Management of honey bees by Dana Stahlman What it takes to succeed after bees are placed in hives from packages, nucs, swarms The role a good Queen Plays in your success keeping bees. Sitting in a little house outside Pineview, Georgia I had a chance to reflect on a subject that has special appeal to me. I have always been interested in raising queens and have been for the most part involved in finding a better queen for most of my life. Queens have always been a topic of interest since the Italian Queen was imported into the United States first in 1859 and was followed by successful introduction to most beekeepers by the 1870’s. It was highly sought after because it differed greatly from the Black bee often called German Black, or Dutch Black. Better Queens – a quest The German Black bee was not native to the U.S. It was brought by early colonist and we still are not sure of the first ship’s name that delivered the first hive of European bees into the new world. It did occur in the early 1600’s. This bee had some characteristics that are responsible for its general decline and absence from many areas of the U.S. Characteristics #1 It was black and the queen was hard to find. #2 It was nasty – defensive and hard to work. #3 It ran on the frames when frames were exposed to light and bees often dropped from frames. It did produce great white cappings which were appreciated by those selling comb honey. What is a perfect queen bee? Moving ahead to today. We are still looking for a perfect queen. A new beekeeper may find it attractive to read bee magazines and find a queen described. It takes awhile to discover that not all queens are adapted to the area where you live. A beekeeper in Northern Georgia might just rave about Russians. A beekeeper in Southern Georgia might just rave about Cordovan. A beekeeper from Ohio may rave about Carniolan. And the packages you buy will most likely have Italian queens. Being a beekeeper means you need to find out from experience which breed of honey bee does best for you. Forget all the hype. A hive of honey bees is made up of three types of individuals. Each is important to the survival of the hive. The queen is most important for the success of your hive of bees. A queen usually lives for several years. Some bee books will indicate up to five years but in the modern day she might need to be replaced much earlier or the colony may die as a unit well before she would die naturally. A queen is an egg laying machine. A hive of honey bees is a social unit and the queen’s genetic characteristic will determine the hives general behavior. A hive must have a queen! However a hive also depends on worker bees to provide heat and food for survival! Plus they do what the queen can not – feed the young bees, clean the hive, preform all the tasks required for the colony to survive. If a queen fails to lay fertile eggs = Hive failure within about six weeks. A worker bee is a female like the queen. Their task in the hive is to gather all the nectar, pollen, water, and tree resins the bees need in building the nest (wax comb); they defend the hive against predators; they are in charge of the honey bee democracy as described in the research conducted by scientist. They communicate food sources, swarm destinations, take care of the brood and preform many other task within the hive. Bees are bees I can tell you this: The bees are going to do what bees do regardless of the kind of hive they are kept in. In fact, they just may not like the hive you put them into and leave. Or if you do not give them the proper amount of room to expand the brood nest, they will swarm. In all cases, they make the decision of what they are going to do. We call keeping bees “Bee Management” which is nothing more than trying to make the bees do what we want them to do. But there are things you can manage and should manage. You can choose and select for good queens Any queen preforming poorly can be replaced! All queens are raised by bees under various conditions First Clue to a good queen – She is laying a lot of eggs Bee populations should be exploding at this time of the year! If you look inside a hive with a good queen, the first clue will be a lot of bees! A colony of bees feed and take care of the brood of the hive. If the hive is started from a two pound package of bees it will take longer for that smaller population of bees to develop into a strong hive than and a new hive started with three pounds of bees. When evaluating a queen, you need to base your judgment on the supporting cast of bees. She lays the eggs, the bees need to keep the nest warm, feed the young brood, and gather all the food. If the bee population is small – they can not support a good egg laying queen! Things you can see and determine quickly to check if the queen is preforming as she should The egg laying ability of the queen. A drone laying queen or absence of the queen resulting in a laying worker bee in the hive. Supersedure Aggressiveness of bees. Don’t replace a queen just to replace a queen. Have a reason Young queens are generally more productive than older queens. Those that want honey production usually requeen every year or two. Queens shipped in packages usually are not hardy for Ohio weather conditions – winter failure is high for package bee started hives. Beekeepers usually have no choice in what queens they get with a package. You want to try various new strains of bees. Any failing queen for what ever reason. See examples below!! Taking a look at queens First – What should a good frame of brood look like? You need to understand that bee populations begin with brood and if no brood is being produced, it will affect the ability of the hive to survive. Honey Bee Populations This is a frame from a newly started hive being examined as the beekeeper was getting it ready for winter survival. The bees were being feed and the bees from the package had drawn out the foundation and some brood had been raised on this frame! What Happened? When did it happen? One disappointed beekeeper! Comments: The reason a good queen and inspection of a hive of bees is very important. What the beekeeper did: Took a beekeeping class which covered beginning beekeeping. Bought a hive, equipment and a package of bees. Followed the directions given in the class – feed the bees, checked to make sure the queen was released from the queen cage, made sure she was laying eggs. Add boxes when needed. In the fall, make sure they have enough food to survive the winter. What the beekeeper did not do: Inspect the hive on a regular basis to make sure the queen continued to lay eggs and build up a good bee population. For some reason the queen failed. As long as bees were flying from the hive, this beekeeper thought everything was okay. When does one replace a queen? Signs of a queen beginning to fail Do you see open cells. What about drones raised in worker cells? What about the bee population in the hive? A new hive after six weeks of development. An older established hive with a strong bee population in the spring of the year. A comparison of two hives. New hives take time to develop the bee populations that an established hive has. Things you can check for: First – Look for signs that something is going wrong. Many things go wrong for beekeepers starting new bee hives or even introducing a new queen to replace an old queen or start a split. Remember the queen is not related to the bees that she is introduced to. Thus, she must first be accepted by these bees. Bees often kill the new queen or may decide to replace her. Common problems -- Drone laying queens -- Poorly mated queens –-Damaged queens -- Stressed queens The first six weeks after a queen is introduced to a colony of honey bees is the most important period of the hive’s life. If for any reason the queen fails, it is up to the beekeeper to take corrective action as quickly as possible. Any delay will result in a declining honeybee population of worker bees. When a fertilized egg is laid by the queen, it takes 21 days for that egg to develop into an adult bees. And that adult bee has a life span during the summer months of only 40 some + or - days. Once the worker bee population is reduced to old bees, the hive most likely will fail. Problems begin to appear when you see the bees trying to create a new queen. This is called supersedure. This picture is of a capped queen cell. Queen cell cups appear usually within the first three weeks after a queen is introduction to a hive. A problem encountered more often than most beekeepers suspect. Even established hives supersede their failing queens. What can be done? Another problem easy to see--the queen is beginning to laying only eggs that develop into drone bees or for some reason the queen disappears from the hive resulting in several worker bees laying eggs. Worker bees and queen bees can lay unfertilized eggs. Usually a drone laying queen will gradually exhaust the sperm needed to fertilize the eggs. If you see a frame like the one shown here -Unfertilized eggs laid in worker cells look like a sever case of the bumps when the cells are capped over. No worker brood at all and a queen can not be found. Best guess – no queen in the hive You have seen this frame earlier. Note that you will find drone brood in worker cells. And you will see capped worker cells. This hive has a queen! Several things are happening in this hive. Bees have not stored any honey around the brood. Foundation has not been completely drawn out. This hive can still be saved by introducing a new good queen and help must be given by the beekeeper. Poor brood pattern -- need to feed hive and replace the queen Honey bees have attitudes One characteristic of the queen is the gentleness or aggressiveness of her worker bees. European honey bees are for the most part gentle creatures. However, some may be quite aggressive. It is not fun to have to work with aggressive bees nor will your neighbors appreciate your bees. This trait begins to show itself after the original stock has died and the new queen’s prodigy has populated the hive. A beekeeper keeping aggressive bees is responsible for causing neighbors being unable to enjoy their own property. Courts seem to favor the home owners faced with a beekeeper who has created a public nuisance. What you can not see immediately Disease resistance, winter survival ability, or recessive genetic expressions. Winter losses have been very heavy this year. bees that did survive. Why? But there are They went into winter with ample honey stores – so bees that gathered honey, stored it in the right places, had a queen that shut down brood production in relation to nectar and pollen availability, and were healthy (honey bees that have longer life spans) survive. Why is it that bees with TLC – the beekeeper does everything possible to help them survive – die while a colony living in a tree survive without any chemical treatment, without any TLC and were solely at the mercy of mother nature? Honey bees have attitudes One characteristic of the queen is the gentleness or aggressiveness of her worker bees. Aggressiveness is a genetic trait. Working bees in Georgia. It is believed by some including myself that aggressive bees tend to be more hygenic, better honey gathers, and make money! And this bee yard exist because property owners in this area grow watermelons and need pollination for crops. This is also where your package bees originate. Guess what is in store for them when they are taken out of these hives and sent North!