A hive! A hive! My kingdom for a hive!

Goodness, what would you do if you found out you had 4 reigning monarchs and only 3 hives?

That’s exactly what we found at Connie’s bee yard on Sunday. The uber-mini nuc we made last weekend came from the green hive. We had taken the frames that had eggs in them hoping (with fingers crossed!) that we got the queen and MAY stave off a potential swarm. Before looking at the nuc, we checked the green hive which Connie calls Pistachio and found a lovely fat queen. I used my new queen marking cage (a less terrifying version of the British one): here and it worked very nicely. It doesn’t hold the queen firmly so she keeps running around but at least she’s confined to one area. So we marked her royal highness and two frames later find ANOTHER one. A little fatter this one I thought and I marked her too.

As we were starting to look at the frames, I noticed the brood cells (the bees were emerging) were surrounded by honey. In a normal brood frame the brood is clustered in the middle in an oblong shape, like an American football and the honey is along the top edge, with pollen in a band around the brood:

Capped brood surrounded by honey at EDGES, pollen is between the honey and brood. This is the way a brood frame should look: brood touching brood.

But this frame had uncapped honey in all the holes left by emerging brood. This is what is referred to as “backfilling the broodnest.” This may indicate swarming intent, or it just may mean they need more space for stores. What made me think they were NOT preparing to swarm was the presence of over 2 frames filled with eggs. I think I remember 3 frames of eggs but I can’t be sure. Usually a hive won’t swarm when there is a lot of open brood, there may be some but not several full frames-worth I would think…

Anyway, we saw lots of capped queen cells and open cells:

What a perfect picture: capped queen cell on the right, looks like an elongated peanut and an open queen cell on the left, you’re looking right into it and there is larva right inside! As always, click to make bigger.

After looking at Pistachio, we went into the nuc and found lots of queen cells, some closed, some open. I removed them in preparation to drop the sole 2 frames into the purple hive and as I was double-checking to make sure I got ALL of the queen cells, I spotted c-shaped larvae, the kind that’s 3-4 days old. I thought “Oh my lord” and looked for eggs, and there they were. Not a lot, but clearly at least a few dozen of them, they were perfectly placed in the middle of the cells and only one per cell. Oiy. Clearly the nuc had a queen too. But based on the fact that there were just a few eggs, I don’t think we took the old queen (she would have had more frames laid) but rather, a virgin had just mated and started to lay. There were supercedure cells in there though and so they were not happy with that queen for whatever reason. After debating what to do, we decided to pull the 2 frames back out and put them back into the nuc. If there STILL were supercedure cells on Sunday, I’ll try to find the queen and take her out. Here is a queen cell that I removed from the nuc, before the final swipe, you can see the larva right in the middle:

See the little larva? It’s surrounded by royal jelly which the bees secrete to feed all larvae for the first 3 days, after that they feed bee-bread to the workers but only the queen continues to eat royal jelly. That is what she will consume for the rest of her life. It’s a bitter, white jelly-like substance.

I didn’t have time to look through the purple hive completely so I’ll do that on Sunday. We’ll mark the queen if we see her. The plan is to let the green hive sort out which queen stays–this is not something you can decide for them as they will invariably make the best choice for themselves and you have no idea how they do this. Don’t mess it up for them!

I wanted to include a super-cool picture of festooning bees we captured:

No one is quite sure why bees festoon but one idea is that they do this during wax-building.
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