Monday, August 24, 2009

(Hive 1) The Queen is Dead! Long Live the Queen!

It was not looking very good. At least as far as brood and eggs or the queen were concerned. I checked the honey super first, pulling only one frame. All the frames are just full of honey, every cell covered in lovely white caps. Makes you want to lick your lips in anticipation.

I didn't expect to get a honey crop this year but it appears I'll get one medium box of honey from each hive this year.

Then we looked at the pink medium which I'm using as a brood box. Our goal for this inspection was to find open brood or the queen herself--evidence that the hive was thriving and going to be okay since they had built supercedure cells and had made a new queen.

I pulled the second frame - all capped honey. I pulled a middle frame - all capped honey. There were certainly bees but no sign of capped or uncapped brood.

This meant we'd have to invade the deep. Dad was with me for this inspection. He was my muscles to heft the heavy supers. Each frame of capped honey would weigh about 4 lbs and there were ten frames per box so that was 40 lbs to heft. My right arm which I broke in April has mostly healed but I still don't have full strength in that arm so I don't trust it--not with a box full of bees.

I pulled the third frame on the deep and checked it - capped honey in the top edges and what looked like nectar shining in most of the central cells - no brood that I could see (wearing reading glasses). Then I checked the central frame, the same story. No queen was spotted. Then I checked the second last frame--that's when I got stung on my pinkie.

I'd gotten so used to letting the nurse bees crawl around my fingers and there was never a problem. Yes nurse bees can sting but they don't seem very inclined to it. But these were 'street smart' field bees. I made sure the stinger was out and then smoked my finger and hand to cover the scent. But it wasn't enough coverage because a few minutes after that I got stung again in almost the exact same spot. These were actually my first bee stings while working inside my hives.

In hindsight my mistake was not smoking the bees away from my hands. Also, the frames of the deep were GLUED down. They were really stuck in there with a combination of burr comb and propolis, and probably some honey too! So I was having to manhandle them out of there and so there was more shaking and cracking going on than usual which got the bees' attention.

I ended the inspection on a real down note. No evidence of a queen or any brood at all. This was not a good sign. There were lots of bees though. I certainly could not tell if half the hive had swarmed a couple weeks ago or not since this is my first year and I have no experience for comparison.

I came home feeling down and concerned about this hive. I didn't want a drone layer to get started or I'd have real problems. Advice on the beesource forum and elsewhere is to put in a frame of open brood. Then if they were queenless, they'll take one of the larva and make a queen cell with it. Good advice... but did I have a frame of open brood? I wondered if the other hive might have one I could spare. If not, I'd have to see about obtaining one from another beekeeper, or just buying a queen and putting one in and then if there were 2 queens they'd have to duke it out.

I'd have enough stings but more than that, the weather was really overcast, spitting rain and cold. It was not a good day for an inspection at all. So we left the bee yard with plans to return in a few days, when the sun would be out to inspect the other hive.

Monday's weather was very nice, and the temperature was in the low 20's. Dad and I, and Mom too, when out to the bee yard. We lit up the smoker and then started our inspection on Hive #1.

I started pulling frames and the experience was the same as Hive #2 from the other day, except for no stings--no open brood, no capped brood. Not good signs.

(Here's a chuckle for you - see how I've duct taped my pinkie finger? It was so swollen from Saturday's stings that I didn't want to get stung again on the same finger so I duct taped it).

Then I thought I'd pull one more frame before closing things up. I looked at the frame covered in a good number of bees. Mom was standing on the other side with her camera and was acting like the paparazzi. I turned the frame slowly to check the other side... and saw her--so glorious, so beautiful. A sight to behold. The queen.

Found her! There she was in all her royal glory, cruising across the frame at her leisure. No she wasn't laying eggs that I could see, but she will I'm sure, given some time. Her abdomen was nice and long and she looked quite at home among her court. (See her in the photo above).

What a relief! We closed up the hive and did our high fives.

It's very possible that the hive is a bit honey bound, especially since it appeared there was shiny nectar in just about every available cell. What I'm not sure of is if this is okay, given that it's approaching the end of the year. Should there really be an expectation to have lots of brood this time of year? What do you think? I welcome your comments.

I had my yellow honey super on top of everything and they had not drawn the foundation yet so I switched it and put it under the purple super that was all drawn and capped. Hopefully that will bring it to their attention.

I didn't open Hive #2 but they were very busy with bees coming and going with a real purpose. The hive had a strong healthy buzz to it. I'm willing to bet a whole dollar that there IS a queen in that hive. Just because I didn't see her or any eggs doesn't mean she's not in there. I'll wait a few more days and then check again but I could just tell from the outside that things were okay on the inside--I know I have no experience but it just seemed and sounded 'queen right' to me.


Lynn said...

Hi Barbara. I think you're right. If the hive is humming along you probably do have a healthy queen. Queenless hives are generally very angry sounding. They are not happy when the queen is gone. Give it some time.

I started wearing gloves this summer when I work my hives. I'm not afraid of being stung, but I just found I was more comfortable being gloved. I don't want to risk dropping a frame-full of bees. When they are filled with honey they are quite heavy. I've also invested in a frame-lifter and found it to be quite a useful tool. I would recommend it very highly if you don't already have one.

PhilipH said...

Yet another highly interesting episode Barbara. It all seems very hard work but well worth all the time and effort expended.

I've booked a slot on our BBC4 tv programme on Sunday evening. It's looking into the decline of bee colonies and what it could mean for world food. Most worrying, by the sound of it.

Cliff W said...

Hi Barbara!

When I was at the beginner lessons, I never imagined the roller-coaster that I'd experience from keeping bees. The elation from finding a healthy Queen is sheer magic compared to a sickening feeling of finding something disturbing.

Here (in Ireland), it now seems to be almost standard practice to mark and clip the Queen although the paint spot on herself is invisible so I need to "re-decorate" her when I can find the courage!

BTW, I love the pastel-coloured hive parts.

P.S Max looks adorable!

P.P.S []is a Blog written by a newcomer who writes for one of the national papers in the UK.

Another [] recounts BBC Radio daily farming programme's adventures.

Bee Magic Chronicles for Kids said...

Thanks for the links Cliff. I'll be sure to check them out. I'm enjoying following other beekeeping blogs, both beginners and the more experienced.