Queenright Hives

Queenright: A term used to describe a hive or colony of bees that has a producing queen. (Definition from the Maine State Beekeepers’ Association’s “Beekeeping Glossary.”)

We checked our hives Friday, and both are (finally) queenright.

<Insert sigh of relief>

Buzzers’ Roost have accepted their new Saskatraz queen. She’s laying — there were eggs and larvae, as well as a fair amount of brood  — but the hive’s population is still low. Given the rough spring they’ve had, this is not surprising. Since they still have honey from winter, we put on a little pollen patty, closed up the hive and left them to it.

FreeBees appear to be thriving, with lots of capped brood, eggs and larvae, and foragers lugging in nectar and pollen from dawn to dusk. Because their population is growing so quickly, we gave them pollen also and put another box on Monday. We were planning to feed them sugar water, but realized we had excess honey in the freezer from Buzzers’ Roost — the hive’s winter bees proved to be very frugal — so instead, we put some of that and all the drawn comb we had in the new box. Drawing comb takes a lot of energy, so providing foundation that’s already drawn will make it easier for the hive to continue to grow.

IMG_0152-2

FreeBees keeping an eye on us as we check their hive.

At last, The Engineer and I can feel cautiously hopeful about our hives.

On a side note, I now see why many beekeepers recommend starting with two hives. With one, we had nothing to compare to and no resources when our hive ran into trouble. Having two hives means we can “borrow” honey or drawn comb, for example, even supplement a weaker hive with capped brood from the stronger hive if necessary.

Looking forward to next week, we will be doing a sugar shake, followed by an alcohol wash on both hives (to monitor for Varroa). With luck, the MAQS should have wiped out any of the nasty buggers in Buzzers’ Roost, but we’ll likely need to re-treat FreeBees. If you remember, we treated them with Oxalic Acid, which kills mites on the bees, but not under the capped brood. The hive’s population is now large enough to withstand that treatment, and we’ll  do it when we expect a spell of slightly cooler weather. IMG_0151-2
I’ll leave you with this shot of the FreeBees bridging (sometimes called “festooning,” which I love) when we separated their frames to inspect the hive. I’ve read several explanations of this behavior and have chosen to accept it as another mystery of the Apis Mellifera.

Once More, Same as Before

We killed the Queen of Hearts on Monday.

We didn’t mean to do it, but we did.

She’d lost her red marking, so we decided if we found her, we’d mark her.

The procedure seemed simple enough, and we had all the right tools courtesy of our Ohio State Beekeepers Diagnostic Kit.

14375709301251696262501

Picture of Queen Marking Plunger from Queen Right Colonies online catalog

Basically, you catch the queen, gently move her to the end of the tube with the plunger, hold her still while marking her thorax, wait for the ink to dry, and release her back in her hive.

At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

In our case, we caught our queen, gently moved her to the end of the tube, held her, marked her, waited a few minutes, pulled out the plunger, and … she was dead.

Did I plunge too hard? Did The Engineer use too much paint? Perhaps it was a bit of both.

Either way, poor Queen of Hearts is gone, leaving only some fuzzy, golden bees as a legacy.

Once again, we called Queen Right Colonies, and lucked out. They had Olivarez Saskatraz queens in stock. And this would be a good place to mention how lucky we are to have a resource like QRC within driving distance. Owned and operated by the St.Clair family, this small shop is a treasure trove of all things bee, including package bees and queens. And anytime we’ve had any question about how to proceed, they are willing to explain exactly what we need to do. (Blue Sky Bee Supply employees have also been quite helpful.)

Anyway, I was able to pick up our queen before I went to work on Wednesday. Since we wouldn’t be able to put her in until that evening, I asked what I should do with her until then.

One of the always helpful St.Clair daughters answered with a question of her own: “You’re going to work?”

Me: “Yes.”

St.Clair daughter: “Put her in your purse. She’ll be fine.”

Me: “Really?”

St.Clair daughter: “I’ve taken them to the grocery store. She’ll be fine.”

And that, friends is how our new queen, Saski, and her attendants ended up spending a day tucked away in my purse in a locker at work.

Later that evening, we put her in the hive.

Today, we opened the hive just enough to see the candy in the queen cage had been eaten through.

Now, we wait for at least a week to give her a chance to be fully accepted by our hive. We’ll probably give her ten days, possibly more, to give her the best chance for a future with the rest of our girls.

Also, I don’t think we’ll try marking our own queen again.

 

The Queen is Dead. Long Live the Queen.

The queen is dead.

IMG_3443

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.

IMG_3749

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.