By Dudley Beck
“Hey Mike,” I said. “‘Your’ bees are still alive! We had a 54-degree day a couple of weeks ago. I got a pretty good look. Bees are active. The top box of a three-box hive is still heavy with honey that was left to help them overwinter.
“My other hive didn’t make it. I found a cluster the size of an orange on two frames but they were all dead. Picture me crying. ‘Your’ bees were robbing whatever honey was left in the other hive. I’ll let you know more again in April.”
So that is the report thus far for winter survival. Wes Shook’s and Kristen Bushnell’s hives died last winter and neither was able to catch a swarm. The three of us have ordered package bees from Bear Country Bees near Salt Lake. We will have to drive up to pick them up when they are ready. A package of bees consists of three pounds (approximately 10,000) of nurse and worker bees plus a queen in a special wire cage. The cage is there to protect the queen until the rest of the bees get used to her pheromones and accept her. This year, we paid $140 for a package of bees. It used to be only $60, but prices have increased due to the loss of bees throughout the country. It is much easier to catch a swarm, and it is free–with its own queen. Last year, nobody called to capture a swarm. The year before, I got six calls.
A swarm is a natural division of a bee colony usually occurring around April. If you think about it, bees have been evolving for eons, making their homes in the hollows of trees or rock formations. These spaces are often small, so the colony divides in the spring when the queen gets fed royal jelly and begins to make new brood, laying as many as 2,000 eggs a day! Once the space gets crowded, the bees quit feeding the queen for about two weeks before swarming. She will get lighter in that time and be able to fly with half of the colony to a new site determined by the scout bees.
Shortly after she leaves with half of the colony’s bees, a new queen hatches from the colony, flying out briefly to mate with many drones within a two-mile radius. She then returns to the colony and shortly thereafter begins laying new eggs. An egg takes 21 days to hatch a new worker (female bee), 24 days for a drone (male bee).
The swarm can be the size of an orange up to size of a beach ball. It may contain 10,000-20,000 bees. It is usually attached to a bush or tree limb and will stay there up to two days while the scout bees search for a new home. The swarms are gentle and easily placed in a new hive. Swarms are good. The 3- to 4-week period without brood helps cut down the amount of mites, one of the major pests affecting bee colonies. If anyone sees a swarm this spring, please call me, Wes, or Kristen.
Bluff residents can also help us by planting food for the bees in your gardens. Most of the seed catalogs carry a pollinator habitat flower garden mix. Order seeds now. Russian Sage or Blue Mist Spirea are great perennials because they bloom all summer.
— Dudley Beck, Bluff’s “bee guy”, will be providing the Canyon Echo with monthly updates from the life of a Bluff beekeeper.
— Questions? Post them in the comments below.