It’s girls vs boys in all three hives.
The girls (workers) are winning, of course, partly because they far outnumber the boys (drones).
Plus workers have stingers. Drones do not.
I like to think it’s also partly payback for the drones enjoying a long hot summer of laziness while their sisters slaved.
Drones exist solely to mate with queens. Not all manage this feat which may or may not be a good thing since mating breaks a drone in half, bringing his life to a quick — but I’d like to think exciting — end.
If the drone doesn’t find his queen, he spends his life begging food and toddling around the hive getting in the way of his sisters.
Those sisters, meanwhile, are in the process of working themselves to death. Not only do they look after their bumbling brothers, they clean the hive, feed and raise the young, make honey, feed and tend the queen, produce and shape wax into comb, guard the hive, and forage for food.
When workers can no longer work, they fly away — often with wings so tattered they barely function — to spare their sisters the labor of dragging out their dead body.
That’s assuming they aren’t first eaten by a bird, killed by a yellow jacket or poisoned by pesticides.
Even the queen’s life is constant labor — laying up to 2,000 eggs a day leaves little time for rest.
Still, the drones who didn’t mate get their comeuppance in the fall.
They are superfluous to the needs of a hive, and as the hive prepares for winter, they’re banished.
In this case, “banished” means being pulled from the hive and dropped on the ground outside, often with their wings chewed off to make sure they cannot return. Worker bees may even pull drone pupae from their cell and push it out the hive entrance. Occasionally, they fly away carrying a full grown drone.
This is an interesting sight since drones are so much bigger than workers. The first time I saw it, I thought, “Why is that bee flying so strangely?” They look as though they can barely maintain lift.
The worker bee goes back in the hive to continue her work.
The drone is expected to die.
And so he does.
After all, he is incapable of work, therefore unable to feed himself. (Seems there’s a life lesson in there somewhere.)
There is no room for sentimentality in a beehive. If a hive is to survive, it must get through winter by living on honey made during the summer. Dead weight must go, and drones certainly fall into that category in the autumn.
Two of our hives had a lot of drones this year, and there’s a good reason they did.
As usual, it was the fault of the beekeepers.
Remember that pretty comb the bees made earlier this year? The pieces we attached to the frames with rubber bands because we didn’t want to waste their hard work?
The two hives made those entire frames into drone comb. Since they had plenty of worker bees, we decided to leave it go and see what happened. (We’d also been treating for Varroa, so theoretically they shouldn’t have become a Varroa bomb even though Varroa love drone brood.)
What happened was an overabundance of drones resulting in a mass cleanout of them in the last week.
I didn’t take a picture, but if you want to see what it looks like or read more about it, you can go here or here. Our hives didn’t have quite as many dead as the first link, but we did have larvae similar to the picture. They look kind of like mummified white bees on the ground.
Anyway, we won’t do that again.
Still, that’s how you learn. In beekeeping, as in many things, the books and classes only take you so far.
A Quick Overview of Our Beekeeping Adventures and Misadventures: This year, we started with a nucleus hive with an overwintered Ohio queen, and a package of Saskatraz bees from California. Both did well and started making swarm cells, so we split them.
The split from the Ohio hive was put into a nuc box, and they successfully made a queen.
The split from the California hive was done by separating the two deep boxes, leaving the queen in one, and making sure the other had eggs. After more than a month, there were no signs of a queen.
We combined the two splits, putting a double-layer screen board between them. Ten days later, we removed the screen. The merging of the hives was successful, though there were some dead bees outside (fewer than 100) the morning after we removed the screen.
Today, when we checked, we could see that hive is now flourishing.
In the meantime, when we last looked at the Ohio hive (Buzzers Roost II), it was boiling over with bees and they’d started making swarm cells again.
OOOOOOOHHHH, NOOOOOOO! They can’t swarm now! A swarm this late in the year will never survive because they won’t have winter stores, and the hive they leave behind might also be weakened.
We closed the hive and thought about it, ultimately deciding to make it so they couldn’t swarm. A hive won’t swarm without a queen, so we destroyed the queen cells and put queen excluders both above and below the box with the queen.
Was this the right thing to do? Will it succeed? Today we removed the second queen excluder, reasoning that it’s getting cold enough that they certainly won’t swarm now.
Will they? Will they? All my fingers are crossed in the hope that they will not!
California Girls was also doing well when we last checked it (about ten days ago). I can really smell the honey when I walk behind it.
Tomorrow, we will start Formic Pro treatment for Varroa once more — two strips in each hive for ten days per strip. By the time they come off, the Goldenrod and aster flow will be done, and we’ll begin a heavy feed on all three hives.
At least that’s the plan.
To tide you over until next time, here’s some pix of our lovely ladies bringing in pollen.