I haven't written in a while, but the summary is that both Louise's and Leia's hives made it through the winter just fine. Winter is a dormant time for beekeeping, and we had a very weird year with the drought anyway, so there was not a honey crop for me... at least not a big one. I did get about two large Mason jars worth of honey from a few frames, which was delicious and wonderful!
Springtime is time for swarming. It's a natural thing. Established hives get too large and they sense that, and they grow new queens and a bunch of the bees will leave with the new queen to start a new hive of their own.
People are typically scared when they hear about swarms, or SEE one, but what's interesting about swarms of bees is that they are usually very docile. They have no home to defend, so they are just literally hanging out in a cluster until they figure out where they are going next. They swarm because they are home-shopping, not because they are out to get somebody.
When you have an established hive, you need to be on the lookout for swarming signs in the spring so you don't lose your bees. You might lose some of them or you might lose ALL of them, and either way, what you really don't want is your neighbors freaking out because they are hanging in a football-sized cluster on their porch.
Leia's hive is smaller and was fairly weakened from the winter, but Louise's hive is a POWERHOUSE. My beek friend Jim came over already several weeks ago and we did some beekeeping mojo to prevent Louise's hive from swarming. What you do is shuffle things up and mix in some new frames to confuse them and make them realize they have a lot more room than they thought they did. It's called checkerboarding. At that time we also took out several frames with lots of accompanying bees and made a little starter colony in a separate box called a "nuc." Jim manages several apiary locations, so he took that nuc with him and they lived happily ever after.
So even though we did that, and I had checked on them a couple of weeks ago, when I inspected Louise today they had literally over TWENTY queen cells growing in there, 13 on ONE FRAME alone! A revolution was underway! Also they had started storing nectar in cells where they typically would have more brood... that is called "backfilling," and these are very strong signs of swarming. It was a swarm emergency!
So my beek friend Jim came over this evening and he took TWO more nucs off her hive, splitting them up just like you'd break up a monopolistic company. ;) He took most of the queen cells with those nucs to get them started, and we checkerboarded the hive again with some fresh frames. Apparently Louise is a CHAMPION egg-layer. A super-producer. We think we may even have to split her hive yet again in the next few weeks!
However, it's no longer LOUISE'S hive. Louise... may she rest in peace... was unceremoniously squished today by Jim, on purpose. He felt with the 20+ queen cells in there, the bees were sending a pretty clear message that they wanted to replace her. So when we saw her, he took care of that little matter so the new queens that were growing could take over. And oddly, we found another queen roaming around in the hive already. Usually they don't co-exist-- they fight to the death and the dominant one wins. Jim thinks the hive was so big they hadn't found each other yet, or something else confusing was going on. So we left this new queen alone.
So, swarm averted, for now. And I need a name for the new queen. She's another daughter of Louise, like Leia... Any ideas? Comment here or on Twitter @loriemarrero. Also go read up on my beek buddy Karl's blog about his sad adventures with his hive that became too hot to handle. Hope you enjoyed the update!
PS: The photo here is of an entire frame of drone comb that I removed from Louise's hive today. You can very clearly see drone bees hatching from the cells if you click it to enlarge.