Dronings from a Queen Bee: Before Bees Have Their Coffee …
I’ve been keeping bees since 2008, and the overwhelming majority of the time, the bees I’ve been keeping are content and many times, practically welcoming.
The few times they haven’t been, there’s usually been a good reason—inclement weather, I’m robbing their honey, there is no queen bee (the most important bee in the colony), or they have a queen bee under incubation. Bees’ bee-havior—when conditions are appropriate—is usually so nonchalant that I even tell my bee-ginner beekeeping classes that they probably won’t need a smoker until later in the season.
I’m wrong. So very, very, wrong.
Yesterday we checked the five colonies we installed a few weeks ago. We knew where these colonies are located, but I guess the bees thought we forgot. As we approached each location, they came out to “greet” us.
That’s never a good sign, because instead of extending their “hands”, they were extending that little part of their anatomy that delivers a BIG burning, electrical shock—the stinger.
Based on our extensive experience, we were so confident in their anticipated behavior that we didn’t even have a smoker with us. This time of year I tend to just spritz a colony with sugar syrup when I open them up. That’s typically all it takes to calm down the few bees who notice us as we slowly and carefully inspect them.
I could’ve drenched any of these colonies with sugar syrup, and bribed them with dark chocolate and wine (colonies are predominantly female—I understand female bribery)–I don’t think it would’ve helped. All five colonies were in “sting first, ask questions later” mode—except honeybees die when they sting, so there wouldn’t have been any questions.
Suspecting these colonies had queen problems, we quickly went through them while bees buzzed loudly and stung through our protective suits. We found a queen in each, and babies to be, so we closed them as quickly as possible. We saw no rodents, ant infestations or other things that can make a colony cranky. The sky was clear, the breeze mild, the temperature about 60 relatively balmy degrees. What was going on?
These colonies are from the south, so it is possible that they have some Africanized genetics and will continue to be cranky. (If so, there are ways to reduce that over time.) As they’re from the south, it is also possible that they’re still angry about being in 85 degrees one day, and then trucked up north where spring sometimes stutters and is slow in coming. I know that’s made me a bit cranky.
Perhaps there are five marauding raccoons or skunks visiting five different locations every night, disrupting the bees’ sleep during these critical “get the colony going” times. Or they don’t like the color I painted their hives, or they never had their coffee that day.
I’m a fairly experienced beekeeper, and I’m puzzled. I’ve been pondering the situation a lot, fueling myself with dark chocolate and wine. It doesn’t help my clarity of thought, but it does sooth my stings.
Newbees who heard my advice about not immediately using a smoker—cancel that. Take it with you, as sometimes a new colony will be quite cranky for no apparent reason. I realize that as a newbee it may be difficult to determine what is normal bee-havior and what is cranky. If you’d like to see what grouchy bees act like, c’mon over. I unfortunately I have five colonies willing to demonstrate.
Next time I inspect them, I’ll take with me a billowing smoker, and perhaps a pot of freshly brewed coffee.