I had a chance to spend some time in Iowa for a family reunion/vacation, and kept my eyes open for what the bees up there were doing. Since they had plenty of rain, they seemed to be experiencing a fairly strong nectar flow and I did get a chance to see someone’s bees working all of the white and red clover as well as the birdsfoot trefoil that was blooming in abundance. The northeast part of the state is a good place for bees. While there is still plenty of intensive agriculture going on in the way of corn and soybeans, there are also plenty of wild areas that aren’t as amenable to the plow as the rest of the state. So while Georgia was entering a dearth, the upper midwest was in the thickest part of their flow. I might be taking some nucs up next year to see what they can do.
Once I returned, I was anxious to see what the girls had been up to, especially in the nuc that I had started. When I opened it up, sure enough the queen cells were open and there was a few cells of open brood. I looked for the queen but never did see her, which irritates me since she really only has 3 frames with built comb to roam around on, and one of those has honey. I opened up the hive again today, and there was some capped brood as well as some open. There was also a new queen cell. I left it there, thinking that maybe the bees are hoping to make a better queen than the emergency one they turned out a few weeks ago. I added a medium 5 frame box on top of the deep, mostly to accommodate the medium honey comb frame and then a third medium box enabled me to feed them in the same manner as my main hive.
The main hive continues to be as strong as ever, although their building has slowed greatly. They still haven’t built any comb on the top shallow box, but they have several frames in the lower levels that they can draw out to replace those I took out for the nuc. I did manage to spot their queen a week ago. She’s still marked and still laying, although I think she might be slowing down. I’m still feeding both hives, hoping they can use the extra energy to draw out more comb.
The main hive is much more defensive lately. While I was on vacation, my wife decided to give a try at feeding them and she got stung on the ankle before she could even lift the lid! She was wearing a bee jacket, but went back to the full bee suit after that to finish the feeding. When I got back, I encountered the same as she did. I used to be able to lift the lid, feed and spend some time watching them go in and out, trying to identify what they were bringing in. Yesterday, I didn’t even lift the lid but was just watching them. This was okay for a few minutes, and then one decided she’d had enough and came up and zinged me. Fortunately I wear glasses, because she was gunning for my eye. Instead, she got undcer the bill of my hat and got me right on the eyebrow, and stayed hooked there for a few seconds until I plucked her off. But her sisters were already buzzing and spooling up to join the fray and I had to high-tail it out of there and around the house. My best defense seems to be the fan on the AC unit. I stick my face in that and it seems to blow them off the trail.
But now my eye is about swollen shut.
I’m working on getting some water for them, and will see how that works. It’s similar to my feeding system, only I lay the tub on a piece of cardboard to let the water wick out and the bees can get it without drowning. I set it out this afternoon and had one decide I was too close again and went after me. This formerly very docile colony is getting mighty defensive lately. They have the same queen they’ve always had, so it isn’t a genetic thing. Sometimes aggression can be bred out by introducing a new queen but she’s been doing a good job up until this point.
So some research reveals that during the late summer when there is a dearth of nectar and when the weather is excessively hot can lead to bees becoming more defensive. This blog entry does a fairly good job of breaking down several reasons for being aggressive. Basically, when the going gets tough, the tough gets going. When resources get short, the bees crank up their defenses as they are likely being bothered by predators like wasps and hornets and a variety of other small critters. So I just need to be careful around the big hive and hope things simmer down eventually. Feeding and watering might improve their disposition and then not fiddling with them on a weekly basis like I have been.
The nuc remains very docile, despite trying to supersede their existing queen. If attempts are being made to rob them from the larger hive, they seem to be defending quite well.