Beautiful Queens and How They Can Change

by Jorge

One aspect of strong floral and temperature stimulation for the hives this year is the affect it has on the queens. Until I started raising queens, I did not fully appreciate the abdominal size fluctuation that is quite common in the lives of queen bees. When they first emerge, they're usually pretty decent looking but shrink down to go on their mating flights. Then their abdomens swell as their reproductive tissues activate.

Prior to swarming, the established queen often shrinks down prior to departure. This enables her to fly a meaningful distance. During her normal egg-laying season, she weighs too much to do much more than control her descent to the ground if she falls off a frame. After settling in at the new hive location, she goes back on an egg-laying diet that causes her abdomen to enlarge again. They can also shrink down substantially in the late fall/winter as they cease serious egg-laying. I remember the first time I went through a fall yard where brood-rearing had ceased and the queens had slimmed down...I first thought there had been a mass queen failure and the yard was lost. Then I spotted a little queen and realized everything was just symptomatic of poor forage and an absence of brood rearing due to the season and environment.

Caged queens also shrink down pretty substantially--that's why they're usually able to fly away if you pop open a cork instead of using a safer candy release.

This year, however, a great number of queens in the production hives are gorgeously nourished and bordering on gargantuan. Here is a lady that appears to be 50-75% Carniolan who was busily laying many eggs in the combs of a flourishing hive:

In the following pic her attendants are attentively grooming her. She almost appears to be doing double-duty by checking out a cell with her head while poised to deposit an egg as well :)

Time will tell whether or not the beloved queens continue to maximize their potential. There are hives that contain a respectable surplus already, but most of them are on the brink of making a real crop. A bunch of supers have a few center combs that are whitened with fresh wax and holding a little honey. It will only take a couple of quality weeks to make a lot of headway. We got some rain recently that reinvigorated the Dutch clover and made soybeans much happier. I'm somewhat nervous about a cool-down of several degrees and a few approaching dates with a possibility of substantial rain. Such is life when beekeeping in the Midwest!

You Might Need Supers If.......

by Jorge

The bees are roaring with activity the past couple of weeks. The momentum is building. Dandelions were staggered with a week of very cool weather that ultimately divided the bloom rather than waste it. Weather was good for about half of the black locust bloom. Now we have decent heat as the clovers begin to open and basswood nears. The honey prospects are the best I've seen in five years, and the forecast looks favorable. Last night we even had a perfect little overnight shower to stimulate the plants without washing out the nectar.

The second hive body has gotten very weighty in the past couple of weeks as I've shot around putting on boxes. Here are a couple of pics from last night as I closed out the daylight hours. A lot of the doubles are in exactly this condition--beautifully prosperous and showing potential for a great crop. Incredible that this yard was split just three weeks ago, very heavily. If not for splitting them, they would be totally full of swarm cells. Delay from a heavy rain would have sent a sad number of my bees into the trees. Fingers crossed for continued good fortune and hive vigor!!!

I've seen quite a lot of division board feeders with fresh comb in the overwintered hives. Alas for an early flow without boxes everywhere!--maybe some of it will move up if the weather stays favorable:

I was really happy that I did not have to finish supering with illumination from truck headlights like I did the night before in melon land---and then I got a call to pick up a nearby swarm which I hived from the limb of a fruit tree with the aid of headlights once again. There is a bonus to an evening swarm call--you know it will still be there when you show up. Hopefully the queen made it into the box.

Queen Cell Reuse and and Nasty Mites

by Jorge

A couple of weeks ago we pulled apart a hive that had a number of cells in it. One of the cells was cleverly built on an old plastic queen cup that was still embedded in the comb. Way to reuse your resources bees! The supply of royal jelly for the larva looked healthy, so we distributed it in a nuc in the outyard where we found it:

On a less happy note, Alex sent me an image attesting to mite buildup in a Central Iowa hive. Mites love drones, so a quick observation/assessment is just to peek into any drone cells that are accidentally broken apart when the hive bodies are separated. This number of mites is pretty terrifying at this point in the year:

The good news is that we've been able to get in a fair number of treatments, and the splitting process dilutes the mite concentration on a per hive basis. Obviously we'll have to be extra alert and punctual with mite management this year.

Black Locust and Nucs Galore 2017

by Jorge

We are quickly moving away from splitting season and into the honey season (we hope). About a week ago the black locust trees started blooming--about a week earlier than usual. There was a monster honey flow for a few days, and then it started raining in much cooler conditions. That is just as well for me since I am just winding down at Mount Mercy University for the academic year, so there aren't many honey boxes out yet. Without boxes on to collect potential surplus, it is always possible that they will plug up their brood space and lose holes for eggs that should mature by the time the main honey flow arrives. Swarming probability skyrockets in those conditions too. I'm also slowed down a bit because I am slipping in a Hopguard treatment this spring too. I just saw too many mites to wait until the fall knockdown. There are still a couple of yards to split.

I'm still distributing and setting up nucs for folks who want to start beekeeping this year. Here are some of them that sat in front of my little farm stand building for a couple of days. It was a beautiful day with lots of flight during the afternoon. These EZ nucs are great for folks who are buying a fair number of bees and don't want to travel with all of their equipment needed for a direct transfer into the permanent hive. I suppose I should note that I do not ship nucs; it's pick-up only in Mount Vernon or Lynnville.

With locust following on the heels of dandelions and fruit tree blossoms, hopefully there won't be much need for supplementary feeding. Here is the pump and tank that Alex remounted on a new treated frame for this spring. Behind the pump there are 15 splits positioned on moving boards that will bear them to a pallet somewhere in Central Iowa for the rest of the year.

Queens and Splitting Season 2017

by Jorge

The ordering options at are live for 2017. I pretty much always authorize ordering in the first week of May, but it seems like the same week feels later every year. Anyway, we're off to the races again!

I've been through a good portion of the bees in eastern Iowa. The +80% that survived are mostly quite strong. I've seen very little sign of European foulbrood this year--sometimes it tries to rear its head in the spring more seriously. Mites on the other hand look worse than usual. Exceptional late fall and early spring brood rearing have given the parasites a head start on the bee population. Sad but unsurprising.

Here is one of the excellent hives that yielded multiple splits. I got three or four splits off of this one. I had given this one a 3rd story in February for feeding purposes, and all three boxes were full of bees by the third week of April:

And in other milestones of 2017, Andrew had his first smore while properly perched on the stump of a massive tree:

After three years of looking at the rotten beast, I finally got it on the ground without dying. The trunk was about three feet in diameter with just a few inches of real wood still intact around the outside. It was over one hundred years old. There was old woven wire deep inside it, and a strand of barbed wire about two inches inside the bark, so I suppose it was born in a fence row and then absorbed another one as it aged:

The weather is beautiful for May-time beekeeping!

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