Monday, August 31, 2009

Off with their Heads!!!

I'll never forget the way Mom would read Alice in Wonderland when I was a child.

She'd always bellow the part where the queen yells, "Off with their heads!" And so Dad, Mom (the newest beekeeper in the family) and I went to the bee yard on Monday afternoon to do inspections on both hives.

Last Thursday I found my beautiful queen dead in front of her hive, surrounded by her court. She appeared to have a sting on her back.
Just who did it that or why will always remain a mystery.
Possibly she flew into the wrong hive on her way home from mating, or possibly her own hive killed her.
But somehow I don't think it was the latter, especially from the way they were gathered around her on the ground. They were positioned more like ladies in waiting than killers.

We started the inspection on Hive #2.
We only looked at one frame in the top purple honey super - that box is full of capped honey and ready to be taken off.
The next yellow honey super has frames but the bees did not get the comb drawn.
I suspect this was mostly due to the requeening and also the bad weather conditions which made nectar flows vary.
No complaints though because I did not expect honey in my first year.

We found the queen on the fourth frame. This was a real surprise for Hive #2. I was anticipating that both hives would show up queenless because of the lowering numbers and activity on the porch, lack of brood, etc. But there she was, alive and well.

I didn't see brood but after seeing the queen on frame four I closed up the hive to leave them alone. Time enough for an inspection for brood next week.

Mom was the paparazzi for this visit and she apologizes to you that her photos aren't the best. Mom normally prides herself on great photographs so this was a disappointment for her. But her experience was the same as mine when first working the bees, I would put my camera too close and the photos would be blurred. It's all part of the fun.
See the queen at the top of photo at left.

We were really encouraged after seeing that queen. That hive was more active than Hive #1 so I kept my enthusiasm tempered. I was prepared for the worst on this visit and Hive #1 had 'pathetic' activity out front. Zero to two bees on the porch at a time. I didn't think there would be a queen in that hive.

There wasn't. At least not that we could see. We checked the bottom deep and pulled about four frames from the centre of the hive. I didn't see eggs or young brood but we did find a small patch of brood about 3 or 4 days old. This would work time wise if the beautiful queen had laid eggs 5 days ago.

On the 5th frame we found the supercedure cells. About six of them, capped queens waiting to emerge.

But I'd had enough of waiting. Waiting for queens to hatch, waiting for good weather so she can get out to mate--when we can't even get 2 days of sunshine in a row--waiting for her to return and finally lay eggs. Then waiting for the eggs to hatch. It's very late in the season now and these delays have put the hive in jeopardy. The numbers have declined and it's touch and go now whether the hive could survive the winter, even with a laying queen. The predictions at this point is that the hive won't survive the winter and probably isn't worth investing more in.
BUT
I have invested too much of my emotional energy and cash to quit at this point when I think one last investment could make the difference. At least I felt it was worth a try.
On the upside, the Varroa Mite count has dropped totally down - 3 mites dropped in 4 days on Hive 1 and 2 mites on Hive 2. That's because there's no brood for them to feed off of!!!! I talked to my friend Henry and he agrees with me that because mite counts are now down enough that I could probably forego the Formic Acid treatment in Sept.

The Formic Acid was a concern because it would be strong enough to penetrate the capped brood cells in order to kill mites and it would kill a lot of brood in the process.... just when I'm trying to get a queen settled and building up numbers. With the mite numbers down this dilemma is nicely solved.

So the last ditch investment and solution is to purchase a queen for the girls. She'll be a mated and marked queen and hopefully a kick-ass egg layer with super strong pheromones. Even as I write this she's sitting in the mail waiting to be couriered to me tomorrow morning.
Tomorrow we'll cut out all the supercedure cells--unfortunately having to remove many frames when we were just in there on Monday but I want them out. If there happens to be another queen in that hive that I don't know about then they'll have to fight it out and we'll hope that the best queen will live.

If I miss a queen cell then it'll be up to the victor to deal with the cell. It's my last best effort to help them.
I hope this isn't going to be a lesson in learning when to draw the line and let them go. I was hoping I wouldn't be facing that issue until later in my beekeeping career.
So I have my hive tool out to cut off their heads. No, I don't think it's funny. More like one of my favourite quotes from Ripley in the movie Aliens: "I'm finding a lot of things funny lately, but I don't think they are."
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