The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Deciphering hive clues

Busy bee hive

It's amazing how much you can learn about a hive without lifting the lid.  After splitting our Warre hive in two, I was a bit worried about the colony I'd moved to a new location since I could barely hear the bees inside when I pushed my ear up against the side.  I knew that all of the foragers would have scurried home to the mother-hive location, but was it possible that the daughter hive might contain so little brood that everyone flew the coop?

I was getting nervous enough that I was on the verge of opening up the hive, Warre rules be darned, but I'd waited long enough that there was no need.  Worker bees go through a specified series of jobs, with the youngest workers cleaning out brood cells, 3-to-11-day-old workers tending brood, 12-to17-day-old workers building comb, and older workers heading out of the hive to forage.  A week after the hive split, the first foragers began heading out of the daughter hive, and I could see that many were carrying back pollen!  That was a clue that not only was a colony still living in the hive, there was also uncapped brood present to eat that pollen.

Worker bees

Honeybees feed pollen to their young until the cells the baby bees live in are capped over (which allows the youngsters to change into adults uninterrupted).  This capping occurs on day 7.5 for baby queens, on day 9 for workers, and on day 10 for drones.  So, eleven days after my split, I should be able to figure out which hive kept the queen by looking at both entrances for pollen-carriers --- the one that's still bringing in pollen kept the queen.  After that, it will be another two-week wait while the other hive finishes raising and mating their queen before I should see pollen entering the colony that lost their queen in the split.

If I had my druthers, I'd hope that the daughter hive is the one who kept the queen.  They got slowed down by losing all of the foragers, so it's only fair that they get to bring new bees online faster than the other hive.  Only time will tell whether my wishes came true.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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