I keep honey bees in Reading, Bernville, and Fleetwood, PA without treatments. I love to garden and observe Wasps, Bumble bees, and ants. I also raise mealworms for my Eastern Spotted turtle and myself.
About this time of year, for the past several years, most of my honeybee colonies would be fending off hundreds of yellow jackets daily. They also would deal with the occasional baldfaced hornet, but to a much lesser extent. This year however (so far), I have witnessed a grand total of 2 yellow jackets, and 2 baldfaced hornets attempting to harass my bees.
So why the picture of my topbar hive full of European hornets? It was back in May that I noticed a single, huge mother hornet enter my empty topbar hive. I looked through the viewing window to see an adorable little paper cone about the size of a silver dollar hanging from a bar. I was preparing to go in and smoosh it, along with mamma when I thought to spend a minute researching these things. I decided to leave it be, and if it got out of hand, then I’d kill it. It never really did get out of hand in my opinion, and it has been as interesting to observe as any other social insect colony. I’ve watched them for hours while they brought in large caterpillars, crickets, some things I couldn’t identify, and yes, baldfaced hornets and yellow jackets (and the occasional honeybee). At this point, the colony spans about 15 bars of the hive, the entrance is very busy, and the influx of chewed up hornets and wasps never stops (even at night and during the rain). Everyone warned me that they will terrorize and decimate my colonies, but I’m just not seeing it. They exit the hive and I watch as they disappear in the far off distance. I can’t help but think that their presence in my yard has contributed to the practical nonexistence of yellow jackets this year. I also can’t wait to open up the hive and look at the nest after winter sets in.
After making it through a crazy roller coaster winter (and spring) that killed a high percentage of local bees, my spool colony finally swarmed on the 4th of July.
Then a few days later, they swarmed again. Here is my Facebook post documenting the second time. The first time they swarmed, they landed on my small apple tree a few yards away and snapped the thing in half. A few days earlier, I sat in front of the spool capturing and marking about a hundred workers and drones with a pink marking pen, just so if I caught them in a swarm trap or down the road, I would know they were from my spool and not one of my other colonies. As I approached the swarm on my now broken apple tree, I could see all the bees with the pink dots. A few days later, during an inspection, I saw the queen for the first time and she was a monster. I really want to propagate these hardy genetics, so I’ve since given eggs from this (now manageable) colony to a couple queenless colonies so they can raise daughters. The second swarm from the spool was given to another local treatment-free beekeeper buddy of mine. A few hours after the second swarm, I spotted three queens on the outside of the spool getting chased around and bitten by workers. I could hear one queen “piping” inside, so I guess they made their choice and picked the best one.
There will be no way to know if the spool’s new queen gets mated or makes it back from her mating flight. But at least now I have her mother where I can see her, and several of her sisters to take into winter and see if they have what it takes. It will be interesting to see if the original mother queen does as well in Langstroth equipment as she did in the spool. Will they supersede her the way many prime swarms do after getting settled in? Hopefully not, but time will tell.
This wasp is building her nest under a plastic chair. I’ve liked these wasps since I was a little kid. They are great for garden pests and aren’t very aggressive, so I’ll let her stay. I just have to remember not to sit on the chair.
The above picture, however, is another story. She can’t stay. And definitely not in my bait hive. I’m going to attempt to relocate this thing in the woods a good distance away.
I’m not playing around this year. Last year, I was so busy chasing swarm calls, and working, that I got way behind on putting my swarm traps up. I managed to get about 20 traps up, but I got them up late, and only caught 6 swarms in my traps. I also used alot of single 5-frame nuc boxes as traps. All of my swarm calls were for swarms over 5 lbs, so none of these would have went into a nuc. A few of them were over 10 lbs and didn’t even fit into a single 10-frame deep. This year, my swarm traps are a minimum of one nuc and one medium. The rest are 8 and 10-frame deeps with a drawn brood frame, and the rest foundationless frames. 3 drops of lemongrass oil on a cotton ball in a Ziploc bag under the lid (probably not necessary as this is all heavily used equipment). And I’m getting them out early to all the places I picked up swarms last year. Meanwhile, many newbies and second and third year beekeepers are receiving their southern packages (again). When will people learn that bees are free with just a little effort? They already have everything they need, except in most cases, patience. Good luck to all my fellow swarm trappers out there! Any questions? Let’s talk in the comment section!
It’s pretty common to find a mouse nest in beekeeping equipment. What isn’t common is the knowledge that bumblebees love to use abandoned mouse nests as their own nesting sites come spring time. This is why bumblebee nests are often underground, but I’ve also removed them from garages (under a pile of rags), and under garden ornaments; anywhere they can “sniff out” an old mouse nest. I happen to think bumblebees are pretty interesting to watch, so whenever possible, I make bumblebee nest boxes, and this is how I do it.
I always keep my eyes open for cheap birdhouses at yard sales and flea markets. The one pictured was three dollars. I simply place the mouse nest inside, and combine it with some saved up dryer lint. Some people use flower pots instead of birdhouses, but I’ve never had success with those.
The last step is, ironically, to keep birds out. So I cover the entrance with mesh. If it smells sufficiently mousy, a mother bumblebee will find it wherever you put it. I think I will put this one right outside a window.
One of my nest boxes from last year was too slick, and too small. It was eventually occupied, but the colony never flourished. View the problem here.
Many “expert” Facebook and Google beekeepers told me these bees would surely die in short order this winter. With 4 relatively large holes on each side of the spool, and wrapped in a few inches of metal wire, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they did. I decided that there was only one way to find out; I added mouse guards and let ’em go. They’ve made it through some punishing cold and wind so far, while several of my Langstroths did not. I think they can hang on for a few more weeks.