The Beekeeper’s Companion Since 1861
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Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor – October 2016

- October 1, 2016 - - (excerpt)

Honey Bees Forage on Alfalfa

honey bee on alfalfaIt was a really lovely day; I was supposed to be helping Stephen super up his bees he keeps on a neighboring farm. I was a little disappointed that the bees seemed to be surrounded by nothing but corn, which at that moment, was very tall. The bees in this spot, however, were doing very well and producing lots of honey. I could not resist retrieving my camera from the truck to snap a few photos of Stephen at work. I got completely distracted by some poisonous parsnip and the interesting bugs crawling over their scaffolds of yellow flowers.

Before I knew it, with my shutter clicking away, I was passing the corn and parsnips and stumbling into fields of alfalfa. I felt a flood of joy to see the purple carpet before me, knowing this offered the bees a wealth of security. I had simply to stoop over at the edge of the field to snap these photos, the close-up of the bee on the flower being my overall favorite.

I was not at it long before I heard Stephen hollering at me and looked up to realize I had unwittingly travelled well out of sight, but luckily not out of ear shot. I hurried back to help and finish up our work, not realizing I had gone so far. Stephen simply shook his head and smiled, but I was at least glad I could show him the snapshots into the tiny worlds all around us. And one of his busy bees hard at work in the sanctuary of the alfalfa fields.

Thanks very much,
Quebec, Canada

Photo Caption:
Honey bee on alfalfa. This was Natasha’s favorite.

Queen Cells in the Wrong Place? Can bees Move Eggs?

As an engineer I’ve learned that, when something can’t be supported by hard math it is only a myth or a legend. There is no exemption there. However as a beekeeper, I’ve learned that biology is somewhat different. There are hard rules here too, but sometimes there is an exemption as well.

I accepted the hard fact, bees can’t move eggs or larvae. They aren’t equipped properly to do that. Over the years I have found queen cells in very strange places like many fellow beekeepers. I always dismissed that, and I’d thought I missed something. It is so easy to overlook even a fully built queen cell in a busy hive, never mind an egg or young larva, so I always dismissed the possibility of transferring eggs or larvae by the bees.

However, recently I had a strange experience which forced me to reevaluate my standing on this issue. First, I read an excellent article in the Ontario Bee Journal, by Melanie Kempers: Ask an expert: “Can worker bees move eggs or larvae?” (Ontario Bee Journal, 2016/01, page 6-7) citing no less than six scientific references to support this phenomenon.

Here are the events, which have shaken my earlier beliefs. I had a very strong double chamber hive that I needed to split. Instead of looking for the queen in a crowded 20 deep frame hive, I installed a queen excluder between the chambers. After a week it was obvious the queen was in the top chamber. The lower chamber had no open brood at all.

After the split I decided to use the lower chamber as a starter hive. For this purpose I pulled out two frames of old sealed honey and added two frames with new plastic foundation, side by side, for preparing the graft. My plan was to replace one of them with my grafting frame, the other with a fresh honey/pollen frame. However inclement weather delayed my grafting by a few days.

Finally, when I did the grafting, I put the grafting frame in the place of one of the new foundations. I didn’t have a fresh honey-pollen frame for the other one, because I forgot it. It was late afternoon and I decided not to look for it. Instead, I installed a top feeder on the frames. However, when I pulled out the empty foundation I noticed the bees had started to work on the other one. Strangely, on the barely started cells there were two large queen cell bases, barely 1/8 inch high. I thought it was a good sign, the bees are eager to start raising queens, so I’ll have a good acceptance.

So, again, it was a new clear foundation, nothing to overlook or go unnoticed. I didn’t destroy these new queen cells, because they were in such an early stage and obviously empty and dry. To my surprise I had a very poor acceptance when I checked my grafting frame. The bees cleaned out all the cells on my middle grafting bar, except one, at the very end. On the top bar I had a few more accepted. I wasn’t happy, but I just put it back, so they could seal them.

When it was time, I pulled out my grafting frame with the sealed queen cells, I noticed that two queen cells were also …