We are engineering the society in which our honeybees live, because it has become a violent anarchy and no fun at all. Now that it is beginning to abate, I feel like I can tell the story. It all started with our one colony who lived through the winter.
When we put them to bed last fall, their home was piled high with so many boxes full of honey frames that it took a good deal of effort to lift them off to check on them. However, they had a productive queen and we hoped they would winter well with all that fuel, and so they did.
This year, we dismantled the other two hives that failed over the winter and prepared two new ones to receive packages of new bees from the southern states. These two are gentle and doing well. Every time we went out to check on the apiary, we would do fine starting with the little colonies but when we opened the big one we got swarmed with angry bees pinging off our veils trying to get at us. This is not the experience I enjoy, at all! We began getting divebombed by honeybees just working in the garden and at one point my husband threatened to burn the whole thing down.
During a brave venture out to examine the hive frame by frame, we discovered that the tall hive was upset and confused. They had created many, many queen cells that were just about matured, and half the colony was probably about to swarm away into the trees if the old queen was still present to go with them. A beekeeper tries to prevent that from happening.
So, we broke down the colony into three pieces. One became a “nuc” with a few frames of brood that included some mature queen cells. The other two got new purchased queens with blue dots painted on them. I make it sound like this was easy, but it was not. We were surrounded by a cloud of angry bees and even though we were both wearing bee suits and gloves, they managed to sting me through my suit and my jeans. Once they smelled that alarm pheromone, they all took off after me and I had to walk briskly around the farm for about half an hour waiting for them to gradually lose interest and drift away from me. The stings through my clothes were not very painful but I’ll admit I got really spooked and was in tears from the stress of being attacked.
It has been a couple weeks now, and we no longer get bothered in the yard by bullying bees. We went out to check on them today and the four new colonies are behaving as honeybees should, gentle and hard at work building up their families and food storage. The remnant of the mean colony is still a bit cranky and we found that there is a queen but not the blue dotted one we purchased. She must have been murdered by the old queen that we couldn’t find. They aren’t doing well yet and I think we may have to buy yet another one and “re-queen” which means killing the old queen and introducing one with a better disposition. Maybe I will volunteer as the assassin.
As I said, we are engineering their society to suit our purposes using all the tricks of the trade that we have learned in our 5 or 6 years of beekeeping. No new beekeeper who experienced what we did this year would have any desire to continue, but we know it can be much better than this. We will hang in there and try to bring peace and serenity back to the Bluestem Apiary.