Friday, June 12, 2009

LESSON 55: SWARMS, HOW TO MAKE A QUEEN INCUBATOR & MORE...


Welcome to Long Lane Honey Bee Farms! We are David & Sheri Burns, and we enjoy making a livelihood from bees. Now that it is June, our bees are really keeping us busy. It has been another challenging spring. We've had our share of rain and cool weather, but as the season progresses the weather conditions improve. We are producing lots of nucs and queens. We were issued a clean bill of health from our state's apiary inspection program through the Department of Agriculture, so we are happy about that! Now, I'm spending long days preparing the nucs. We sold over 60 nucs, so that's keeping me out in the bee yards all day long.

Our queens are doing great again this year, and filling up the brood area faster than we can keep new frames supplied for the queens to have room to lay. We are working hard every day grafting and raising queens! We are having very good results both in successful queen rearing techniques as well as the characteristics that we are seeing in our queens. Our queens orders are about a week behind but we are producing queens as fast as we can. It does take time to properly test the queens characteristics and make sure they are mated well. Queen rearing is a fine art. We have even added a few "trade secrets" to make our queens even better this year. We had to take the queens off our website due to demand out running supplies.
This is the time of year for swarming and we are having our fair share of swarms this year. No matter how many swarms we have, it is still beautiful to observe. A swarm is worthy of our full attention. Until you've stood in the middle of a swarm before, you can't say you've really experienced a swarm. My son was weed-eating and heard a swarm roar over the sound of the weed-eater!
Below is a video of a swarm that I shook from a tree near my nuc yard. Healthy hives swarm! Seriously, a reproductive swarm means that the hive was strong and healthy enough to produce another colony. Another reason bees swarm is because they become congested. Another "trade secret" that I will share with you, is that we overcrowd our hives and in so doing, they often become congested. I feel it is better to have a strong, crowded colony than a weak and struggling hive. Strong and crowded hives are more apt to resist pests and diseases. There is strength in numbers. As a result of the way we overcrowd our hives, we do have the occasional swarm like this one. Let me show you how I shake swarms from trees.

video

For the most part, swarms are not aggressive. I am occasionally stung by bees from a swarm but usually not. If you keep your hives near bushy trees like pines or a blue spruce, they usually land in the tree low enough where you can capture them and put them in a hive.
I learned something from an "old timer" beekeeper who said if beekeepers would stop chasing swarms and spend that time taking care of their own hives, they'd have better hives. I tend to agree with him. We have turned down most of this year's swarm calls. It just isn't worth it.
I' ve found that swarms like to land in my old ceder tree. This tree has been the resting place for many swarms over the last few years.

Not all swarms land low. Here's my oldest son, David, after he climbed a 30 foot tree with a Bee-Vac and captured a swarm that filled this entire holding cage. It was on the trunk of the tree and would have been impossible to remove without a bee-vac. We sell these, by the way.
The only reason I occasionally catch a swarm is to use it to draw comb. Swarms are good comb builders! Sometimes that's the only thing I use swarms for is to draw out foundation.
It's usually the old queen that leaves with the swarm, so when you catch a swarm it is usually a good idea to re-queen that swarm or it may not make it through the upcoming winter with the older queen.
In April, I flew down to Florida to shake packages and as you may remember from an earlier lesson, I mentioned that I was able to visit with commercial queen producer, David Miksa. In the April and May issue of the American Bee Journal, David was featured in a large article about his life long pursuit of producing queens. Every year I continue to sharpen my queen rearing skills and it is through knowing people like Dr. Joe Latshaw and David Miksa and others that I am able to improve my line of queens. I added about 5 different "survival" genetic stocks that I purchased from other parts of the US. I believe genetic diversity is crucial to very productive queens.
When I visited David Miksa, I was impressed with his incubator. When you produce large numbers of queens, you will need a place to hold sealed queen cells, especially when there is a bottle neck, say your mating nucs are still full as you wait for those queens to mate and to be used in hives or sold. What I like about David's incubator is that it has a glass door. And as we talked about it, he told me that it was just a glass door refrigerator. He added a heating element along with dual thermostats in case one goes bad.
Last year we used a "Little Giant" 9200 chicken egg incubator. They are around $50 and you'll need to keep your cells at around 92 degrees.


When I was at Sam's Club a few weeks ago, I noticed that they had a nice size, small, pop-can refrigerator just alittle over $150 with a glass door. With a glass door, you can more easily see your cells and monitor the temperature and humidity. It fits nicely under my counter.
I bought it and then removed the important parts from my 9200 chicken incubator and placed the heating elements and thermostat on a piece of plywood. Then, I placed the electronics on the bottom shelf of the fridge.
I wired the heating element up by routing it through the drain hole in the lower back part of the inside fridge. So, I didn't have to make any alterations to the fridge. So when I'm not raising queens, I can use it for an extra fridge.
You'll find as a beekeeper you can save lots of money by making your own incubator instead of buying one. Many queen producers make it even more simple by taking an old fridge, even one that no longer works, and simply place a low wattage light inside. You can wire the door switch so that the light is always on, and then put it on a thermostat to keep it around 92 degrees using a VERY low watt bulb. That's right, a light bulb will keep it warm enough. This works well too. There are lots of old refrigerators out there, and you may even fine one with a glass door.
I hope that by sharing insightful information about queen rearing, that more and more beekeepers may try their hand at it. It is quite easy and very enjoyable and rewarding, not to mention it can save you money from not having to buy queens when you need them. And by raising your own queens, you can also raise queens from the hives that you like best.
Also in this lesson, I want to WARN you to keep an eye on your queen. Inspect your hive every 14 days to be sure she is alive and laying well. If you lose your queen, your entire hive will all perish within 6 weeks, so be sure to keep an eye on your queen, and replace her with a new one at the first sign that she has perished.
Here's a picture of one of our "Pioneer Queens" this year. Also, I must stress how important it is that you replace your queen every year. When a virgin queen mates, she stores the sperm from the drones in her spermatheca. She usually mates with 15-20+ drones on a few mating flights. Because she stores the sperm, she will eventually run out. Then, she can only lay unfertilized eggs, which only makes drones, male honey bees. So by requeening your hive every year, you are insuring that she is able to lay strongly throughout that year and into the next spring.
People often ask me when is the best time to requeen a hive. Typically, any time is better than not doing it at all. Bees requeen their own hives whenever there is a need, so we can too. But I believe timing of requeening each year can produce different results. In other words, if your old queen is starting to not lay well in March, then by all means replace her so that you can have the results you want in March which is a better brood pattern, which means more bees. But, if you are replacing your queen simply because you want a younger queen, then you MUST do this after the turning of days (June 21).
Melvin Disselkoen became an EAS Master Beekeeper in 1986 and has worked bees for over 35 years. He wrote an article about outbreeding the mites. His research and explanation of outbreeding the mites makes real good sense, and it was while reading his work that I realized it is best to requeen after June 21.

His complete article on this can be found on his website at:


His point is that if you requeen after July 21, a new queen will outbreed the mites. The brood cycle of a mite is 13 days, and a worker bees is 16 days. Since a new queen after June 21 lays like a spring queen, she will out-lay the mites. Less mites means healthier overwintered colonies and better spring build up. That's a huge reason to wait until after June 21. Other reasons for requeening each year include: swarm reduction, stronger spring build up, better honey production due to increased spring foragers and more.
I've also been very busy preparing nucs. Some days I spend 12 hours a day working the hives to pull out 4 frames to meet our nuc demands. I'll be glad when the last of the nucs are gone! Here's a picture of my youngest son, Christian, after we packed up some nucs. These were a special order as you can see they are nucs, but they are all on medium foundation. Some beekeepers like using all medium size boxes rather than the larger deep hive bodies. We are happy to help out. Beekeeping is usually a skill based on knowledge, wisdom and experience. However, I've learned that making nucs is an art! It is not for the faint at heart.

I could go on and on, but I do want to address a very large problem within the beekeeping community. It's not CCD, though there are more cases of it than CCD, I'm sure. The problem I'd like to address is the disappearing hive tool. Where do they go? How can they disappear? Are aliens from other planets stealing our hive tools with some huge magnet from the mother ship? I doubt it. But I've solved my personal problem of lost hive tools. I bought a nice one! :)


Not only do I lose hive tools, but I leave them in the back of pickup trucks or on top of a hive, and because they are metal, they will rust. Leave one on the ground all winter, and it will almost rust away by spring.  Click here to go to our online store for this item. 
If you are still needing hive equipment you can order it online or give us a call. Our contact information is below. Thanks so much for following these lessons!
Until next time, remember to Bee-have yourself!

David & Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms
217-427-2678

3 comments:

matt said...

How close is the evergreen to the hive?

Scott Sheldon said...

I had a Strange thing happen. I put a swarm I vacuumed in town into my bee yard and had to rap the vacuum inner box on a brood box (with undrawn frames) and heck, they Swarmed. The funny thing is they lit on a established coloney 30 feet away I suspected of being Queenless and just started crawling in. My Question is does a Queenless coloney put off a hormone that attracts swarns with Queens? I think I saw it happen, Weird......

samantha boston said...

I'm so confused and worried, please forgive my dumb question. However, when and if your hive swarms, does that mean that your current queen leaves. If so, is a new queen left behind. And if you are replacing a queen, do you do this after a swarm? Help!