Sam Comfort and Anarchy Apiary queens

So far, so good from Anarchy Apiaries

Sam Comfort and Anarchy Apiary queens

 

The temperatures these past couple of weeks have given those of us in Ohio an opportunity to check on the bees and to feed sugar candy or honey to those colonies running low on stores. I’ve made a wonderful discovery, Reader: By my calculations (which might be off by a smidgen because my record keeping isn’t perfect), every single hive in which I introduced a queen from Anarchy Apiaries is still living. What a joy to open a hive in which a colony is quietly working toward spring.

Colonies with genetics from my own queens…queens that I started from local surviving stock…are still flying as well. Though I’m not ready to produce quantities of queens, Sam Comfort is. So, if your hive died this winter, I suggest you consider replacing your queens mid summer with those from Anarchy Apiaries.

 

Hope

Rearing queen bees requires balance. No, not the kind of balance it takes to walk a wire, but a kind of balance in the bees’ psyche. Yes, bees have psyches. Ask any good beekeeper…we can read the bees’ mood as soon as we open the hive box.

When rearing queens, our first step is to make the bees absolutely desperate for a new queen. Desperate. And yet, in order to rear high-quality, strong queens, our bees must also maintain a high level of enthusiasm. And that’s a tough balance to keep.

Hope is the key here. Only hope can bridge the crevice between desperation and enthusiasm.  Seriously…this stuff is too wonderful for words.

 

Bob poses (under duress) with his queen castle

Bob the Architect Saves the Day

One thing that’s really handy to have if you’re rearing queens is your very own wonderful certified sweet architect. Why? Because your architect can help you build these awesome 3-frame queen castles (also called “mating nucs”).

Once your queen cells are capped, you place the cell in a tiny little hive with a cup or two of bees and a frame of honey, and the bees tend the cell until the queen emerges, mates, and begins laying her eggs.

My friend Bob is my favorite architect. He’s also one of my favorite friends. He’s fun to hang out with. And Bob built these gorgeous queen castles. And if you need some, I’m sure he’ll sell them to you.

Bob poses (under duress) with his queen castle

 

The Accidental Queens

I’m here to report SUCCESS on the queen-rearing front.

I read the books, watched the videos, asked my questions on the beekeeping forums. I bought the little plastic queen-rearing cells, the queen-rearing frames, the little larvae-lifting device, the queen-rearing nucs, and the mating castle. But before I could even begin my actual experiment employing all those suggested gizmos, a queen-killing accident in my strongest hive resulted in a slew of drop-dead gorgeous queen cells. They were sublime…at the same time horrifying and thrilling beyond imagination. I harvested the cells. From which queens emerged and mated and began getting down to work laying eggs in breathtaking patterns.

That accident taught me a lot.

So, I am now rearing my queens without all those devices. No larva-scooping device. No fancy cells or frames. I am simply populating a 5-frame nuc with a very strong number of bees, giving it a frame of honey, a frame of pollen, and a frame of brood…and once it realizes it’s queenless (24 hours after I make the nuc), I give it a frame containing four-day old larva. I then wait seven days and harvest the queen cells and Viola!, within three weeks I have beautiful queens with developed ovarioles ready to get to work.

This whole experience reminds me of my bread-baking experiments a number of years ago. While many of my friends were getting all heady about their fancy bread-making machines, I began makign the best bread imaginable using only my hands and a wooden spoon. I don’t even use a bread pan. I simply toss my hand-formed loaf onto a baking sheet. Something deep within me wants to avoid gizmos.

All of this is to say, Reader: I now have a strong number of very beautiful queen bees who are laying in some drop-dead gorgeous patterns. It makes me dizzy to see the beauty. I’ve chosen my queens from swarms I collected early this season…and from my surviving stock. Which means that these queens embody strong Midwestern genetics and stand a chance of surviving our winters. And their offspring know how to forage our Midwestern flora.

If you need a queen, my friend, I’ve got her right here (as long as I can keep up with demand while still producing strong queens…I’m not a queen factory. I delight over every queen…which, for some reason, seems important). And I can get one of these sweet queens to you.

 

My first batch of queen cells

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.

 

 

 

 

Queen of the Amazons

New Mexico, Here I Come

Yes, I’ve been absent for a few months. But the bees and I are both back to flying now.

Only the Amazon hive made it through the past winter. I love those Amazons. Funny, I call them the Amazons without even thinking about it.

The fact that the Amazons, the hive I captured from a swarm two years ago, is the only of my hives to have successfully overwintered two winters underscores my determination to raise my own queens from survivor stock. I think it’s unnatural to order my bees and queens from Georgia or California as I’ve been doing, and I’m not gonna do it any more.

If I plan to raise bees successfully, I’d better get down to raising my own queens from my own strong surviving stock. Yes, it’s a big step, but I’m 52-years old and smart, and who’s gonna take the big steps if not me?!

I tried to sign up for an Ohio State queen-rearing workshop this year, but that workshop, which is capped at 50 people, was already filled. So, I called the lady at the Ohio State Bee Lab to see how I could finagle my way into the workshop. I got a little bit outlandish on the phone as I created these wild and scheming ways of getting in. I cracked myself up with my ideas, but the lady was a sourpuss. You know the type—type-A rule follower. Well, I’d already decided to drive myself the 3 hours up there in May with my $75 registration fee in hand and in cash and see if they turned me down. They would have let me in. I can charm my way into anything.

However, the thought of being in that Ohio State workshop with those people (whom I find dull based on experience at bee school these past two years) led me to explore further. And through a wonderful and serendipitous chain of one thing leading to another, I found Zia Queenbees in Truchas, NM, where I am now one of 12 people registered for a 2-day queen-rearing workshop in the mountains along the road between Taos and Santa Fe.

And I am totally flipped out with delight about it.

(Queen of the Amazons is at 7 o’clock below)

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Queen of the Amazons