GeeBees Are Queenless

Poor GeeBees! They are certainly off to a rough start.

When we inserted the queen cage, we noticed she seemed smaller than others we’ve had. In fact, the only way we could differentiate between her and her attendant bees was by her thorax, which isn’t furry on a queen. Normally, you can also tell by the size and shape of her body, but she was only slightly more tapered than the worker bees (see circled below in The Engineer’s photo).

Even allowing for the different scale of the photos, she was much smaller than OH, Girls’ queen (below).

When it comes to queens, bigger is generally better because it means she’s full of sperm and will be a good egg layer.

Also, the workers didn’t seem much interested in looking after her, at least not in comparison to the queen on the package our friend picked up.

Well, after today, we don’t have to worry about her size because when we opened the hive to check if she’d been released, we discovered she’s dead.

Definitely not* the way we’d prefer to start a new hive.

What to do, what to do … what could we do but close up the hive and make plans to buy another queen or try to get one from the man who sold us the package? (In the end, we did let him know what happened, and he said he should have queens in a few weeks, so that is now our backup plan, I suppose.)

On a much brighter note, OH, Girls are doing great, with lots of brood and larvae in a nice solid laying pattern. And we saw Her Royal Blueness skittering around, laying eggs as fast as she could move.

Not a good shot of bees, but you can get a sense of the different sizes of larvae.

When we found a frame chock full of eggs, I suddenly had the idea to swap it for one of GeeBees’ frames in the hope they’d make a queen.

You see, queen and worker bees are almost identical genetically. It’s what she’s fed that makes her a queen. Contrary to what you might have heard, all larvae are fed royal jelly, but worker bees and drones only receive it for three days. A would-be queen is given enough royal jelly to sustain her throughout her growth cycle, and the difference in diet causes the changes in development that makes a queen.

I’ll spare you the lecture on queen development and simply share a few additional facts. First, you should know worker bees generally build queen cells when they are ready to make a new queen, either to supercede the old or to replace the old queen when the hive swarms. And, second, sometimes, when a queen dies unexpectedly, the workers need to make an “emergency queen” by building a queen cell around existing eggs and feeding those eggs more royal jelly as they develop into larvae and then bees. Here is an article with pictures of the different types of queen cells.

Some say emergency queens are generally smaller than those who developed in a queen cell built intentionally to develop a queen. Others disagree.

If GeeBees do what bees are supposed to do and develop a queen for us, I guess we’ll be able to form our own opinion on the matter. Queens take about three weeks to develop, so don’t think we’ll be finding out anytime soon. When bees are in the process of making or accepting a new queen, it’s generally best to leave them to it, so we won’t be peeking for a while.

And then, she would have to successfully survive her mating flights — yet another hurdle.

At the very least, the hive will have some brood to raise while they wait.

Speaking of brood, I thought you’d like to see some photos of a baby bee emerging from her cell (and she’s definitely a she because she’s coming out of a worker cell).

It always cracks me up the way the new bee’s sister bees just walk right over her while she’s trying to emerge.

Once again, we are left crossing our fingers about one of our hives. I’m starting to think we should just keep them permanently crossed. ūüôā

*Unrelated side note: For months, WordPress hasn’t let me italicize words, and now I can do it again. This makes no sense whatsoever.

Welcome, California Girls

IMG_7737 2
California Girls arrived a week ago last Tuesday in a plastic box.

In the container was three pounds of bees (about 10,000 — enough to start a hive), a can of sugar syrup, and a newly mated queen. As you can see, the bees cluster around the food can in the middle.

Most beekeepers start with a package, but this was our first since Buzzers’ Roost was a nuc, FreeBees was a complete hive, and NewBees were a split from FreeBees.

Bee suppliers will mail packages, but we picked ours up from Queen Right Colonies. They bring in two truckloads from California each year. Click the link to see them unload a semi-trailer full of bees.

On the same page, you’ll find videos demonstrating how to install a package. There are videos on YouTube, but QRC has been doing this for a long time, and they’ve got it down to a science.

The night before we picked up our bees, The Engineer and I watched the QRC video and a few others. I also reviewed the process in one of our bee books to make sure we had some idea what to do.

The process can be a little intimidating, especially to a new beekeeper, but we felt comfortable, partly because we’ve already screwed up so many times and managed to recover and partly because we’ve had three years’ experience handling bees.

A new package tends to be docile anyway. They have no brood, stores, or hive to defend.

Unfortunately, that Tuesday was too cold to install the bees into their new home (40s with traces of snow). They ended up living in our unheated spare bathroom, which also doubles as our “Bee Room” (where we store supplies) for a few days. It was cool enough without being too cold for them (between 50F and 60F).

Finally, on Thursday, the weather warmed to the low 50s, enough to do the installation.

We took out the queen, treated the girls with Oxalic Acid (for Varroa), and dumped them in their new home. After replacing the cork in the queen cage with a sugar plug, we affixed it to a central frame to allow for a gradual introduction in the hope the workers would accept her. Then, we sprinkled the top of the frames with probiotics, inserted a few small pieces of pollen pattie, and filled the reservoir with sugar syrup.

Last, we closed the lid and crossed our fingers, hoping the next time we opened it, the bees would be one big happy family.IMG_1051
If you’re a long-time follower of this blog, you¬†may recognize the box as the previous home of FreeBees (RIP).

Since we like to name our hives, this left us in a bit of a quandary. We¬†couldn’t very well call this hive FreeBees, or even FreeBees (II), because we paid $170 for them.

We decided to name them California Girls, Cali Girls for short.

The Ohio-raised nucleus hive we are picking up next weekend will become Buzzers’ Roost (II). And should we be fortunate enough to someday do another split, it will go in the Pink Palace, and become NewBees (II).

Today, we finally had the time and the weather to do an inspection. We’ve been filling the food reservoir as they empty it, but this would be the first chance to see if the queen is alive, released, and laying.

She is!

We saw both eggs and larvae, but no capped brood, which means she’s been out for between six and nine days. (Larvae are capped when they are ten days old). Since the package was installed eleven days ago, she was released fairly quickly.

Also, they are bringing in pollen, mostly a yellowish gray, with some bright yellow. I imagine the bright yellow is dandelion, and the yellowish gray may be Red Maple, if this chart is anything to go by.

And there’s fresh nectar, so they are doing what they’re supposed to.

You may have noticed the hive has a different lid. I bought it a while ago, but for reasons ¬†neither of us can remember, we didn’t like it.

It has an inside reservoir for food, and a window where you can peek in. IMG_0521

Because curious raccoons regularly visit our yard, we’ve never used an outside feeder on our hives, always an extra box with upturned mason jars inside full of syrup.

But this year, with the nights (and some days!) being so cold, we didn’t want to stress the bees by expecting them to heat an extra box.

Thus, we’re trying the lid again, and I must admit, it’s nice to be able to take a quick look without disturbing them. I guess the lid has proven useful, at least for this time of year.

Here’s a closeup, though there’s some glare from the sun.¬†IMG_2408
It’s so nice to have bees again. ūüôā



Everything But the Bees

On Friday, we drove to Blue Sky Bee Supply to buy The Engineer a bee jacket and veil.

Then, on Sunday, we took down a dead tree, a preventive measure to prevent it falling on our hive during some future storm.

I also did battle with a wild rose that was taking over that area of our property. ¬†The rose won — I have scratches to prove it — though I retaliated by hacking¬†it to the ground.

The wild rose (also know as¬†multi-flora rose, rambler rose, or Japanese rose) has a¬†self-preservation instinct strong enough that the Ohio Weedguide¬†calls it a “noxious weed.” The plant¬†earns this distinction partly due to its prolific seed production (up to 500,000 per bush per year) and partly because one bush¬†can cover a patch more than thirty-three feet in diameter.

Also, did I mention the thorns? Wickedly sharp and plentiful, they seize any piece of clothing or skin that happens to brush against a cane, and refuse to let go.

And yet, the scent of this plant is beguiling, sweeter than any hybrid on earth, so I can’t bring myself to kill it, even if I could manage that near-impossible feat.


Photo from Ohio Weedguide

I predict our bees will be sipping its nectar within the year.

With tree and rose bush down (or at least in temporarily restrained), we were able to place the paving stones for our hive stand, mulch the area, and (finally!) place our stand outside.

Here it is. FullSizeRender-13

All we need is the bees, which brings me to the point of this post. (You did¬†know there’d¬†be a point eventually, right?)

When people learn we are going to keep bees, they inevitably ask one question: “Where do you get them?”

I can’t answer without mention a fact I found astounding: Honey bees are not native to the U.S., although there are many native¬†bees, which also pollinate. If you’re not squeamish about insects, check out this¬†Popular Science article. It includes lots¬†photos and a link to the U.S. Geological Survey’s¬†great database¬†for even more bee photos.

So, all honey bees came from somewhere else. Later, I’ll write a post about the different kinds, but for now, let’s talk about where you can get them.

Probably the most common way of populating a hive is to buy a package of bees. A package is basically a box of three pounds of bees (about 10,000 insects) and an unrelated, unmated queen. This can be shipped or picked up depending on where you purchase. For example, Draper Super Bee Apiary uses either UPS or Priority Mail. (This is not an endorsement. I just found them online and know nothing about them.)

In our area, many people purchase their package from Queen Right Colonies, a local bee supply store. Queen Right orders their packages from California, bringing in two semis full of bees each spring.

Since a package queen is unrelated to the bees she’s shipped with, a beekeeper must make sure she’s accepted before introducing her to her hive. Otherwise, the other bees will kill her. Since she’s unmated, there is a lag time involved for her to mate and produce eggs, as well as the amount of time it takes to raise the¬†eggs into worker bees. (Drones generally come only after the hive has enough bees to get the work done.)


Here’s a queen from a package, safe in her little cage until she’s accepted. Photo from‘s photo essayy on hiving packaged bees.

This lag time can be useful for new beekeepers, allowing them time to get comfortable with their hive before they have new bees. But if the new queen doesn’t take, she’ll have to be replaced, starting the introduction process all over.

A second option is a nucleus hive or nuc. This is like¬†a starter hive, usually including three or five frames with¬†a mated queen and brood (eggs, larvae, and pupae). Having a proven queen and brood can provide a head start on developing a strong hive. On the downside, nucs cost a bit more, and you have to trust the person you’re buying from since nucleus hives tend to come from individuals or smaller beekeeping businesses. If you buy from the wrong person, you could end up buying someone else’s problems (pests, diseases).


Cardboard nuc box. Photo from Southern Oregon Beekeepers Association

A third way to acquire bees is to buy someone’s hive(s). Rarely available and ditto on the idea of buying someone else’s problems.

Lastly, some people get bees by swarming. This can be done using a swarm trap, hoping to attract swarming bees, or by placing your name on a swarm list for people to call when bees swarm on their property. While I’m not sure we’ll ever be ready to acquire bees this way, it looks interesting. That many bees can seem a bit scary, but I read somewhere swarming bees are at their most gentle because they have no hive to defend.¬†Sometimes, they’ll just walk right into the box. ¬†Click through to see it happen.

Did we make the right choice? Only time — and our bees — will tell.

Queen Right Colonies’ summary of pros and cons of the four methods of getting bees.

Map showing where wild bees are disappearing via¬†Bee Culture magazine’s “Catch the Buzz” newsletter.

Another swarm marching into a hive via YouTube.