Saturday, March 22, 2014

How to stage a proper revolution

If a reigning monarch is, for some reason or other, not up to snuff anymore, a beekeeper finds herself in a predicament. Much has been written, thought and debated on how to transition from one form of government* to another.... but the most useful account I have recently come across was from the book 'A year of bees' by my newly crowned favorite author, Sue Hubbell.

The problem with requeening, as beekeepers typically do it, and as I did last year, is that a people doesn't just accept any old queen that is put in with them. All my commercial queens lasted only a few weeks before there was an actual people-powered revolution, and the democratic process in the hive made its own new regent*.

So here is a process that I tried to break down from Sue Hubbell's beautiful prose into these two much more perfunctory bullet point lists. The first, how to create a nuc, is also the beginning of how to split a hive into two, something I am hoping to do later this spring, if the bees continue to do well.

1) Create a Nuc (a new mini-hive):

  • Create a 'nuc' - a deep super (brood box) - using three frames of brood including attendant bees, and a few more frames of honey/nectar/pollen, originating from the hive one wants to requeen or other hives. 
  • Screen entrances shut and tie/staple nuc together for transport. It needs to be placed a distance away from the donor hive at this point. Reopen the entrances.
  • Place the new queen in the nuc using the same procedure I wrote about before. 
  • Leave the nuc undisturbed for several days, then check for egg laying activity.
  • Tape/screen entrances shut again to transport nuc to the site of the hive that is to be requeened

2) Requeen the hive

  • Move the hive that you wish to requeen away from its original site by a few yards. 
  • Find the original queen and kill her.
  • Place the nuc box onto the site of where the hive was and open the entrances. This is the trickery of it: All the bees will now be very confused. The foragers from the old hive will come back loaded with pollen and nectar, and the confused guard bees of the nuc, still blinking their huge eyes and orienting themselves, are likely to let them in. 
  • Leave the nuc alone for a little while, and meanwhile, create maximum disturbance in the old hive. The bees will fly up, confused, and orient themselves towards the site of where their home used to be. In other words, they're going to fly to the nuc. Because they're not very sure of themselves in this state, they will not be likely to attack the queen. 
  • Make up a box of remaining brood and honey from the old hive and give it to the nuc as a second story. 

I suppose it is possible to end up with extra frames that don't fit - it may not be advisable to disrupt the nuc box by placing them in there. But I will cross that bridge when I get to it.... The other drawback is that, unless one lives on a 90-acre farm, one has to find a friend willing to temporarily house that nuc for a few days, and one has to be willing to drive around with a taped-shut beehive. A pick-up truck seems best there... Or a bike trailer? That said, queens cost around $30, a new hive of bees is over $100 now, and a truck rental for an hour can be as little as $10, so maybe it's worth the trouble to keep a hive alive and productive.

*It should be noted at this point that the queen does not actually do any governing. She leaves that, and almost everything else, up to the worker bees. Her sole occupation is to lay eggs. More fascinating detail can be found in Honeybee Democracy by Thomas Seeley.

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