The Bee Friends Beekeeping Club of Claiborne County held their 3rd Annual Honey Bee Workshop here at Well Being Conference Center on a beautiful May afternoon. John Hamrick, a University of Tennessee Extension Agent and bee expert, was on hand to open up two of Well Being’s hives and to instruct and answer questions for the 18 people on hand.
It turned out to be a banner day for the bees and for everyone present!
When we got to the Bee Garden, there was a swarm of bees in a small tree very near one of the hives. The swarm came from the same hive that had swarmed just three days earlier! Don had coaxed his inaugural swarm into a hive box and now here was another swarm. More hive boxes, please! A swarm may happen when a hive gets overcrowded with bees and it’s the bees’ way of starting a second colony. The “old” queen leaves a new (younger) queen in charge and leaves enough bees, honey, and brood (bee larvae) in the hive to allow the original colony to survive and to grow. A swarm includes a queen plus 10,000 to 20,000 other bees. When they first leave the hive, they are generally not sure of their final destination, so they re-group – often in a tree – until the scout bees investigate and then come to an agreement as to where their next home will be. If you are lucky and find a swarm, you can offer them a new ready-made home. In a swarm, the bees are homeless, so coaxing them into a hive is not too difficult, although some sugar-water spray and a frame of honey helps to “sweeten” the deal.
So two captured swarms this week doubled our hive count from two to four. And then we had purchased two “nucs” which also arrived on May 3rd. A “nuc” consists of 3 to 5 frames of bees with a laying queen and some honey and brood larvae on the frames. These frames are simply removed from the delivery box and placed in the middle of a 10 frame standard hive. Each frame is a light-weight wood rectangle with a wax “foundation” supported in the frame on which the bees build honeycomb. Each honeycomb hexagonal cell can be used to store honey or pollen or can be used to raise their young. A nuc is an easy way to start a new colony since they already have all the elements present to grow the hive. With the arrival of the two nucs, we now suddenly have 6 hives in the Bee Garden.
John opened up the hive which had produced the two swarms. He found about 10 queen cells in this hive. There is only one functional queen in a hive at any one time. If an “old” queen is getting ready to leave (in a swarm), the bees turn some of the brood cells into queen cells. The worker bees (sterile females) do this by feeding one (or more) of the brood cells royal jelly, which turns an ordinary brood cell into a queen cell. Queen cells are generally on the bottom of a frame and look like the shell of a little peanut. John cut off most of these queen cells to reduce the chances of the hive continuing to swarm and to propagate the queens. Queens are sold online for $20 to $30 a piece. At the workshop, we watched as a queen hatched in someone’s hand and a number of people took home one or more queens for their own hives.
With the two nuc boxes that we had on hand from that morning’s nuc delivery, we made two new nucs using frames with queen cells and other supporting frames with bees, honey and brood, which we gave to two of the people attending.
In short, we all got to see and learn a lot in just a few hours: queen cells, new queens being born, a swarm being captured, how to split a hive and make a nuc, identifying male (drone) cells, identifying pollen, honey and brood cells, seeing newly laid eggs, watching a queen within a swarm. Wow!