honey gets surprisingly heavy. And because there are no bees to cool the honey-containing beeswax, the comb sags and detaches from wherever it hung. And then the honey runs out. And it coats everything. You cannot imagine. And all those previously mentioned pests that love honey follow it wherever it goes.

One of the pests drawn to that aroma of honey and beeswax and propolis is…another swarm of honeybees. Yep. There is NOTHING more enticing to a swarm looking for a new home than an already lived-in perfect space full of already-built honeycomb. Same song, second verse.

This post has gone on way too long, Reader! I shall stop now and give you a break.