May 31, 2017
Let me catch that slit of light, for maiden's sake on a maiden's flight. Bauhaus
It is not my practice to requeen on a regular basis. I know some beekeepers prefer to replace their queens annually, but I've never found that to be necessary. My queens tend to be productive for more than a year, and when they are ready, I let them supersede. Or I will replace if the queen fails or if the colony doesn't successfully raise a new queen after swarming. However, as it happens, I have a number of colonies whose queen is in her third year and who therefore are likely candidates for swarming or failing, so I thought I might be preemptive this year. And also I wanted to try installing queen cells as I haven't done that before and I like the idea of local mating.
So I got 10 lovely new queens and 5 cells from Alison at Tuckamore. You need to keep queens quiet and dark, but the cells require more care as they can't be jostled and have to be kept warm. I had a warm water bottle for transit but put the box on a towel over a warm heating pad at night. I'm not one of those beekeepers who names their queens. It's not that I think there's anything silly about that, I love my bees, I just like to think of them as wild creatures with self-determination. Having said that, I found that cozy little box of warm queens and cells nestled on the floor behind my driver's seat oddly comforting. Admittedly I have been missing Molly's constant companionship on the ride to The County, but I stopped short of offering to share the ritual plain donut at the Port Hope Timmy's, halfway home. It was a sad little treat, though.
I keep the queens hydrated with a tiny drop of water spread on the screen of each queen's container, but I try to get them rehoused quickly. My plan was to go through each hive, inspecting the health of the queens, replacing where necessary, and to make nucs and splits as I went along. But yikes, the older queens all looked good. Lovely, copious well-patterned brood, pleasing temperament, loads of pollen being trucked in. I just can't bring myself to destroy a well-functioning queen, no matter how old she is. It just seems wrong, ungrateful, even. I still have a few hives to inspect, but in the meantime I have all these nucs and splits and have used up my medium supers. I try to run between 25 and 30 colonies, but with the splits and nucs and I'm well beyond that. It's going to be a busy summer. And I'm not sure what I'm going to do about running out of mediums, I really don't want to increase my inventory, so I have to think about that. (Note: I use shallows for honey, so they are no help for brood.)
With regard to splits and nucs for those who are interested... For the nucs I use an 8-frame medium super with a frame of brood, a frame of pollen/eggs and a frame of honey and fill the rest with frames of foundations coated with cleaned capping wax from last year. I keep it simple for the splits. I remove a couple of frames of brood from each super and replace with foundationless frames to open up the brood nest. (brood-frame-brood-frame). The bees often fill the frames with drones to start but will eventually turn it into worker brood. I prefer not to use foundation, but usually each hive will have a mix. I won't put more than four foundationless frames into any hive at a time (max 2 per super) and never together, so I will use coated foundation if it's a big split. I usually make splits with two 8-frame mediums with the brood frames and I'll have at least two frames of brood in each super.
The theory is this will reduce swarming. And I think it does. The operative word here, though, is reduce, because I will inevitably get some swarms. But that's what bees do. It's their thang.
This is heavy, tiring work. I think a hot bath and and shower, followed by a cold beer and the new remix of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
"And it really doesn't matter if I'm wrong/I'm right where I belong."