OH, Girls! New Queen, Oh My!

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.

There she is! In the middle of the purple circle.

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.

Newly made comb is so gorgeous!

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.

Speaking of Olga, here she is.

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.

The off-center eggs are more clear in this picture.

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.

Days until:
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

Once again our fingers are crossed.

Filed under “Other Beekeeping Activities,” yesterday we attended the Lorain County Beekeepersfield day at Queen Right Colonies.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. And the best fact of all: Ants produce formic acid!!! And what do beekeepers spend lots of money on to treat their hives for Varroa? FORMIC ACID!!! This means we’ve wasted five years fighting ants in our hives. Learning that fact alone was worth the price of admission.

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.”

Pro nuc box
Ours is a different color, but this is the product.

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.

I’ve won:

  1. A pair of Keen boots
  2. A Leatherman
  3. A beehive
  4. A smoker
  5. Instructions for making a top-bar hive
  6. An uncapping tank (pictured in this post)
  7. 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)
  8. 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 a recipe 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.

All Hail the Dying Queen

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.

You can just barely see the larva glistening inside, and the cell was longer than it was yesterday.

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.

Girls vs Boys

It’s girls vs boys in all three hives.

The girls (workers) are winning, of course, partly because they far outnumber the boys (drones).

Plus workers have stingers. Drones do not. 

I like to think it’s also partly payback for the drones enjoying a long hot summer of laziness while their sisters slaved.

Drones exist solely to mate with queens. Not all manage this feat which may or may not be a good thing since mating breaks a drone in half, bringing his life to a quick — but I’d like to think exciting — end. 

If the drone doesn’t find his queen, he spends his life begging food and toddling around the hive getting in the way of his sisters.

Those sisters, meanwhile, are in the process of working themselves to death. Not only do they look after their bumbling brothers, they clean the hive, feed and raise the young, make honey, feed and tend the queen, produce and shape wax into comb, guard the hive, and forage for food.

When workers can no longer work, they fly away — often with wings so tattered they barely function — to spare their sisters the labor of dragging out their dead body. 

That’s assuming they aren’t first eaten by a bird, killed by a yellow jacket or poisoned by pesticides.

Even the queen’s life is constant labor — laying up to 2,000 eggs a day leaves little time for rest.  

Still, the drones who didn’t mate get their comeuppance in the fall. 

They are superfluous to the needs of a hive, and as the hive prepares for winter, they’re banished. 

In this case, “banished” means being pulled from the hive and dropped on the ground outside, often with their wings chewed off to make sure they cannot return. Worker bees may even pull drone pupae from their cell and push it out the hive entrance. Occasionally, they fly away carrying a full grown drone.

This is an interesting sight since drones are so much bigger than workers. The first time I saw it, I thought, “Why is that bee flying so strangely?” They look as though they can barely maintain lift. 

The worker bee goes back in the hive to continue her work. 
The drone is expected to die.
And so he does. 

After all, he is incapable of work, therefore unable to feed himself. (Seems there’s a life lesson in there somewhere.)

There is no room for sentimentality in a beehive. If a hive is to survive, it must get through winter by living on honey made during the summer. Dead weight must go, and drones certainly fall into that category in the autumn.

Two of our hives had a lot of drones this year, and there’s a good reason they did. 

As usual, it was the fault of the beekeepers.

Remember that pretty comb the bees made earlier this year? The pieces we attached to the frames with rubber bands because we didn’t want to waste their hard work?

The two hives made those entire frames into drone comb. Since they had plenty of worker bees, we decided to leave it go and see what happened. (We’d also been treating for Varroa, so theoretically they shouldn’t have become a Varroa bomb even though Varroa love drone brood.)

What happened was an overabundance of drones resulting in a mass cleanout of them in the last week. 

I didn’t take a picture, but if you want to see what it looks like or read more about it, you can go here or here. Our hives didn’t have quite as many dead as the first link, but we did have larvae similar to the picture. They look kind of like mummified white bees on the ground.

Anyway, we won’t do that again. 

Still, that’s how you learn. In beekeeping, as in many things, the books and classes only take you so far. 

A Quick Overview of Our Beekeeping Adventures and Misadventures:  This year, we started with a nucleus hive with an overwintered Ohio queen, and a package of Saskatraz bees from California. Both did well and started making swarm cells, so we split them.

The split from the Ohio hive was put into a nuc box, and they successfully made a queen.

The split from the California hive was done by separating the two deep boxes, leaving the queen in one, and making sure the other had eggs. After more than a month, there were no signs of a queen.

We combined the two splits, putting a double-layer screen board between them. Ten days later, we removed the screen. The merging of the hives was successful, though there were some dead bees outside (fewer than 100) the morning after we removed the screen.

Today, when we checked, we could see that hive is now flourishing.

In the meantime, when we last looked at the Ohio hive (Buzzers Roost II), it was boiling over with bees and they’d started making swarm cells again.

OOOOOOOHHHH, NOOOOOOO! They can’t swarm now! A swarm this late in the year will never survive because they won’t have winter stores, and the hive they leave behind might also be weakened.

We closed the hive and thought about it, ultimately deciding to make it so they couldn’t swarm. A hive won’t swarm without a queen, so we destroyed the queen cells and put queen excluders both above and below the box with the queen. 

Was this the right thing to do? Will it succeed? Today we removed the second queen excluder, reasoning that it’s getting cold enough that they certainly won’t swarm now. 

Will they? Will they? All my fingers are crossed in the hope that they will not!

California Girls was also doing well when we last checked it (about ten days ago). I can really smell the honey when I walk behind it. 

Tomorrow, we will start Formic Pro treatment for Varroa once more — two strips in each hive for ten days per strip. By the time they come off, the Goldenrod and aster flow will be done, and we’ll begin a heavy feed on all three hives.

At least that’s the plan. 

To tide you over until next time, here’s some pix of our lovely ladies bringing in pollen.

We Had a Plan

A quick, mostly pictorial update on the hives.

The California Girls hive needed split, we both agreed. The queen’s laying pattern was spotty, and they’d be more likely to get through winter with a locally born and mated queen. Or so we’ve been told.

We gathered the boxes and frames needed to make the split, but chose to check Buzzers’ Roost (II) first.

The hive was packed with bees, with many, many uncapped queen cups.

Last time we had a hive in similar condition, it was FreeBees. With them, we waited a few weeks to make a split, and they ended up swarming anyway.

Determined to avoid a similar error with Buzzers’ Roost (II), we adjusted our plan, and split the hive by taking out a few frames of brood and eggs, shaking in some nurse bees, adding frames of honey and pollen, and giving them sugar water and pollen patties.

We’ll check back in a few weeks and hope to see fresh eggs and larvae. If we don’t see this, we’ll make a decision whether to buy a queen or reunite them with their mother hive and let them swarm (and hope to catch it).

Both hives had tons of pollen, more than I’ve ever seen stored before in one of our hives.

Here are some pictures of Buzzers’ stores.

When we smoke the hive to inspect, the bees sometimes react by sticking their heads in the cells, supposedly to gorge on pollen and nectar in case they have to flee the danger.
The little things on the bottom that look like Kix cereal are capped drone brood.
More colorful pollen, along with glistening nectar. They were also capping honey, but apparently I didn’t get a picture of that.

There were a lot of bees. Nearly every frame was full.

Now we just have to hope the split raises a queen.

Next we turned to California Girls. They’ve also been busy raising babies, but fortunately weren’t quite as crowded as Buzzers.

Here’s a nice frame of brood. See the freshly capped honey at the top left and drone brood on the bottom?

The queen is laying better now. Look closely, and you’ll see the tiny eggs in almost every cell – much nicer than last inspection when she was laying unevenly.

You can also see some larvae in the lower left.

The picture below has everything but pollen! There’s nectar, a few capped brood cells, honey and eggs!

We also saw the queen, always a welcome sight!

And remember this?

And this?

Well, look at it now!

It’s the comb they started building down from the inner cover several weeks ago that we rubber banded to a frame. They’ve filled in almost the whole frame!

If you’re observant, you may notice something about the size of the cells. They’re bigger than usual, which means they’ve been built for drone brood.

This is something we’ll have to keep an eye on because varroa love drone brood, and we don’t want to encourage varroa in our hives. Also, we don’t need that many drones unless we were getting into some serious queen raising, which we’re not.

We did end up putting the honey super we’d intended for Buzzers on California Girls. There’s definitely a nectar flow on, and they’re doing well so we’re giving them space to store it all. It may come off when we split that hive, but that’s a judgment call we’ll make at the time.

On the “Decluttr Kym” front, I sorted out my jeans and am embarrassed to report I gleaned six pairs to donate without even having to think much about it.

And, lastly, the unrest here has caused me to realize our country can’t move forward until we finally admit we were founded on the backbreaking labor of slaves. I’ve heard people say, “That’s over a hundred years ago. It’s ancient history.”

But as a genealogist, I’ve learned a hundred and some years is not ancient history. It’s just a few generations back, and that history creates a culture, both familial and community, that directs our present.

We can’t forget this happened, and although I’m not sure what I can do personally, I know the first step is to learn more about my personal biases and not be afraid to call out others who express more overt racism.

I will start by reading (no surprise there) and forcing myself to sometimes be the unwelcome voice in the room.

Weight and See

Summer is slowly winding down, and the bees have been making the most of the fine weather. They’ve been in a foraging frenzy, perhaps sensing the forthcoming temperature changes.

They’re finally visiting the goldenrod in their own yard!

It cooled down over the weekend, with rain on and off all day today. Each time the showers stop, the foraging begins again.

And yet, when we checked the hives a week or so ago, Buzzers’ Roost had no honey, and FreeBees had very little. Instead, we saw loads of pollen, lots of nectar, and a surprising amount of capped brood.

Still, with all that nectar, there’s bound to be some honey soon.

Check out the graphs below. Notice any trends?

The first two graphs show the weight of the hive over the last month — finally trending upward. The next two show a week each, and you’ll notice daily ups and downs, probably from when the foragers are out.

So, we’re not too worried about honey levels, at least not yet.

Below is a picture of a frame containing both nectar and pollen. We also found several that were filled solely with nectar or solely with pollen. Theoretically, we should be able to identify the source of the pollen by its color, but unfortunately, I’ve not found an accurate chart online. Here are links to two if you’d like to try: Sheffield Beekeepers’ Association and Metrobeekeepers.net. My guess is mostly goldenrod because the fields are full of it.

While we had the hives open, we did alcohol rolls on both. This is supposed to be a more accurate way to count Varroa.

Our count was a big fat zero on both hives.

Yeah, we must have done it wrong.

Either that or the hive beetles are eating them. Don’t even ask how many of those we found. It was too many to count.

Little bastards.

The weird thing is, the bees mostly ignore the beetles. Once in a while, they’ll herd a particularly brazen one into a corner, but then the bees go back to whatever they were doing, and the beetle scuttles away. (Unless we get it first!)

There was propolis everywhere, especially around the beetle traps, which makes me wonder if this is the bees’ response to the pests. There were a few beetle corpses in some of the propolis, so who knows?

Unfortunately, our girls don’t seem to grasp that the traps are there to help them and had propolized the openings where the beetles are meant to enter. At least one trap had every opening completely blocked.

But let’s get back back to the subject of the main hive pest — the dreaded Varroa. For two years, we’ve used drone foundation as part of Varroa control, with very little success.

Last year, the hive used the drone foundation mostly for honey.

This year, both hives have ignored them.

Until now.

This year, a few short weeks — okay, a few short months — before the workers start kicking out drones (to lower the number of mouths they have to feed in the winter), FreeBees has decided to make drone cells. Half the foundation was full of capped drone brood, and there were more cells on the top of some of the other frames.

Weird. Also unusual in placement. Drone cells are usually at the bottom of hive frames.

Whatever. It’s their hive. They can do what they want.

As we’d been instructed, we removed the drone foundation and opened the cells to check for Varroa, but found none there either.

I can’t believe there are no mites at all, but am willing, even eager, to believe the treatments have been working, and the threshold is safely low.

Just to be sure, we will treat both hives with Oxalic Acid before winter after we take off the supers.

I’m still holding out hope that we might be able to pull at least one frame of honey for ourselves.

The Sting

In a little over a year of beekeeping, I’ve been stung four times, three times last year and once two days ago.

The first sting made my hand look like someone had blown air into a rubber glove. It hurt like hell, and throbbed and itched for several days before subsiding. I never saw the bee.

A few weeks later, I decided to have a look at the bee hives at our airport. Accustomed as I was to the laidback temperament of our hives, I was astonished when the airport hive’s guard bees came at me before I got within three feet of their hive. I backed off, but they actually followed me back to our hangar, a distance of over 50 feet (maybe way over – I’m no good at estimating distance). Despite waving my hat and jacket to disrupt their plans, I got stung in the back of my head – a sharp hot zap that eventually became a small knot.

Toward the end of last summer – probably during the nectar dearth, when bees are particularly defensive about their hard earned stores, one of ours got me near the eyebrow. Being stung near the eye (or anywhere on the face) is cause for alarm, but other than that hot, sharp pain, I had no reaction. No swelling, and I don’t even remember itching.

This photo shows the swelling and redness of my latest experience with venom – another time I never saw the insect.

It’s a just like the first one – crazy pain the minute it happened, followed by swelling, throbbing, and itching as the poison works its way down my arm.

Each time I’ve been stung, I immediately scraped the area to get the stinger out, so the difference can’t be from an imbedded stinger.

I’m beginning to think that stings #1 and #4 weren’t bees at all, but wasps.

You see, I’ve learned bee venom is different from wasp venom. And it turns out you can be allergic to either, but rarely both. (Go here for more info: http://archive.boston.com/business/articles/2010/05/17/how_do_bee_and_wasp_stings_differ/)

Also some wasp stings are more painful than a bee’s. We know this because a guy named Justin Schmidt subjected himself to a variety of stings and bites to create the Schmidt Pain Index (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2148089/The-10-painful-stings-planet-self-sacrificing-man-tried-150-different-varieties-science.html). Crazy, right?

Paper wasps (which I’ve seen in our traps) are right up there, above both yellow jackets and honey bees.

So maybe #1 and #4 were paper wasp stings. That would account for the different pain levels, and if I’m more sensitive (not allergic, but sensitive) to wasp venom, this would also account for the ballooning.

If my theory is correct, I got off easy both times because unlike honeybee workers, whose barbed stinger can only sting once (causing them to die), wasps and hornets can sting multiple times.

On a side note: queen honey bees stingers are not barbed, so they also can sting multiple times. And a drone honey bee has no stinger.

Long May She Reign!

News flash: The queen lives on!

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. IMG_0072
Notice anything?

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.

IMG_0073

Below, you’ll see larvae and capped brood, and the difference between the two races is more distinct.

IMG_0074

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. IMG_0075
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.IMG_0076
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.

 

The Queen is Dead. Long Live the Queen.

The queen is dead.

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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.

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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.

Right.

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.

 

 

So, You Want to Be a Beekeeper? Prepare to Occasionally Feel Very Stupid

If you read my last post, including updates, you will see I was quite wrong about several things.

  • Although I knew drones were bigger than workers, the large eyes of the bee in the “stand-off” photos convinced me it was a drone, despite it not having a blunt body and being the same size as the other bee.
  • When we tested for Foulbrood and the test was negative, I assumed (always a mistake), our bees were in the clear. Wrong again. They have Parasitical Mite Syndrome, which means their chances of making it to spring are slim indeed.

And yet, as one reader commented about the Yellow Jackets, we can’t give up until the bees do. As long as they are alive, we will continue to do everything we can to give every chance possible to survive.

What this means in practical terms is pretty much following the winter strategy we had already decided on.

  1. Feed them as much as they want to take.
  2. Treat them again for Varroa (this time with a vaporizer).
  3. Winterize their hive with insulation and a wrap.

If they don’t survive, our next bees will benefit from this year’s bees’ work by starting with drawn comb instead of foundation and having honey, rather than sugar water, as food if they need it.

So, lessons learned:

  1. Beekeeping has a steep learning curve. There is much to know, and I don’t think anyone can become an expert in a day (if ever).
  2. Sometimes, you just have to do what you can and trust your bees to know what’s best for them.
  3. If you are the sort of person who wants to feel smart and be right all the time, beekeeping is probably not for you.
  4. Some hives thrive despite ignorance and lack of care.
  5. Other hives fail no matter how much care and thought they are given.
  6. Use drone frames early, and make sure you take them out before the drones (and Varroa) emerge.
  7. Treat for Varroa. Just assume your hives have them. They do.
  8. When you put out dry pollen for your bees, every bee in a five mile radius will come to call.
  9. Everyone has different ideas about how to do things. Some of these strategies may work for you. Some won’t.
  10. Because every hive is different.
  11. In no way does the above truth excuse you from learning as much as you can.

 

 

Cautiously, Infinitesimally, Almost Imperceptibly Hopeful (for About a Day)

As you read this, please be sure to read the updates to get a true picture of what’s happening in our hive.

If there were a scale called “Chances Our Bees Will Survive the Winter,” it might look like this:

1__________________________________5_____________________________10
Bees will certainly die.                  Bees might not die.                 Bees will certainly live.

Following the Yellow Jacket raid two weeks ago, I would have put our girls at about 1.5.
After this week’s hive inspection, however, I think they’re closer to a 3, perhaps even a 3.5.

They have some brood. It’s spotty, but I think that may be normal with winter approaching. I know the queen slows down on laying eggs this time of year so there are less mouths to feed during winter. And we have baby bees hatching and some larvae. We also spotted the queen, which is always reassuring. IMG_2864
The caps on the cells aren’t as nice as earlier in the season, which was a bit worrying, so we checked for American Foulbrood (AFB) this week. The larvae in the caps we opened weren’t discolored and didn’t “rope out,” so we don’t have to burn all our equipment.

Yes, AFB is that bad. Its spores can live up to 70 years on equipment, and it’s lethal. (Click the link, and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs will tell you all about the disease.)

So, no burning necessary. That’s a relief.

Update: Sassafras Bee Farm very kindly sent me an email with some bad news. Our bees almost certainly have Parasitic Mite Syndrome (PMS). Here’s a link to some information on this syndrome, with lots of pictures that look exactly like our hive.

This week, there’s also been a great deal of wrestling going on in front of the hive, with bees dragging other bees out of the hive and dropping them on the ground, sometimes even flying away with them (to drop them elsewhere, I guess).
At first, we thought the hive was being raided … again, and our bees were protecting the hive — another worry. But our girls weren’t stinging the bees they tossed out.

It reminded me of that scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. You know, “I’m not dead yet!”

If you haven’t seen it, click the link above for the clip.
I’ll wait.

Funny, eh?

I can be a little dense, but eventually I realized what was happening. The worker bees were getting rid of the drones. They didn’t need to sting the evicted bees because drones don’t have a stinger and can’t sting back.

As you may know, drones don’t do much except fly to a Drone Congregation Area (DCA) and hang around, hoping to mate with a queen. (I’ve linked to Honeybee Suite here, partly for the description of DCAs and partly because I liked the comments.) There’s at least one DCA in England that is documented as having been in the same place for centuries.

Here’s a blog post from a guy who went in search of one that was written about in the late 1700s.

He found it too. Pretty amazing, if you ask me!

The mating process breaks a drone in two.
At least they go out with a bang. (Sorry!)

Since drones take up valuable resources with no immediate benefits to their hive, a hive won’t create male bees until it can support them.

But who makes that decision?

Not the queen.  Her job is laying eggs, and she does so according to the size of the cell — fertilized for workers in smaller cells, unfertilized for drones in larger cells.

Not the drones. We’ve established that they’re only good for one thing. (And I’m not, repeat not, drawing conclusions about any other species based on bees!)

So who decides the size of the cells? The worker bees.
And don’t they deserve that privilege? They’re called workers for a reason, and it’s a simple one. They do all the work.

Okay, okay, the queen labors too. Spending your life laying eggs and then being made to swarm or being killed by a usurper is work too. “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” and all that.

But, I digress.

Back to the workers. Guess what? They also chose when to create queen cells and raise new queens when they deem it time to swarm or replace the old queen.

Talk about the power of the sisterhood!

The boys? Not so much power. If a drone doesn’t mate by the time fall comes around, he’s kicked to the curb. His sisters quit feeding him, making him weak, and all that much easier to wrestle out of his home.

Judging by the state of the wings of some of the drones we saw on the ground, I think the girls may chew the wings of their bros, as well.

Yeah. It’s a rough life for a bee. Workers work themselves to death. Drones mate and die or get kicked from their hive and die. Queens lay eggs their whole life, and then are killed or forced to swarm (and then die later).

So, let’s change the subject and look at some pictures.

IMG_2886The Engineer took this picture of a showdown. I’m pretty sure it’s a worker making sure a drone doesn’t come back in the hive. Drones are usually bigger than worker bees, which isn’t the case here, but their eyes are also much bigger. This is more obvious in the picture below. The blog, Gerry’s Bees, has a nice picture showing the usual differences. Update: Sassafras Bee kindly pointed out that the big-eyed bee is NOT a drone, but a worker with Deformed Wing Virus. IMG_2885
In the seven days since our last inspection, the bees also produced a lot more honey. IMG_2879
It’s so beautiful; I couldn’t stop taking picturesIMG_2881
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This last picture is of the honey they’ve made on one of the drone foundations we put in last month to try to help with the Varroa infestation. The queen laid a few drones on it, but the next time we checked the hive, our bees were saving nectar in both drone frames. We left them in, and now they are full of honey.

Notice on the bottom of the picture there are bees hanging off one another in sort of a cluster. They frequently do this between frames as we remove the frames to inspect, clinging to each other in a living bee chain until the distance becomes so great they are forced to let go. The phenomenon is called “festooning,” and here’s a great photo of what it looks like (from Honeybee Suite).

The Engineer and I have been working too, learning what we can do to aid our girls in getting through winter. Yesterday, we attended an all-day class on “The Hardest Season.” We came away with a much longer “to-do list” than we went in with.

And now, I’m cautiously, infinitesimally, almost imperceptibly hopeful we can help — or at very least, not hinder — their chances of survival.

On a scale of one to ten, I’d give us a 4, mostly for effort. 🙂

Update: While I’d still give us a 4 for effort, I’m not sure anything we do will save our hive. We may be starting fresh in spring. Feeling down about this, and there’s nothing slight, cautious, or infinitesimal about the emotion.