This has been a very strange bee year. After an extraordinarily wet winter that left the greenhouse flooded more often than not, we had lost our existing Carniolan honeybee hives. We had planned to buy new packages in the spring to replace them, but I also wanted to try Russian honeybees.
Over the years, we’ve kept both Italian and Carniolan honeybee hives. We’ve had little success with winter survivability here with the Italian hives. Some years the Carniolans do great, but it depends on the weather.
Russian honeybees are a mix of several other bee species and have a reputation for being strong winter bees with more sensible brood production habits than the Italians.Russian honeybees can be swarm happy, but so are the Carniolans.
Some also say the Russians bees are rather feisty, but we’ve had practice dealing with the occasional more aggressive Carniolan hive, and picked a nice out of the way spot for the Russians…just in case.
Anyway, for the weird part, before I ordered Carniolan packages for the spring,we went out to clean the old hives. We’d checked the hives a month earlier and were hundred percent sure they were empty, but then the largest one was suddenly full of bees again…and so was the second largest one beside it.
Apparently someone else’s or a wild hive had a much better winter than ours and their swarms decided to invite themselves into our hives.
I’m not sure when they moved in that we didn’t see the swarms, but not long after, we did see another swarm near the laburnum arch.We went out to catch them, but didn’t have to. Once again, they were already marching into another old hive.
A couple weeks later, the last unoccupied hive was commandeered by yet another swarm that was heading into the hive body by the time we got our bee suits on. We’ve caught quite a few swarms in the past, but I can’t say they’ve ever been so cooperative to just move themselves in.
Of course, it made cleaning out the old hives a lot more interesting, and I need to do mite checks on everyone. But as of right now, everyone is healthy and happy, and I appreciate the universe sending these lovely bees to our farm!
Because our other hives were unexpectedly filled, we had to buy new equipment for the Russian bees I had ordered in January. We usually get package bees (or swarms), because it’s what’s available locally, but I found a Russian nuc this year.
Nucs are a way better start than a package or swarm. Whether you get a package or swarm, you have a group of bees and their queen, which are dumped into a new hive box and have to fight against the clock.
Spring and summer worker bees have a short lifespan, and when they’re put into a new hive they have to fill out the frames, and the queen needs to start laying, as quickly as possible to get the next generation of workers big and strong before the current ones pass them the torch.
A nuc on the other hand, is already a mini, functioning hive. The frames are already filled out, and the queen is already laying. The frames from the smaller nuc box are just moved into a standard hive body with additional frames, and you have an instant hive!
The newest ladies arrived last week and are doing great. Despite their reputation, this particular hive is not aggressive, only perhaps mildly opinionated. They’ve been calm during handling and are already earning their keep and then some.
We’ve never had honeybees be particularly interested in the raspberries, usually they leave those rather discreet flowers to the bumble bees and other native pollinators, but these Russians, which are smaller bees than our mystery bees, have been going nuts over the raspberry flowers.
Hopefully between the Russian hive, and our mystery survivor bee hives, this strange bee year will result in a good bee winter and lots of adorable baby bees to pollinate the kale in the spring!