Do I have laying worker bees?

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John A. Gaut
One topic that seems to be a concern to many beekeepers is laying workers in a colony that appears queenless. Basic Beekeeping classes teach that once a colony is queenless and broodless, laying workers will develop. Once laying workers develop, it is very difficult to requeen the colony and it becomes “hopelessly queenless.” The colony will raise drones from the unfertilized eggs of the laying workers as long as they have resources and the nurse bees. (This is the only way a queenless colony can pass along its genes to the next generation.) The colony will continue to dwindle until it dies. Beekeepers want to prevent this scenario!
If a colony swarms or supercedes the queen, the new queen must mature and mate before laying eggs. In the meantime any brood is maturing and emerging. The colony could be broodless for a few days to over a week until a new queen starts to lay. It is during this time a beekeeper may think the colony is queenless and believes they need to introduce a new queen. They should wait for a few days though. If a new laying queen (with her big abdomen) is introduced, the younger more agile queen will very likely kill her.
If the beekeeper has a “resource nuc” or another strong colony, they could take a frame of brood with eggs, larva and capped brood (but no queen!) and put it in the suspected queenless colony. If the colony is truly queenless, the colony will raise a queen from a young larva. Otherwise the frame of brood helps reinforce the colony population. Every beekeeper should have a nuc or two to support the honey producing colonies.
So how long can a colony be queenless and broodless before laying workers develop?
Actually, there are always a few (1 in 10,000) laying workers in a colony. There are other workers that “police” the egg laying of these laying workers by removing most of the eggs. (Some eggs do survive in queen right colonies in the drone cells!)
All workers have ovaries. Most are not developed or very underdeveloped. Workers cannot mate so any eggs they lay are unfertilized and will be male drones. Both the queen pheromones and the pheromones from the brood suppress the development of ovaries in the workers. (Based on my observations with queen rearing, the brood pheromone seems like it is the major factor in suppressing the ovary development.) As the brood pheromone decreases due to decreasing brood population, more young workers (4 to 8 days old) develop functional ovaries. Also, less policing occurs. Once a colony is queenless and broodless for a few weeks, there could be a hundred or more laying workers in a colony! They look like any other worker though. (Laying workers may have a slightly larger abdomen; so do workers with a large nectar load in the honey stomach.)
How do you deal with laying workers?
The method of shaking the bees off the frames over 100 feet from the hive has never worked for me (or many other beekeepers). All the bees including the laying workers seem to be able to fly back to the hive. (Most of the bees are back at the hive location before I can get back there with the empty frames!)
Another option is to put frames of brood in the colony. If the laying workers have not developed too much, frames of brood (3 or more) often “shuts down” the laying workers. The colony may raise a queen from young larva on the frame. Or a queen can be introduced a few days later in between these frames of brood; that is still risky for the new queen though. Laying workers produce pheromones similar to a queen, making the colony think they have a queen resulting in the death of any introduced queens.
Many beekeepers place the laying worker colony over a strong queen right colony with a queen excluder in between and maybe a sheet of newspaper too. The pheromones from the queen and brood below the queen excluder help shut down the laying workers and increase policing. After a week or two, the queen excluder can be removed and the combined colony can be inspected to verify it is still queen right. (There is a small risk to this queen too!)
Some beekeepers say the workers move eggs or larva! The beekeepers did not actually witness the event, they only observed eggs above a queen excluder for example. A much more likely explanation for eggs in an area of the hive where there is no queen is laying workers. Laying workers will lay in any cell; drone cells, worker cells and even queen cells. Typically, there are multiple eggs; extra larva is “culled” once the eggs hatch. All these eggs will develop into drones, including the eggs in worker cells and queen cells. The queen cells with drones will look small and not shaped like a normal queen cell.
Most colonies successfully requeen themselves and do not develop laying workers. The few days before the new queen begins laying can challenge the beekeeper’s skills to be patient! Once the new queen has been laying, evaluate the brood pattern. If the new queen is not laying well or the colony becomes too defensive with her new genetics (she may have mated with some very defensive drones), consider requeening. Requeening is much more successful in a colony that has brood and is queen right.

June 16 Meeting- Mite Treatment

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Confused by the myriad of mite treatments? Please join us Friday, June 16, when Tim Schuler, NJ State Apiarist will speak on treatments such as Apivar, Oxalic Acid and MAQs and how and when to use them. He will also show us how to use the mite alcohol tester. Mite control is one of the most important issues facing beekeepers today. Tim will share his experiences with successful mite control. We will also have a limited number of Apivar and MAQ treatments for sale. Our meetings are always the third Friday of every month, beginning at 7:30 pm. We meet at Ramapo College 505 Ramapo Valley Road Mahwah, NJ in the Anisfield School of Business, Room 135S.

My hive swarmed; am I queenless?

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By John Gaut

We had a lot of swarms again this year. I have had a lot of questions about “queenless” colonies. Often, I suggested the colony was not really queenless, the new queen just had not started laying yet.

Also, a colony that supercedes the queen will look queenless for several weeks.

I use an Excel spreadsheet to manage my queen rearing schedule. I simplified the Excel sheet so it could be used to predict the dates a new queen would begin laying eggs after a swarming or supercedure event. While the predicted dates may vary due to several factors, you can see it really takes about 3 to 4 weeks before the new queen starts laying! This means the colony will be broodless for a while; a few days or a week.

Here is an example: June 1 entered into the YELLOW area and the rest of the dates were calculated in the spreadsheet.

Download the spreadsheet from below and try it!

Queen Schedule After Swarming

May 19 Meeting – Swap meet, Hive management

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Our officers will be answer the question what’s going on in my hive? with a discussion on hive inspections and summer management.
We will also be hosting our first ever Sell It or Swap It. Do you have bee equipment that you never use, just sitting in your garage taking up space? Have you ever bought some bee equipment that you never use and you’d like to get rid of? Grab any equipment you’d like to sell or trade and bring it to our monthly meeting. Since the club is sponsoring this event, we ask that you donate 10% of the money you make from the items you sell to the club.
So, if you sell something for $10, that’s only $1 to the club. (And if you sell something for $1 million dollars, then that’s a mere $100,000 to the club!)
So dust off all your stuff, and bring it and your cash to our regular monthly meeting at Ramapo College on May 19 at 7:30 p.m.

April 21 meeting- Nucs, swarm management

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So you got your nuc, now what do you do? The Northeast NJ Beekeepers will go over care for your new colony and what to expect your first year.
Swarm season has already hit with one of our member’s colonies swarming on Easter. We will discuss swarm management, splits and what to do if they do swarm.
Our meetings are always the third Friday of every month, beginning at 7:30 pm. We meet at Ramapo College 505 Ramapo Valley Road Mahwah, NJ in the Anisfield School of Business, Room 135S.

Bee-ing a good neighbor

Looking at a frame of bees

Looking at a frame of bees

With the opening of beekeeping season, it’s important to follow some guidelines that will help you bee a good neighbor. You don’t want your bees to be seeking out your neighbor’s pool or pond for a water source and you want to avoid swarming if possible. Our bees should be noticed for their pollination, not bee-ing a nuisance.

Here are some tips:

Colony density
The state recommends no more than three colonies per one-quarter acre or less.

Colony Location
When a colony is located less than 10 feet from a property line, the beekeeper must establish a flyway barrier. This should be at least 6 feet tall and extend 10 feet beyond the colony on either side. It can be solid, vegetative or any combination of the two that forces the bees to cross the property line at a height of 6 feet. All colonies must be located at least 25 feet from a public sidewalk, alley, street or roads.

Colony Stewardship
Colony Inspection: All colonies shall be inspected by the beekeeper no less than three times between March 1 and October 1 of each year.

Water: Each beekeeper shall ensure that a convenient source (within 10 to 25 feet distant from the hive or hives) of water is available to the bees at any time during the year when temperatures are 50°F or warmer so that the bees are not encouraged to congregate at other water sources which may result in human or domestic pet contact. Without a water source, the bees will seek the nearest neighbor’s pool or pond.

Queens: Queens should be replaced if a colony exhibits unusual defensive behavior without due provocation.

Cleanup: Each beekeeper should ensure that no bee comb or other materials that might encourage robbing by honey bees or other stinging insects, are left
on the grounds of the apiary site.

Room to grow not swarm: Add supers in a timely manner when things start getting tight and the bees have drawn out the boxes. This will reduce swarming tendencies due to tight quarters. It requires frequent inspections during swarm season.

Happy beekeeping!

March 17 Meeting – Value added products for beekeepers

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Landi Simone of the Essex County Beekeepers will speak on going beyond honey sales and will discuss making honey products to sell or give as gifts. From creams to honey spreads to bees wax candle, Landi has been turning her honey into the area’s best organic honey products for years.
John Gaut will also be discussing the mentoring program. And Bob will be taking nuc orders for April delivery.

Favorite beekeeping tools of the trade

 

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At our February Meeting Frank Mortimer and John Gaut went beyond the basics in beekeeping gadgets and showed us their favorite beekeeping tools.
Here’s a list of their favorites, costs and where to find them:

Favorite Hive Top – English Garden Copper top allows for ventilation. Betterbee is the only company that sells this outer cover with the hole for ventilation and that’s the key. $93.95

http://www.betterbee.com/wooden-hive-equipment-10-frame/acht10-american-copper-hive-top.asp

Slatted Rack – Great for overwintering and swarm control. Allows queen to lay in lower comb and provides for clustering which can reduce swarming. Install between bottom board and brood chamber. It also conveniently fits a tray underneath for easy inspection of hive droppings. Slatted rack Mann Lake $18.25. Varroa Debris Tray Betterbee $6.95.

http://www.betterbee.com/pest-management-and-medications/tray-varroa-monitor.asp

Favorite Hive Tool – Frame Lifter and Scraper (Italian) The best at lifting frames out of chamber. Best used two at a time. All Companies sell them, but Mann Lake has cheapest at $8.95.

https://www.mannlakeltd.com/shop-all-categories/hive-colony-maintenance/tools-and-hardware/hand-tools/10-1-2-frame-lifter-and-scraper

Least Favorite Hand Tool – Frame grip

Hive scale- Place an eyelet on the back of bottom board. Attach luggage scale to weigh hives. Wisefield on Amazon $12.99
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01N9KEMBX?psc=1

Must Have Mite control tool – Mite alcohol wash is a must to count mites. Available through the club at meetings. $20

Best Gloves- Economy Venter gloves. Mann Lake $17.95

https://www.mannlakeltd.com/shop-all-categories/protective-gear/gloves/economy-vented-leather-glove

Best Helper – Cloth to cover top of chamber and frames to keep bees calm while hive diving. Any dishtowel will do.

Coolest Looking – Bee Belt to hold tools. Just like Batman, every beekeeper needs a good utility belt that holds everything they need. Countryfields out of Canada $85.
https://countryfields.ca/products/bee-belt

Nice to have around – Use Terramycin if diagnosed with American Foulbrood by dusting top bars. Grant Stile Stiles Apiary. 732-661-0700.

Best hive mover – The Brushy Hive mover makes moving the hives easy. Make sure to strap the components together first. Brushy $75

http://www.brushymountainbeefarm.com/Hive-Carrier/productinfo/935/

Bucket Blanket- When honey crystalizes the Betterbee bucket blanket does the trick.

http://www.betterbee.com/heaters-and-liquifiers/heater.asp

Handy – Bucket bench allows you to rest a pail in the Bucket Bench to allow honey to drain out into another bucket while you do other tasks.

http://www.betterbee.com/beekeeping-tools/bholder.asp

Feb. 17 Meeting – Gagdets

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This month we go beyond the basics of hive tool and smoker with Frank Mortimer and John Gaut who will show us their favorite beekeeping gadgets. From the hive mover to quiet boxes to Italian hive tools we will have a show and tell on the coolest tools of the trade.
Our meetings are always the third Friday of every month, beginning at 7:30 pm. We meet at Ramapo College 505 Ramapo Valley Road Mahwah, NJ in the Anisfield School of Business, Room 135S.