Mother Earth News Blogs > Homesteading and Livestock

Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.


It's All About the Queens

bees

Is there anything more inspiring, more filled with hope, than observing God’s creation come to life each spring? The warming days green the fields and valleys lying below the snow capped mountains at which the yellow daffodils wave. The spring sweet air and gentle temperatures caress and are a balm to the senses. New life buds at every turn. Serviceberry erupts into a white fountain of cascading flowers that join the red shower of quince blossoms and white/pink display of the ornamental pear. The garlic planted last fall stands at full attention in awe of the awakening beauty and the erupting rhubarb bursting from the ground with a new found vigor.

There are new chicks in the barnyard next to a proud, protective mother hen who gently cares for the little peeps. They are joined by the bawling of newborn calves in the nearby fields and aerial demonstrations of sparrow, dove, junco, nuthatch, chick-a-dee, raven and hawk pairing up for the nesting season.

The first fruit trees are breaking bud, but the apple trees remain smug, tightly under wrap, quietly mocking the apricot, peach and cherry for blooming so early, for they know that Jack Frost will soon return to give another show. But these early bloomers are not fazed or concerned by the haughty attitude of the apple, for they know the strings of Christmas lights carefully stretched throughout their branches will be a castle wall against Jack Frost. While the apple stands with crossed arms and bides its time, the cherry and apricot will reward their owner with the sweet blessing of first fruits.

In the midst of all this glorious activity the honeybees are exploring every new blossom, returning to the hive with the first golden nectar of the season. Each hive's population is growing exponentially now as the new food sources and longer days spur the queen to lay an ever increasing number of eggs. I have now been through all of my hives and each looks strong and healthy. As is typical, each hive is a completely separate entity on its own time table. A few are booming and will be watched closely to prevent swarming. They are the beneficiaries of new young queens which came from splits made both early and late in the season last year. Other hives are a little slower to come on. Most of these are what I refer to as the Carnies. In preparation for winter the race of bees known as Carniolan, or Carnies, reduce their numbers to a greater extent their Italian relatives. They need less food stores to get through the winter that way, but it also means they are starting with fewer numbers in the spring and it takes them a bit longer to get up and going.

It’s looking like some hives will be ready to split in another month or so. The hives I keep on the other side of the mountains where it is warmer, but also much wetter, are further along and I might be able to consider making splits there in another month. I don’t do much feeding but when I am getting ready to make splits I will put out feeders with a one to one sugar water mixture about a month before splitting the hives. This brood builder formula will boost the numbers in each hive in preparation for making splits. I am happy to report that my favorite queen (a large dark Carney) is now three years old. She wintered well and is still laying an excellent brood pattern. She produces such calm and productive offspring that I want to keep her around as long as I can and it’s good to know I will have her for another season. You can see pictures of her at the bottom of the page. Notice the slight touch of red on her thorax. She was part of a package of bees and was marked with the red dye. Only the slightest trace now remains.

I do not expose my hives to the chemicals found in the commercial miticides used for mite control and instead take a more natural, “softer” approach to controlling these destructive pests. In the feeding mixture mentioned above I add essential oils for hive health. The Tea Tree oil will kill fungus and disease while the wintergreen and spearmint will kill mites.  Be sure to use high-quality essential oils from a respected company. The formula I use is shown below.

Brood-Builder Formula

• 1 tsp of tea tree essential oil
• 1 tsp of wintergreen essential oil
• 1 tsp of spearmint essential oil
• 10 drops of lemon grass essential oil

Mix the above ingredients in a blender with one cup of water. I also add a tablespoon or so of my own honey to act as an emulsifier and help the oil and water to mix. Blend on low for 5 minutes. What you are making is a concentrate. After blending pour the mixture into a half gallon container and fill with water. Again, this is a concentrate. You use one cup of the concentrate in a gallon of 1:1 sugar water mix when you feed your bees.

This feed will boost your hives and improve hive health as well.

Until next time – go smell the flowers.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.