Why must they torment me?

Haven’t I been a good beekeeper? Or at least tried? I’ve fed them sugar and pollen patties when it looked like they needed help. I’ve bought special queens for them, leaving work early and driving an hour to get the majesties; keeping the last one warm in my scrub top on the windy and unseasonably cool day. I give them homes painted pretty colors, lots of room to expand with foundationless frames so they can build to their heart’s content, whatever massive-sized cells they want. I talk about them constantly, defend their virtues and play up their necessity in our food chain. I even let my son poke their “bee butts” (gloved, of course). I BLOG about them for heaven’s sake! Why the “woe is me” attitude you may wonder?? Let me fill you in on the inspection I just completed about 15 minutes ago.

As you know, ten days ago I recombined the nuc that was housing Queen Vivienne (my VSH queen) with Melissa who apparently was queenless. The queenlessness came about because they had many, many swarm cells in mid-July that I expected to result in a laying queen. When we checked on August 19th there were very few bees, no eggs, no larvae, some pollen, little honey. On August 19th it had been 37 days since there was a queen in the hive, and there was no evidence of one then. So I added the queen I already had in a nuc, saving Melissa the hive.

Ten days later (today) I checked on Melissa and my well-traveled Queen Vivienne to see how things were going. I didn’t look at the top box (which housed the queen I added) because I was intent on checking the medium and bottom deep for stores. This was the set-up: bottom deep, then a medium on top and then the added deep with the queen. There was newspaper between the medium and top deep for the combine, this was completely cleared out by the bees.The medium had A LOT of pollen and I saw many bees with pollen baskets so full and in the oddest shapes that they looked like someone had glued torn yellow paper to their legs. Super weird. The bottom deep had pretty much nothing, just a tiny bit of honey.

Now for the top deep: I pulled out the second frame from the end, saw some stores, nothing exciting. The third frame, I spotted her: a big, beautiful golden queen. (Not that bigger is better in a queen necessarily, but I think beekeepers like to imagine all that sperm and all those eggs just waiting to be laid…Does that sound weird? If you’re a beekeeper you understand!) But gosh darn it, where was her mark? Why, of COURSE there’s no mark because she’s NOT the queen I put in there!! @!#$! Well, I knew I needed to mark her so I set her frame off to the side by itself but still in the hive body so she wouldn’t crawl over to another frame and make me hunt for her again. I started wondering “What if Queen Vivienne is still in there? What are the chances?” Let me tell you…100%. After looking at a couple of frames with ridiculous numbers of eggs (I’m comparing to last time), I spotted my queen. MY queen. The one I know. I hadn’t marked her all that definitively the first time so there were two itty-bitty tiny specks of paint that identified her as Queen Vivienne. I also moved her over to the other side of the hive body so she wouldn’t escape me either.

I didn’t have my marking cage or pens (of course not, why would I have something when I needed it?) so I high-tailed it back to the house and got my white and yellow marker with an idea…

If I marked both queens yellow I wouldn’t know which one stayed. The floozy, I mean interloper, excuse me…I mean other queen, I marked with both a yellow and white dot. It ended up being yellow at the top of her thorax and white at the bottom. Queen Vivienne I remarked yellow. This time it was a nice mark; I’ve become more brave with each marking, especially when there’s a spare queen!

Here’s the kicker: I saw queen cups. No big deal, I always see them and when I look in them, they’re empty. So they’ve become a nothing cup to me. Taking into account how this inspection has been going, what do you think I found? Not nothing let me tell you…but eggs. At that point I started cursing them and chastising them that they were going to supercede themselves into oblivion and I didn’t care! I actually do care but I didn’t want them to know that.

I added 2 quarts of invert sugar syrup and made all entrances the smallest one (my big hive has had the tiny entrance since spring and is doing fine). After watching them for a few minutes I had to switch out the ventilated inner cover for a solid one because there were quite a few bees investigating the top (where they could smell the sugar syrup) and I just wasn’t sure if those were “stranger” bees. Even honey bees need to be aware of “stranger danger.” If only there was some way to safely spray your bees a particular color, you’d know if one hive was robbing another, ha!

So at this point, I’m guessing the new queen is from one of the swarm cells and those cells were on frames from Queen Vivienne. Granted I have heard that bees will move eggs into queen cups but I’m going to assume that this queen is Vivienne’s daughter. So do I take out Queen Vivienne again so I don’t lose her?

What am I going to do? I need to think and my brain is starting to hurt.

Addendum: When I look at bee math, it says 28 days + or- 5 days until a laying queen. This would give 33 days on the high end and 23 on the low end. This queen was not laying at 37 days but laying by the 47th, so this queen was >37 days but <47. They just keep you guessing. If I didn’t fear losing the VSH queen I would be curious to see which one survived, the bees will choose the well-mated queen. Plus I have those queen cups with eggs to contend with.

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3 comments

  1. How old is Queen Vivienne? In a case of supersedure mother and daughter I’ve heard can lay happily side-by-side for a while before the mother eventually dies and the daughter takes over, in which case everything is fine.

    Either way, if two queens are in the same hive presumably one of two things will happen – either they’ll fight and there will be a victor (which probably would have happened already by now?) or, if it is supersedure, eventually the new queen will take over.

    I’m confused by the queen cells though. How many are there? Wonder if you should try splitting the hive in case they’re thinking of swarming again? It seems late in the season for swarming, but perhaps you guys have a longer swarm season than we do in the UK.

    • Queen Vivienne was born in June 2012. I am thinking of taking her out again, I just bought a double-screened bottom board so this will help overwinter a small colony. I’m thinking the new queen was on a mating flight when we checked the hive on the 19th. I don’t think they’re making swarm preps since they have hardly any stores and just those two cells. I find it interesting that they have TWO queens and yet are still making new queen cells. Maybe they have some Russian stock in them.

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