The month of May just escaped us. It went by like a whirlwind. We try to be everywhere at once and constantly feel like we are a day late.
Our lives consist of multiple, long, 15-hour days in a row: going to bed in the evening exhausted and waking up in the morning ready to do it all over again. We tend to lose track of the concept of time – we just have to keep on pushing forward until the lack of sunlight forces us to stop.
All the while, we are doing what we love, and luckily, with the person we love. It is hard work, but this is what we dream and yearn for during the cold, winter months.
So, what have we been doing day after day? We have been raising queen cells for both our own operation and other commercial beekeepers and making splits from our hives in order to make up 200-plus starter colony orders for our customers and to create more hives for our own operation.
All the while, we try to keep our hives from swarming. All of this in a midst of a massive spring honey flow happening at our metro locations.
This is the standard way that we check a hive and take a split.
We go up to a hive on a pallet. We tip it forward and look at the bottom of the hive for any swarm cells and assess hive strength. Swarm cells are often found on the bottom of a frame and can be easily seen when tipping hive forward. Hives make these prior to naturally dividing themselves in the wild.
Then we crack the top deep box off of the bottom deep box and do the same assessment
If we see that the hive is strong, we can take a split off of it. If we see swarm cells, we go through every frame in the box and cut out the cells.
We do not need to find the queen. We find two brood frames (one open and one closed) and shake off both of the frames so that it is free of bees. We add two empty combs into the hive to replace the frames that we will be taking. We put a queen excluder over the top box. A queen excluder is like a fence. It allows the worker bees to move through, but prevents the queen from moving through due to the size of her abdomen. Then we put the two frames of brood and another empty comb in a box above the hive. We put the lid of the hive back on.
We come back within 12 to 48 hours and take the lid off. Worker bees will have gone through the queen excluder and will be covering all three frames in the upper box. We remove the three frames covered with bees and put them in a “nuc box” and bring it to a different location more than three miles away. This method allows us to be 100% certain that we are not removing the queen from the original hive.
We let that nuc sit queenless for 24 hours, and then we put a queen cell into the hive. The queen in that cell will emerge. The virgin queen will go on a mating flight, and in 14 days we will return to the new hive to see that it is “queen-right” with a mated queen.
We keep a journal of what we do every day. This helps us track what we have done and what still needs to be done. We also write down other natural events that we notice, like when dandelions, mustard, clover, trefoil, basswood and other flowers start and end bloom, the different migrating birds we see and the other animals we run across. It is fun to compare these phenology notes from year to year and try to make educated guesses on honey flows. The most exciting bird we have seen so far this spring is a scarlet tanager – such a vibrant red. We also saw a bear when leaving one of our metro yards and two little raccoon cubs cuddling with each other in the middle of the path to one of our bee yards.
In the midst of our long days of working, we have tried to stay aware of what is happening in our nation. We are having great and insightful conversations with friends and family about equality and the need for alterations, and about the proper ways of bringing about that change. We hope that you and your loved ones are staying healthy and safe and also having good conversations.
Travis Bolton is a 2001 Park Rapids High School graduate. Chiara’s interest in honeybees began on the Tibetan Plateau, where she lived for five years. The couple has a honey house in Menahga and hives in Sebeka, Akeley, Midway and around the Twin Cities. Bolton Bees can be reached at www.boltonbees.com or email@example.com.