The queen is dead, long live the queen.

IMG_1630My bees died.

I had three hives last fall. Now, two are dead and one is queen less and failing fast. It was my fault, I moved the hives too close to the garage, ostensibly to keep them more sheltered from the elements, but what happened instead was water from the melting snow ran off the roof and got inside the hives. Wet bees are dead bees. Lesson learned, the hard way. I’ve tried not to get too frustrated with myself, but I keep thinking I could have three healthy hives right now If I’d only thought things through better.

Before I discovered that my bees were mostly dead, I had planned on making big changes to my beekeeping practices. I am replacing all of my 10-frame medium equipment with 8-frame medium equipment. These new, smaller “garden hives” have pretty peaked copper roofs and are quite decorative.  I am excited to have the smaller equipment because I will be able to lift and move them much more easily. This has been a real problem as I simply can’t lift the larger equipment; even 10-frame mediums have proven to be just a little too heavy for me when they are full. There have been times when I’ve dropped boxes full of bees and thrown my back out trying to work on my hives. Most of the times I’ve been stung are a direct result jostling bees around because I don’t have the strength to maneuver the boxes gently. I need equipment I can handle on my own.

Now it seems I will have a hard time filling those new hives with bees. I have ordered a new Carnolian queen from Apple Blossom honey farm, but I have my doubts about saving my remaining hive. It is true that I had written this particular hive of bees off last fall when the varroa mites nearly wiped out the hive, and they still made a full recovery. However, they didn’t lose their queen that time. Still, I transferred the remaining few frames of surviving bees into a small hive that is clean and dry, and added a swarm lure to the hive. Bees without a queen get demoralized and lose their work ethic. I’ve never heard of using a swarm lure this way but if I can trick them into thinking they still have a queen, maybe they will remain motivated enough to keep going until the new queen arrives.

If my last hive fails then I will have no bees this spring. I’ve thought long and hard about it but I don’t want to buy another package of bees. I’m already way over budget on garden projects this spring and another package will be about $160. I’m going to have to get creative about getting new bees. I’m going to put up a few swarm traps and might ask a few people in the area if I can hang one on their property. Also, I just filled out a form to be put on a swarm list. I’m hoping someone calls me to catch a swarm that is not beyond my skill level to deal with. I can’t deal with bees in a wall, or 20 feet up in a tree. But if someone in Chicago or the surrounding towns has a bee swarm in their bushes and wants it gone, then I’m back in business.

Wish me luck!

Signs of Spring

It has been far too long since I have posted in this blog, but I’m back. I’d like to restart this blog with my favorite sign of spring so far this year.

2015 black swallowtail

2015blkswallowtail2 I found a butterfly chrysalis on a dried up branch of dill I was about to toss in the compost pile last fall. The chrysalis fell off of the dill, and, not knowing if it would be able to survive on the ground, I took it inside and placed it on my orchid plant. Over the winter I mostly forgot it was there, but kept thinking I should make some sort of enclosure for it in case it actually survived and emerged. I was a bit surprised to see this big beautiful butterfly sitting on my lime tree yesterday morning. It is too cold outside to release it, so I fed it honey water and left it on my plants. After a few feedings of honey water or diluted apple juice, it discovered the lemon blossoms and hyacinth blossoms in my office and seems to be eating normally without my help. I’ve decided not to put it in any kind of enclosure so it has room to move around. It seems to want to stay on my plant shelf and bask in the plant lights, and it looks very pretty there.

I’d like to release her when it warms up, but she doesn’t fly very well. It may be because the chrysalis was not attached properly to a branch but was rather lying on its side on a leaf. I’ve been doing some reading about keeping butterflies and it seems as though the position of the chrysalis during development may be important to proper wing development.

When I realized that the dill that grows in my garden is actually a host plant for these lovely butterflies, I started leaving patches of dill standing for the entire season so that a few generations of swallowtails can be raised on them. What I’ve realized is that more of the spring caterpillars seem to survive to adulthood, and those eggs laid later in the season suffer greater losses. The caterpillars disappear rapidly and I don’t see nearly as many larger ones in late summer and fall. I have a theory that towards the end of the season, yellow jackets are eating them. I’ve seen yellow jackets hunt and eat insects in my garden, especially my honey bees. Big fat caterpillars would be easy pickings for hunters like yellow jackets, and yellow jackets grow more plentiful in late summer and fall. This year I may collect some of the butterfly eggs and protect them from predators. I can overwinter the last generation outdoors in their chrysalis so they have a natural life cycle and don’t emerge too early in the spring.  I’d love to see more of these beauties in my garden.