Saturday, November 20, 2010

Combination & the End of Duchess

Last week Duchess seemed to be queenless: agitated bees, many torn down mid-frame queen cells, no brood, & i could not find the marked queen.  Today I went in her looking for either eggs or a virgin queen.  I found neither.  The only option I know of is to do a combination.

I read up on a simple newspaper combination.  You place a sheet of newspaper on top of the good hive and make a small slit in the newspaper.  Then you place one brood box from the weak hive on top of that.  In 24 hours the bees will have chewed through the paper.  This gives the colonies time to acclimate to each other.  Then they will all be 1 colony.

A beek must ensure that a weak colony's queen is pinched or a queenless colony is indeed queenless.  If 2 queens are present in a hive they may fight for dominance. If the better queen is killed by a poor queen the new colony my experience the same problems the weak hive experienced before the combination.  If the better queen is killed by a virgin queen then neither colony has an egg producing queen.  In summer I could get a queen from another beek.  This time of year there are no queens available.  Without a laying queen the colony will die because they can't make up their losses.  The cluster will shrink as bees naturally die.  Eventually the colony will have too few bees to produced the heat they need to survive the Winter.  They won't last long enough into Spring for me to requeen them when queens are available again in May.

 Getting ready to put Duchess on top of Mary

Duchess was combined with Mary.  Mary's performance since her own requeening has been great.  She is a strong colony with ample stores of pollen & honey.  I used Duchess's top Deep box which is full of honey.  Mary's top Deep is also full of honey.  These bees will have over 100 lbs of honey to get through Winter.  I left Mary's bottom Deep on.  So Mary is now a 3 Deep hive.  Duchess's screened bottom board, bottom Deep, & telescoping cover have all been retired.  Duchess's inner cover went on Mary.  Mary's hive top feeder and vent box were also removed.

Mary & Duchess Combined

After Duchess had been put on to Mary I had to dump in the rest of Duchess's bees that were still in her bottom and the quiet boxes.  That was easy but many took to the air.  In a combination no entrance hole is provided to the box on top.  So any flying bees need to sort things out on their own after everything is closed up.  That why you see a cluster of bees on the front of Mary above.  They are the remnants of Duchess figuring out what to do.  In the end they all went in Mary at her entrance.  I was able to watch them slowly craw in.  I wonder if that may be another sign that they were queenless.  Calmly walking into a queen right hive. It's called 'Drift' and it happens when hives are close to each other.  In this case the one hive is gone so the flying bees will drift into the next hive over. 

The newspaper will stay in for at least a week.  I will take it out after that on the next warm day.  After that I'd like to do an inspection on Mary to locate her marked queen.  If she can be found then i know the combination went well.  If not I'll need to watch her for symptom of queenlessness.  Which would mean i'd have lost 2 colonies.

To add to the stress I found my first instance of Small Hive Beetle (SHB) in Duchess as I was taking her apart.  I found a total of 4 on the pollen frames in the bottom box.  SHB are all bad and poop in the hive.  These either came with these bees from Georgia last Spring or from my neighbors hives who also came from Georgia last spring.  The same shipment of packages.

SHB in front of the bee

This poses a big problem since i just combined a SHB infested hive with Mary.  Which means Mary now has SHB.  Isn't that great! I love how this Winter is starting out...  I'll add beetle traps in the hive and read up on them.  As usual a strong colony of bees can manage a few beetles. 

The Bee Yard Now - Myrina & Mary

It's a shame to lose Duchess.  I still think i killed her queen during the last inspection.  It's something that happens so I'll need to be vigilant going forward.  Now I'm thinking about how many packages I'll want to order for next spring.  Or, maybe buy a couple Nucs locally.  I would like at least 2 more colonies next year.


immwia said...

Good luck with the drift combining. I hope it goes well and that you only had a few beetles.

Hemlock said...

Thanks. I'll know how it went in a week or two. The bees already know though. Lots of flying today down at the hives.