Please Release Me, Let Me Go

Queen update: We had a look in the hive Saturday. I fully expected to find the corpse of our new queen. The Engineer was more optimistic, pointing out our bees have always been fairly mellow, that maybe she’d been accepted.

We were both wrong. She and her attendants were still in the cage. Directly above them was this puff of new comb. They were so light and airy I wasn’t completely sure the cells weren’t paper until I put a match to them.

It’s burr comb. I should have known. A more experienced beekeeper could possibly explain why the bees suddenly decided there was too much space beneath their inner cover, but I can’t.

Thats how burr comb is used – to fill in open space in the hive. This has to do with “bee space,” a concept discovered by Lorenzo Langstroth, who noticed bees fill in spaces less than 1/4″ with propolis and space over 3/8″ with burr comb. He designed hives to accommodate this, and it’s Langstroth hives that are most commonly used in the US.

But back to our queen quandary.

The the situation in the hive hadn’t changed so we had no reason to feel any more optimistic about her future welfare.

On the other hand, the workers didn’t seem particularly hostile to their would-be monarch. Most didn’t even seem interested.

We debated a few minutes.

The Engineer: “I think we should release her.”

Me: “They’ll kill her.”

The Engineer: “They’ve fed her for ten days. Look at them. They’re not biting the cage or trying to sting her.”

Me: “Well, it’s not like it will make a difference. They’ll probably kill her whatever we do.”

In the end – partly to just get it over – we opened the cage and watched her scurry into the hive.

I fully expect we’ll soon be looking for a nuc in the near future.

What I Did on My Spring Holidays: A Photo Essay

Q. What do you do when it’s March in Ohio, and you’re sick of winter?

A. You go to Alaska.

Okay, maybe our logic was a little skewed when we planned the trip back in October, but neither of us likes crowds (not a problem in Alaska in March), and we wanted to be available when things started happening with our bees.

Look how well that turned out. Sigh.

Still, our forty-ninth state was beautiful, thanks very much, and we enjoyed our stopover in Seattle and six days in Vancouver too.

I enjoyed it so much I feel compelled to share photos. These were taken on my phone. Imagine what someone could do with a real camera.

First, we flew to Anchorage, where we explored the aviation museum and seaplane base. Only we’d kind of forgotten the lake would be frozen, so we didn’t actually see any seaplanes take off or land. (No worries. We made up for it in Vancouver.)


Old wooden prop from the wreckage of a plane (I think it was called “The Seattle”) that was one of the first to attempt to cross the Arctic Circle. Four started out. Two of them made it.


We also saw a moose one night. It was laying on the lawn of a small house in Anchorage, right at the bottom of the front porch. At first I thought it was a lawn ornament. Because, you know, moose lawn ornaments are all the rage in Anchorage. Not.

Next we drove down the Kenai Peninsula to Seward. The weather was beautiful and the scenery amazing.
The picture above is from Turnagain Arm. There’s a huge tide, so big I guess people surf there.img_3484
Evidently, there are also whales. But we didn’t see any.img_3483img_3477img_3480img_3481img_3487img_3485img_3486

When we got to Seward, we stopped at a little park. I’m pretty sure we saw a seal. I know we saw otters in the bay, and some waterfowl we didn’t recognize.

The next day was our whale cruise. Though the season had just opened, we saw a whale blow several times in the distance, but never managed to get close. We also saw Stellar Sea Lions, more otters,  Dall Sheep, and lots of Bald Eagles. Then, after we’d given up on the possibility of seeing more whales and headed back toward the bay, we saw a pod of Orcas, followed in rapid succession by a school of porpoises, some of them Dall’s and another type whose name I didn’t catch.

I’ll warn you now, I didn’t even attempt to get photos of any wildlife because then I’d miss both the photo and the experience. Instead, I opened my eyes wide and tried to take it all in.


Returning to Seward.



Pass this outcrop, and the next landfall is Hawaii.

We returned to Anchorage, and the next morning boarded the train for Fairbanks — a twelve-hour trip. Because they were still running the winter train, it was a “flag stop” train, stopping every so often to pick up and let off passengers in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. img_3525
We ate, drank, and watched the scenery, scanning for wildlife. Here’s a list of what I saw: many more eagles, about six or seven Moose, the backside of two Caribou, and more Dall Sheep. img_3520img_3524
I loved the skinny pines (which we were told were Black Spruce) and Birch. By the time we neared Fairbanks, many of the Birch were bent over almost in a circle, probably from previous snows. Looks like I didn’t get any pictures of that.img_3517 img_3522

And here’s a little movie. It’s not very exciting (but it is short with some nice train noise), and I’ve no idea why WordPress let me post it.




I managed to get this shot of a little church in a tiny town we passed, but had to push a girl who was taking many selfies out the window to do so.

In Fairbanks, we had a balcony view from Pike’s Lodge. Here’s what you saw if you looked out past the air conditioning unit on the roof beneath our window. Believe it or not, they need air conditioning. Though the temperature regularly gets to -40*F in the winter, it hits the 80s and 90s in the summer. In town, they have electrical plugs in the parking lot, not for electric cars, but for engine block heaters so residents can start their cars after being at work all day.img_3529img_3530

The next day, we took a flightseeing tour. I was very proud of myself because I secured the right seat (next to the pilot) for The Engineer.

The guy sitting next to me said, “He must be a pilot, right?”

I nodded, and he said he was too.

“We have a Cessna 182. What do you fly?” I asked.

“Oh,” he replied, “I’m a military pilot. I fly fighters.”

We agreed he needed to switch seats with my husband for the return flight.

Once again, the weather cooperated, and the views were stupendous.img_3560img_3540ed12b940-a2fa-4bb6-9632-a6bd3c98ba3dWe landed in Coldfoot, greeted by two young women. One was wearing flip-flops.

Here’s a nice pic of the airport.img_3583
We got a little tour (it’s very small town, more of a way station). We also had a beer because how many people can say they drank a beer above the Arctic Circle? (Beer looms large on this trip. The far north and western Canada seem to require it.)


Important signage of Coldfoot, Alaska. Possibly the only signage in Coldfoot, Alaska. Yup, that’s the Alaskan Pipeline.

And that was the end of the Alaskan leg of our trip. Our only disappointment was not seeing the Northern Lights. Guess we’ll save the Aurora for another trip. (Iceland, anyone?)

The next morning, we left for Vancouver. When planning this trip, I’d discovered the only way to get from Fairbanks to Vancouver is through Seattle, and all the planes from Fairbanks seemed to land after the last plane to Vancouver. No matter what time we left Fairbanks, we’d end up catching the plane the next day. Since we didn’t want to sleep in the airport, we’d arranged a hotel, and to fly to Vancouver the next evening.

This gave us enough time to take the train into the city, and have a quick walk around, then hop on the ferry for a view from the water. img_3631

In Vancouver, we had a great AirBnB, close to public transport. It was an apartment on a street that was surprisingly quiet despite being conveniently close to a commercial district full of restaurants, shops, night clubs, and more importantly, a grocery store. If we walked down a small hill, we reached a beach on English Bay where we could take a little ferry to a variety of places.

Here’s a view from the roof. img_3632

British Columbia is considered a temperate rain forest, which means it rains nearly every day. At least it did while we were there. We got used to wearing our rain gear everywhere.

On one of our first excursions (to Granville Island), we mistakenly took some bad advice and ended up taking a bus over the island, and had to navigate our way back down. By that, I mean The Engineer navigated, and I followed.

Darling Daughter thinks I have no sense of direction (correct), and can’t find my way anywhere (incorrect). I am actually quite capable of navigating. I’m just lazy and it’s easier to follow The Engineer.

ebe70a43-4780-4f8c-b395-cda1308d6c3eBy the time we got there, it was really raining, so we ducked inside the brewery, and, yes, had more beer.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit we spent some time in English-style pubs watching Premier League football. I offer no excuses except to say Liverpool was playing Man City, and on Sundays, they had roast beef with Yorkshire pudding.

Another day, we took public transport to the Waterfront Station. The next two photos look a little odd because they were panoramas, which kind of skews the the perspective a little.


Waterfront Station — I think this was formerly the main train station in Vancouver.


There was a seaplane base and service, and during our time in the city, planes were continually taking off and landing. img_3652img_3650

And the trees were beginning to bloom.img_3672099542b9-7140-4899-abb4-4d005c1aae44

In Gastown, there’s a steam clock (and lots of other tourists).img_3668img_3658 On the only clear day during our stay, we walked around Stanley Park (about 6-7 miles). Since we also walked to the park and home, our stroll ended up being about ten miles. We packed sandwiches, drinks, and munchies, took our time, and enjoyed the scenery, exercise, and fresh air.  img_3684img_3687img_3685


“Girl in a Wetsuit”

There were purple Sea Stars nestled among the rocks by the side of the water.

d1ffc106-aa36-4271-860d-1f8d1eef92bfaa51a7a8-8f5b-43a4-b55c-378139936904Our walk in the park ended near this collection of totems. 47997e62-0058-4bb6-ab4f-9ff9a5ac8928A visit to a new city wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the library. img_3722
We also took the ferry to North Vancouver, where there is a strong shipbuilding history. The city has left many remembrances of the industry on display near the waterfront.bb02da87-4cf3-4889-9919-13fd270e3b70Vancouver has a bike loaning program, and these pigeons seemed to be waiting to hitch a ride. img_3721

On our last day, we did a walking tour of Chinatown.img_3732img_3736
There, we saw the world’s skinniest building. img_3735
Evidently, the original building jutted over the street. When the city wanted to clear the roadway a bit, they made a generous offer for that part of the building, assuming the owner would tear the rest down since it would be useless. Instead he took the money, extended underground and continued using the building.img_3731This building is owned by an indigenous people’s group. The totem and concrete lodge on top represent a blend of traditional and contemporary architecture. Inside, the group runs a small hotel and art gallery, with the profits funding community housing for indigenous persons in the building next door.

The tour (and our touring of Vancouver) ended with a visit to the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden — a green oasis in a busy city.img_3738img_3739img_3740img_3741

You can see more photos of our trip on my Instagram account (kymlucas54). 




The Queen is Dead. Long Live the Queen.

The queen is dead.


Our former queen in her matchbox coffin. The Engineer kept her for several weeks before disposing of her, probably in the hope that someone could tell us why she died.

Long live the queen.


Our new queen and her attendants in a queen cage. You can’t actually see the queen, but she’s Italian (therefore more yellow than black) and marked with a red dot (this year’s color). And yes, they do ship queens via USPS, but we got ours from a nearby bee supplier.

Except that queen’s almost certainly met her demise by now too.

So, why bother buying a new queen?
Good question, and one that requires a lengthy explanation.

Before you read on, please keep in mind I’m not a beekeeping expert. (I’m not even sure I qualify as a beekeeper yet.) If you’re truly interested in the subject, I suggest you check out a book from your local library.

But this is what I understand from what I’ve read and heard.

When a queen dies, a beekeeper can do one of two things.

S/he can allow the hive to do their thing and raise a new queen from an emergency queen cell. Doing this relinquishes all control over the type of queen that is raised and means accepting that the new queen may not be a strong one since she was raised in a crisis and not as a planned supersedure.

The difference between the two may seem small, but it’s important because a supersedure cell queen was raised from the start to be a queen in a cell designed for queen rearing. An emergency queen is raised in a normal cell that’s been enlarged, sometimes resulting in smaller queens.

The other option is possible only if the beekeeper catches the situation in time. S/he can order a new queen, introduce her, and hope the hive accepts her.

They might, or they might not, for a variety of reasons.
If they’ve started emergency queen cells by the time the new queen arrives, they probably won’t accept her.
If they’re feeling testy for whatever reason — say, for example, because the weather keeps fluctuating between 70* (like today) and snow (as forecast for Monday) — they may not feel like playing nice with a new queen. Hives aren’t overly welcoming to new queens in the best of times, and if you add in any additional stressors, all bets are off.
If the hive has gone too long without a queen, and workers have begun laying eggs, you might be able to get them to accept the new queen, but the process is more complicated.

You didn’t know workers could lay eggs? Generally they can’t because a strong queen’s pheromones will suppress workers’ ovaries. However, if the queen is weak — or dead like ours — workers can and will lay eggs. Since these workers are unmated, all offspring will be drones. You remember drones. They’re the male bees, the ones who do nothing but eat and fly out to try to mate with queens.

Some say the workers lay eggs in a desperate, hopeless effort to raise a new queen, but no one really knows the minds of the bees.

In a beekeeper’s mind though, laying workers are nothing but trouble.

Now you can understand the saga of our deceased queen.

In a previous post, I mentioned The Engineer always checked the dead bees we cleared from the hive this winter to be sure the queen wasn’t one of them.

About three weeks ago, she was.

So we had a look at the hive, going through all three boxes to see what was happening. There was lots of honey, a fair amount of bees, but no eggs, and therefore no supercedure or emergency queen cells.

After speaking to our bee gurus (we now have two), we discovered that we should be able to requeen the hive because the workers probably wouldn’t be laying this early in the season.

The problem was there were no queens available until 10 April. We again consulted bee guru #2 who thought we’d be okay.

We ordered a queen, picked her up Tuesday, and received very specific instructions on how to introduce her. (Remember, this weather makes the bees cranky too.)

On arriving home, we opened the hive to find drone cells.

This was bad news.

I have to emphasize this doesn’t mean our gurus’ advice was wrong. It’s just — repeat after me — no one knows the minds of bees.

Still, it was bad news.

I’d read up a bit on queenless hives, and generally the consensus was once the workers start laying, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to stop them. And if you can’t stop them, the hive will kill any queen you try to introduce.

Yeah. Bees are ruthless that way.

I won’t go into detail on the methods a beekeeper can use to try to introduce a queen into a hive with laying workers except to say due to several factors, none of them are available to us.

All we could think to do was put her into the hive, and let nature take its course.

We have a friend who’s getting a new package of bees in a few weeks. If we still have any bees left by the time her bees settle in, we’ll give them to her. Bees from a hive with laying workers can be introduced into a hive with strong, laying queen (a “queenright hive”) because the laying queen’s pheromones will suppress the laying workers.

By that time, though, our bees may be dead. They are winter bees, which means they’ve been alive a long time and, in the normal course of things, would be dying off as they are replaced by new bees.

It’s likely we’ll have to buy another nuc this year (if we can find one).

Meanwhile, I’m praying for a miracle (because no one knows the minds of bees). Maybe they’ll go against all reasonable expectations and accept her.


The bright side in this year’s adventures is we now have drawn comb, which will give any future hive a head start on the season. And we have plenty of honey if they come up short for the winter.