It’s probably nothing, but the bees in one of my hives, a mostly foundationless hive with a high drone population, are beginning to concern me. I’m thinking they might be ready to swarm. Or they might be queenless. Am I just a paranoid novice beekeeper throwing out theories that will never stick? Most likely. But stranger things have happened.
I last checked the hive about two weeks ago and there was plenty of room for the queen to lay, so I wasn’t concerned about swarming. However, I’ve noticed the bees clustering heavily off the bottom bars recently, which may only be a sign of the extreme heat (anything over 25°C is extreme in St. John’s). Fair enough. I’ve read on some forums that heavier than normal bottom clustering can indicate a colony about to swarm, but that may simply be a coincidental observation that doesn’t indicate anything other than an over-heated hive. Either way, I’ll make sure to keep the hive well ventilated. The hive already has what I call a ventilator rim above the inner cover, and I’ll add follower boards if I have a chance. So no worries there, I suppose.
At the same time, though, I noticed the flight path of the bees had changed. The bees used to fly east as soon as they exited the hive, rising up over our fence and then turning off to wherever they wanted to go. But now they leave the hive and take off in every direction. Perhaps some uneasy scouts looking for a new home? The bees come back in every direction too. I used to stand on the steps of my back deck and watch the bees, but now they’re coming in from the north over the roof of our house and I’m standing in their way. Bees coming in for a landing don’t seem to have any kind of breaking abilities. So I’m just standing there in what is usually a free lane and a bee coming in from the north crashes into the back of my head (and gets stuck in my hair), and another one and another one and so on. That’s new.
The other change in behaviour, one that is definitely a problem, is that the bees have become more defensive. Anyone who walks into the backyard is bombarded in the face by at least one or two bees within minutes. The bees buzz like they’re annoyed and fly in a zig-zag pattern more like wasps than honey bees, all of it uncomfortably close to the face. The pestering bee will quickly bang into the victim’s head (my head) — smacking into the ear, the nose, close to the eyes, all the tender spots that no one wants a potentially stinging insect to get at. And in the hair, of course. The bee will burrow into the hair until it reaches the scalp, and good luck to you then. These defensive bees will follow me all the way into the house. I hate them. Some forum beekeepers say unusually defensive behaviour like this can indicate queenlessness.
I won’t have time to inspect the hive for another couple days, but I did have a chance yesterday to add a medium super with foundation to the hive in the hopes that if the colony needs to expand, it can move up into the super. I don’t have any drawn out frames to add, so the extra super is the best swarm prevention step I can take for now.
When I added the super, I happened to notice the sound from the hive seemed more like a rumble than the usual calm buzz, which I’ve also read is a sign of queenlessness. The bees get restless without a queen and begin to roar. But that extra rumble might be the sound of the excessive number of drones in the hive. Drones produce a deeper buzzing sound compared to worker bees. So…
What’s really going on? I don’t know. Maybe nothing. We have two nucs arriving in a few days, along with at least one new mated queen. And that will be a momentous day. We get to start over and get it right this time with two brand new baby colonies, and we can at least requeen our one problem hive and see what happens. I have no experience in requeening a hive. I’ve never once even spotted the queen in either of our hives. I hope to have the assistance of a beekeeper with some requeening experience when the time comes. If I have to do it alone, well… I’d rather not think about that at the moment.
To be continued…