It won’t surprise you to learn I follow a lot of beekeepers on Instagram, and I’ve recently encountered some new beekeeping terminology I fully support.
It has to do with the three castes of bees, previously known as the queen, the workers, and the drones. But, no longer! Two of the beekeepers I follow (both women) have introduced new phrasing for these hive members.
Above is a picture that illustrates the three bee castes. (It also illustrates how poor my photo editing skills, but that’s beside the point.)
The photo above was taken of a poster we have hung in our downstairs bathroom. (There is no escape from bee education at our house.) And it was only after I took this picture that I realized that once again, the worker bees have gotten short shrift. They are at the bottom.
Not to be too opinated about it, but THIS IS COMPLETELY WRONG! They belong at the top.
Members of this caste of bees run the hive. Not only do they do all the foraging, make all the honey and propolis, clean the hive, care and feed the larvae (as well as the layabout drones), they also manufacture all the wax, guard the hive, and make all the cells.
Also, because they make the cells, these bees decide on the size of those cells, which is what tells the queen what type of egg to lay — fertilized for another female bee or unfertilized for a male.
Not only that, these girls are the ones who decide when and if the hive needs a new queen, and then they raise one.
Actually, they usually make several and let the new queens figure it out from there, but you get the gist.
Meanwhile, the drones wander around the hive begging food and fly to the drone congregation area to try to mate with a queen. Such a hard life.
While all this is going on around her, the queen is frantically laying eggs in the cells provided by her workers. Her entire life is summed up below. (Or you can read more here.)
1. Emerge from a queen cell. 2. Immediately locate all other queen cells and chew through the wax and kill the queen inside. 3. Rest and mature for a few days. 4. Fly to the drone congregation area to mate with multiple drones (who then die). 5. Repeat #4 a few times, sometimes many times. The more drones she mates with, the better the genetic diversity, which translates into a stronger hive. This is one time that promiscuity pays off, assuming she manages to return from all those flights. 6. Come back to the hive and spend her life laying eggs. 7. If she is very successful, the hive will get crowded. The workers will decide to swarm, and start making new queens in preparation. 8. Before those new queens hatch from the queen cells, the workers make the queen run to get her in shape to fly again. Or so I’ve heard. 9. The old queen then leaves the hive with half of the bees, and they find a new home.
There are other possibilities of how a queen’s life can end, but this is the happiest. Her life isn’t an easy one either.
All of this leads back to the topic of this post, the new names for the bee castes.
Ladies and gents, henceforth, I shall try to remember to refer to my bees as the sisters, the mother, and … wait for it, this is soooo accurate … the princes!
To be honest, I can go either way on worker vs sister bees because worker bee is 100% accurate, but mother and prince have to stay.
And that’s all I have to say on the matter.
Update on Mom: I come away sad every time I visit. She’s exhausted by therapy, but there’s no alternative. If she doesn’t do it, she’ll be bedridden for the rest of her life. If she does it, there’s a chance she may regain enough strength to have again some small control over her life. To even be able to go to the bathroom on her own again would be a huge win. But at this point, neither alternative is very attractive.
Also she’s still a little confused (although she’s not asked for my dad lately). She’s dependent on others for everything, when she’s always been independent, and is so grateful and happy to see me when I visit even though I boss her around. I know she feels she’s had a good life, a lot longer life than she expected, but she’s tired. It’s a lot to ask of a 92-year-old to learn to walk again, and I’m not sure she’ll have the physical strength and the emotional desire to succeed. Even though she has kept her good humor, I can see she’s tired of fighting and sometimes when she’s laying in bed, I can see her mind is very far away.
When she was in the hospital, I was telling the doctor how my grandmother died — doing as she pleased until one day she sat down in her chair and died — and how I was hoping that was how it would be for Mom.
He said, in the kindest way possible, “Most people don’t get what they want,” and something about it being very uncommon.
It makes me think that we need to get much better about death in our culture. There has to be a better way to ease my mother’s (and all of our) last days/months/years on this earth.
Sadly, I don’t know what that might be, or I would be seeking it out for her.
And now, I’ll end with something beautiful — two pictures of a Sweetgum tree leaf on rain-varnished blacktop that I took this morning. I know they are Sweetgum because I tried a new feature on my phone I didn’t know I had, which identified them.
Amazing! Honestly, sometimes technology makes me feel so old.
The girls have done it! They’ve managed to create a beautiful new queen.
Can you find her? Admittedly, both of the pictures only show her abdomen, so the task may not be easy. And she’s not that big-eyed, fat one in the upper corner. That’s a drone, hanging around the honey as usual.
GIve up? Let me make it easier for you.
Of course, it was The Engineer who spotted her, as usual, and what a relief it was to see her.
She’s quite new, possibly still unmated, though she is already nice and fat. Could be she’s just not finished with her “maiden flights.”
There were no eggs or larvae yet, so she’s definitely not begun laying.
But now we have two queen right hives — definitely cause for celebration.
OH, Girls also kept busy while waiting for royalty to emerge. They have been socking away nectar and turning it into sweet, sweet honey.
In addition, they completely rebuilt the wax frames they took a dislike to.
And since, unlike the last time, these frames aren’t in the brood chambers, there’s no chance of them being used as drone comb, which means we won’t be over-run with drones.
Next, we took a look at the Kremlin.
They have a great deal of pollen, nectar, and honey (both new and old). I think the pollen is probably a mix as well, but I still love to wonder about the sources of the various colors.
As you can see, there were a fair amount of drones in the hive — the result of those workers who were laying before Olga came along and set them straight.
I’m not 100% happy with her laying pattern. It’s kind of spotty, with brood and larva mixed together and backfilled with nectar and pollen.
Also, in the picture above, it looks like her eggs might not be being laid in the middle of the cells.
I’ve heard sometimes new queens take a little while to get going properly, so this is something we’ll keep an eye on.
Another possible explanation for the spotty pattern (but not the off-center eggs) is the workers had backfilled many of the cells on the frames with nectar and pollen. We added another deep box with some more open frames to help alleviate this.
To add fuel to this particular fire, it looks to me like the bee in the center bottom of the picture above has a varroa mite under its wing.
We treated this package when we received it (before it had any brood) and had planned to treat both the others within the next week, but it looks like we need to hit this one again too.
Finally, we went into the split just enough to remove the bottom board and peek at the bottom of the top box to see if there were queen cells.
The weather has turned (again), and we expect temperatures in the mid 80s (F) all week. Thus, we are pulling all the boards so they have ventilation through the screened bottom. That particular hive setup requires you to almost pick up the whole hive to remove the board.
There was at least one open queen cell, but in my quick look, I couldn’t tell if it had been opened, or was just not yet capped, though I suspect and hope the former. When we looked in on the 26th, there was an uncapped queen cell. That was eleven days ago, so it’s entirely possible the uncapped queen cell we saw then with larva in it has since been capped and the new queen emerged.
Michael Bush’s “bee math” gives the following figures for bee development, and a queen cell is capped at eight days, with her hatching eight days later (give or take a few). If we saw the cell just before it was capped (and the larva in it was good-sized, so this is possible), she may be out and taking maiden mating flights.
Caste Hatch Cap Emerge
Queen 3½ 8 ±1 16 ±2 Laying 28 ±5
Worker 3½ 9 ±1 20 ±1 Foraging 42 ±7
Drone 3½ 10 ±1 24 ±1 Flying to DCA 38 ±5
We last attended in 2018, when I won a beehive. In 2019, we were in France, and last year, of course, it was cancelled because of the pandemic, so we were eager to see what this year had in store.
To start with, we learned a bit about queen rearing from the folks of Z’s Bees. Mostly, we learned, as we always do when we attend a program on raising queens, that we’re not yet ready for that particular activity.
We next attended “Assessing Hive Health” and “Maintaining Hive Health” with Peggy Garnes, who happens to be the president of the Ohio State Beekeepers Association. Since she also sold us our first hive and was one of the instructors at the Beginner Beekeeping Course we took (twice), we knew her sessions would be worth our time.
It was a treat to watch her work as she took apart and inspected two hives, commenting on what she found, why she worked the way she did, and what next steps she would advise for each.
Several facts I found interesting:
New sister/sister queens won’t usually kill each other. Half-sisters will. That is, if two queens hatch from eggs fertilized from sperm of the same father, they are unlikely to commit sororicide (yes, I had to look that one up). This is similar to something I heard at one of the (many!) classes we took. It seems a worker bee will always favor a full sister over a half-sister when feeding them as larvae.
If you drop the queen, pick her up and reinsert her into the back of the hive rather than the front, and the bees will be more likely to recognize her as their own queen, rather than a strange bee.
Actually, there was no price of admission, but if there had been, I’d have gladly paid it to learn that!
Still, LCBA once again raffled off two hives, and I contributed to their coffers by entering.
They also had several guessing games, which were free. I guessed “the weight of the candle” and the “number of corks in the bottle,” but declined to stick my hand in the enclosed box to name the items within.
The “Bee Race” sounded like an interesting event, so I bought The Engineer the chance to be selected to participate. This involved six contestants each being provided with a marked worker bee in a queen cage. The contestants (both insects and people) were then driven several miles away. The person whose bee got back to the hive first won the pot of money collected for the tickets.
“Stuff the Queen Cage” sounded more painful than any possible prize could possibly be worth. Yes, it was exactly what it sounds like — stuffing as many bees as you could into a queen cage, with points deducted for every sting.
We didn’t even stay to watch.
The raffles and door prizes were awarded before those two events, and to my surprise, I won both guessing games I entered.
I’d known I was a contender for the number of corks because when I wrote down my guess, the lady taking the guesses looked at it and said I was very close.
However, the candle weight win was a surprise, although my guess was based on the many pounds of birdseed I buy for my mom’s and our feeders and all the dirt I’ve recently lifted to fill the pots that make up my garden. There were actually two winners for that game, and I was set to forego my prize since I’d already won, but then I saw they had two prizes, so I accepted.
Both my prizes were “Candle Flex” molds, a wise man and a shepherd. Since I’ve been wanting to start candle making (after a brief, not-very-successful foray into it last year), these high-quality forms will be very handy.
The winner of the “items in the box” was seated right next to me, so people were beginning to make comments about us sitting in the lucky row of seats.
When we registered for the event that morning, each attendee was given a ticket for the door prizes. The Engineer took charge of ours, and when they called one of the numbers, he went up to collect our new “Pro Nuc.”
We will find this very useful either as a swarm box or as something to hold frames when we take them out for inspection.
In fact, The Engineer just informed me, it’s already up a tree as a swarm trap.
I was never lucky at winning things, but in the last ten years or so, my luck seems to have changed.
A Broodminder and several drone frames (we don’t use either anymore — the Broodminder gave up the ghost last year, and the drone frames were more trouble than they were worth)
Two candle molds
As you can see, most the prizes have to do with beekeeping. From this I can only conclude that we were destined to be beekeepers. 🙂
Between Saturday’s Field Day and our Monday-Thursday camping trip, we also drove 1-1/2 hours to the Harry Clever Field in New Philadelphia where our plane is being annualed. If you’re unfamiliar with general aviation plane maintenance, you may be surprised to learn every plane has to be taken apart each year and inspected by a Certified A&P Mechanic. To cut costs, we try to do as much of the work as allowed. This means, we take out seats, take up carpet, and remove inspection panels (lots of inspection panels — usually my job). Otherwise, we’d be paying mechanics’ wages to have someone else do what is mostly unskilled labor. Once the inspection is completed, we put back in the carpet and seats, and replace the inspection panels and trim.
That was Friday. You’ve just read about Saturday and Sunday, and I’ve already written about Monday-Thursday.
After this very busy week, I expect the next to be much the same. We’re both back to work, have the bees to treat, the airplane to finish, and strawberries are coming in, which means if I want to make strawberry margarita jam, it has to be this week or I risk not being able to get the berries.
I certainly don’t want to miss making the best strawberry jam in the world. (This links to arecipe very similar to the one I use, though it’s not exactly the same.) I mean, any strawberry jam is good with me, but including lime and tequila somehow works to make the flavor of the strawberries more clear.
I have some jalapeños in the fridge, and I think I’ll try adding a few of those to the second batch just to add a little kick.
I’ll keep you posted on how it turns out.
P.S. We had a little mead tasting with some out-of-town beekeeper friends who came in for the field day, and I think Sourpuss is my new favorite, although Ginger Rogers and Hot Mama are still contenders. Alas, OH, Honey needs more time to get rid of a yeasty smell.
The Engineer: “I forgot the blue dot was almost worn off the queen. I wasn’t really looking for an unmarked queen.”
Me: “She’s dead. There were no eggs, and the few larvae we spotted were on the verge of being capped.”
The Engineer: “Yes, but I’d feel better if we went through that hive again.”
Me: <sigh> “She’s dead.”
The Engineer: “If we look and don’t see her, we’ll know to go ahead and get another queen to introduce.”
Me: “Okay. But, if we’re going to look, we have to do it early because it’s supposed to rain tomorrow. Then, if we don’t find her, I’ll order a queen.”
The Engineer: “Okay.”
It was thus that this morning found us once again going through the OH, Girls split, carefully studying each frame before placing it in a different, empty box. Doing the inspection this way, if the queen was still alive, she wouldn’t be able to slip back to a frame we’d already pronounced queen-free.
Frame 1: Old honey (from previous hives) with some fresh comb. No queen.
Frame 2: No queen, but lots of nectar and a little freshly capped honey. Isn’t it beautiful?
Here’s a closeup of a drone. See the big eyes and fat body? Naturally, he’s in the pantry with all the food! And look how fuzzy that little worker is next to him. She must be very young to still be so furry!
Frame 3: Pretty much a repeat of the second, except for several queen cups and the queen cell with a larva in it we’d seen yesterday. There were lots of bees tending to it, so much so that it was difficult to get a good picture of the larva.
There were also a few more queen cups that may or may not have had larvae in them. It was hard to tell. I didn’t take pictures of all of them, but when I look at the ones I did, I think maybe my seeing larvae is wishful thinking.
Then we got to frame 4, and there was Her Royal Blueness. Her blue dot was gone, her thorax appeared to be — I can’t think of a better word — dented, and she was barely moving. Truly, she was in a sorry state. It makes me sad to even look at her.
We have no idea how she got into this state. When we put her in the split, she was in great shape, scurrying around as queens do.
Did she get rolled between two frames when we put the others in? Or what?
Now I wonder if we should have pinched her, both to put her out of her misery and so the other bees know without a doubt they don’t have a viable queen.
We didn’t, and we’re not going back in there, disturbing them further as they go about the delicate process of replacing their queen.
The fact they are making one would seem to indicate they are well aware of their situation.
RIP Her Royal Blueness. You served your hive well. We’ll consider ourselves lucky if your daughter queen turns out to be half as good as you.
Because of this fact, and because the bees clearly are making at least one new queen, we are going to let them get on with it instead of ordering a replacement.
Perhaps we owe thanks to the previous queen for blessing our hive with easygoing offspring who acted against instinct and didn’t kill their would-be monarch. Maybe this queen possesses some extra-strong pheromones. Or it could be the stars just aligned in her favor. We know this apparent miracle isn’t due to skill or knowledge on our part.
But when we finally opened the hive today to see what was going on, this is what we found.
If you look very closely, you’ll see two different kinds of bees, darker Carniolans from our previous queen and lighter yellow ones from the new Italian one.
In the second picture, you might even see that the new yellow bees seem a little fuzzier.
Below, you’ll see larvae and capped brood, and the difference between the two races is more distinct.
What we never saw was the queen, whom we’re calling “The Red Queen” because she was originally marked with red — this year’s color. Unfortunately, that mark disappeared by the time we released her, which is partly why we didn’t spot her. (Our last queen was marked yellow, but we never called her anything but “The Queen.”)
I’ll admit the hive has seemed quite active for one filled with winter survivors. And you probably won’t believe this, but a few days ago, I saw a bee fly past our kitchen window and noticed it wasn’t dark like ours from last year. I went out to watch the foragers entering and leaving the hive, but when I didn’t see any yellow bees, I assumed the one I’d seen was from a wild hive somewhere.
Then today, before our inspection, The Engineer mentioned he’d seen some yellow bees around the hive.
Did we dare hope? All the books said a hive with laying workers would kill a new queen.
And yet … and yet … they didn’t.
This just proves once again the old beekeepers are right: Bees don’t read the books.
Here’s another picture of our diversely populated hive. (It does make you wonder, doesn’t it? If two races of bees can get along, why can’t people?)
We also saw several drones. I managed to get a picture of one for you, and even more amazingly, managed to mark it with an arrow so you can see him.
Notice how he’s bigger, with huge eyes. That’s to find a queen to mate with. Other than that, they kind of blunder around begging food from the workers.
<insert joke about males and their food and sex-seeking behavior here>
All the activity was going on upstairs in the honey super we left on for the winter. (If you wonder about our reasons for that, please read my earlier posts). The bottom deep box has only drawn comb and honey.
This is not how it should be, so we’re having a think about how we’re going to remedy this. We’ll go in again on Saturday if weather permits and do some rearranging. Then, we’ll treat for Varroa with Mite Away Quick Strips, followed by a sticky board count and a sugar roll and/or alcohol wash.
I’ll keep you posted.
Thanks to my friend, Kate (from the blog “Tall Tales From Chiconia”) for this post’s title. She writes about quilting and life in the Land Down Under.