In some years almost everyone’s colonies seem to exhibit some identical puzzling behavior. One would suspect that a pointless fad is sweeping the bee population until calmer thought, wisely suspecting weather and the resulting environment, produces an explanation. Year 2012 in Michigan was the year of swarming early and often, frequently leaving queenless the strongest hives, the very ones which had best survived the winter. That strange spring is explained in a four-part analysis at the Michigan Beekeepers Association website.
This year, as we learned from Dr. Milbrath, is, for Langstroth hives, the year of backfilling the brood nest rather than occupying an empty super. Spring came very late this year and all things blooming seem to be in a hurry to get back on schedule. Combined with a nearly perfect amount of rainfall this is resulting in a very strong nectar flow. Unfortunately the unusually cool weather is making the bees reluctant to climb upwards into an empty super. The abundant nectar is instead being stored in empty cells from which brood has hatched, leaving the queen with nowhere to lay. This would eventually result in a crowded feeling in spite of the empty supers available and then in swarming.
So it was at our niece’s hive last Sunday when Dr. Milbrath visited for another inspection. The hive at this point consisted of two full deeps with a medium super. Another super of drawn comb was waiting in the wings in anticipation of their having filled the available space. Instead the super had not been much drawn out. The deep below it had only one frame of brood and was otherwise full of honey or nectar. The deep below, the bottom-most one, looked more normal with frames of brood in various stages but signs of backfilling were evident there as well. The new medium, which had been intended for the top, was instead inserted between the two deeps to provide space for the queen to have a chance of laying before the workers occupied all the cells with food. The original medium was left in its topmost position to continue to be drawn out and filled. Another medium should be obtained soonest as the flow is still strong.
After this invasive disassembly and reconstruction of the hive, during which our niece acquired a sting on a finger, we all moved to what would have been presumed to be a safe distance and desuited. The discussion that followed was interrupted by a particularly agitated bee who was not comforted by her home having been reassembled. She chased our niece’s father into his car. Dr. Milbrath suggested that it was the dark clothing that made him the chosen target. This suggestion was scorned by our niece’s habitually black-clad uncle who had not noticed our own bees bothered by his wardrobe. The angry bee then entered the debate by buzzing in front of the retreating uncle’s face until it stung him on the temple. Dr. Milbrath, gracious in victory, saved him from a second avenger who had gotten stuck in his hair.
Snacks were brownies and rugelach with iced rooibos tea.