Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sorting Bees

It seems we’re always sorting bees. Queens here; Foragers there; Nurse bees, come along this way; Drones, on the side, please!

For the Swarm Box:
In an earlier post I have mentioned a would-be Cell Finishing colony that swarmed and still had the old queen within. There were still tons of bees in it, so I used it to stock the Swarm Box. For a swarm box you want the young nurse bees, five to fifteen days after emergence, since these are best able to produce the royal jelly.

The colony in question had three deeps plus two supers, and, as you might have guessed, a second queen, now laying. The day before the young bees were needed, I rearranged the colony so that the oldest about-to-emerge brood were in the bottom box, along with the old queen and the heaviest stores. The young queen went into a box that had the lightest combs that had no brood, mostly fresh nectar and pollen. The final deep went in between the two boxes and contained ten frames with eggs and brood of all ages. This is where all those young nurse bees will want to be! I put a queen excluder above and below this box, while the supers full of partially capped honey went on top of everything.

The next day, I shook out the young bees from the middle deep into the swarm box. I then removed the upper excluder and placed it on top of the honey super, which was placed on top of the excluder on top of the bottom deep. This is now a two-queen colony with a single deep on the bottom and two deeps on the top, with excluded supers separating the queens. The borrowed nurse bees were returned the next day. I should add that my deeps all have entrance holes bored under the forward handhold lip, for easy access.

For the Finishing Colony:

Before I introduce a frame of cells fresh from the Swarm Box, I usually rearrange the combs. I like to put the queen in the bottom box with the oldest about-to-emerge brood and the heaviest honey stores. A recurring theme, to be sure! Next comes the excluder. This next box receives the cell frames. Beneath the frames is the sealed brood under the excluder. Next to the freshly introduced frame of cells from the swarm box goes the youngest brood, to attract the nurse bees. Older brood goes next to the sealed queen cells from a previous session. Capped brood and pollen surround these. During a nectar flow, supers are placed above; if feeding, I put on a deep so they can draw some foundation or lay up winter stores. I usually have a deep on top of the supers anyway, for versatility and room. The queen’s box often has a couple dummy frames, because it seems to work better, but I haven’t figured out why.

For Nucleus Colonies:
There are endless ways to make up the nucs, but I generally like to avoid getting queens, virgin queens, or too many drones into a nuc that I am planning on inserting a queen cell into. I find the older bees more likely to stay if I move the nuc into a different apiary than where I got them, but my friend George says that if you take a frame from one hive and a frame from a different hive to make up a nuc that there is little fighting and the bees are less inclined to return home.

Universal Sorting Device

I think a smaller version of the Hogwarts Sorting Hat would work well, or perhaps one with different peaks for each type of bee. I may have to content myself with a Sorting Bees song. I like the cadence and sound of the Sorting Hat's Song in Goblet of Fire, but of course the lyrics will have to be completely changed!

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