Queen piping

Last week, my husband helped with my colony inspections. As we were looking at my strongest colony (Pink), he looked at the queen excluder and said “That’s an interesting looking bee.” I quickly looked and discovered a virgin, trying to make her way through the excluder, she was likely newly mated as she could no longer fit through the slats.

There were a few supers above the excluder and an imrie shim which allowed super access for the foragers. She very likely made her exit via the imrie shim and then struggled to get back into the brood chamber. I had no idea how long she may have been there. I marked her on the off-chance she would be the reigning monarch.

I kept her caged as we went through the colony. We found lots of queen cells, they appeared to be for swarm prep as, in my brief experience, they don’t make 20-30 queen cells for superseders.

I left them as is, released the newly marked queen and closed them up. [Likely swarmed]

The next challenge came in the Orange hive. It was apparently queenless but had polished cells that appeared to be waiting for a queen. But they were markedly unhappy. I saw queen cells that were opened, thought I saw closed queen cells and polished brood cells but no eggs and they were clinging to us and head-butting incessantly. We closed them up as they were obviously unhappy with our intrusion. [Likely queenless or waiting for a queen to mate]

The Purple hive appeared to have eaten through everything they had so I gave them a quart jar of sugar syrup (had one conveniently in the freezer from spring feeding!) That was emptied in 2 days so I’ve been feeding them to get some stores for them. [Hungry]

The Orange hive was bothered again on Wednesday as I had decided to take one frame of queen cells out (that I thought I saw in there) and make another nuc. They were even worse tempered than previously! I decided to give them a frame of eggs to see if they were queenless or waiting for a queen to mate and lay. I pulled a frame of eggs from the Aqua colony next door (very calm–markedly different reaction to being opened).

I rechecked the Orange hive yesterday–still no queen laying that I could see, no queen cells on the frame I gave them and no evidence of a laying worker. Their temperament was better so I’m crossing fingers that there will be a laying queen next weekend. [More likely a queen needs to mate]

Now for the fun part. I wanted to see if the Pink hive kept that virgin I marked and whether she had destroyed the remaining queen cells. I checked all 20 deep frames and found 17 neatly opened (from the bottom end) queen cells. In addition, as I checked the first few frames in the brood chamber, I found 2 queen cells still capped. I heard this tiny squeaking and thought some little bug was flitting about my head or that I was hearing a new bird far away in the woods. As I picked up another frame, this one also with 2 capped queen cells, I heard the sound again. As I looked at the cells it hit me! The queens were piping! They were either challenging a queen I couldn’t see or each other while they were still in the cells. What to do? What to do? Can you hear the hand wringing?

I quickly decided to make queen mating nucs, these queens would be emerging very soon and I wanted them alive. I used my queen castle to put one frame in each. This queen castle was already housing the blue laying queen (she’s a laying beast) from the Pink hive, and will now hold her 2 daughters in neighboring chambers.

ETA: found an audio of queen piping: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYecvVhkpKI

Extra queens are always handy to have on hand. I much prefer using queens the bees have decided to raise rather than creating a tiny nuc with few resources and expecting them to raise a good queen.

I’ll check next weekend to see how they’re faring. I hope to be marking 4 queens. Mind you, I have another queen on order that should be coming soon.

To keep my brain straight, these are the queen genetics currently:

Queen castle, Pink and Aqua colony same lineage. Orange colony is distant VSH. Purple colony (still original from Peter’s? Bjorn Apiary over 15 years ago.)






They’re kidding, right?

During my failed honey harvesting/hive inspection, I also did an inspection of Demeter. Remember I marked the new queen blue with a white dot and I posted pictures of those combs on the green frame that looked like lungs?
Well, I have a problem: I saw queen cells right along the edge of that “lung comb”. Not queen cups mind you, queen CELLS and they were hanging down so nicely just like swarm cells, because they were on the edge of the comb. Thinking in my head “Please, please, please don’t have larvae in them” I looked inside. I knew they WOULD have larvae in them because they were elongated. And yes, of course they did. Of course.

What to do, what to do?? In my head it’s just a jumble: Are they superceding or swarming? Are they not happy with her? How can they not be happy with her? She’s laying everywhere, loads of brood. Why would they swarm, there’s hardly enough in here to swarm. TELL ME damn it!

So what did I do? Nothing…at the time. I needed to figure out what the heck my plan was going to be.

But now I think I have one. I may take the newly marked queen out into a nuc. This will allow two things to happen:
1. IF they plan to swarm, this removes the old queen and a large chunk of the population to decongest this absolutely NOT congested hive. This will leave Demeter with the queen cells to hopefully make a new queen??
2. IF it’s a supercedure for some reason, then they should still build supercedure cells in the nuc since the queen will still be unsatisfactory.

If the queen cells in Demeter fail to make a successful queen, I’ll still have the eggs from the marked queen to help them make another queen.

As my husband says, “There’s always something with these bees.”

Nuc transfers to bigger digs

Last Monday, the 18th, I picked up a new virgin VSH queen from VPQueens in Frederick. I need a name for her that begins with a “V”!

Here she is in all her glory:

Can’t see her? Trust me, she’s in there. I kept her warm in the flap top of my scrubs as it was in the high 60’s and very windy and cloudy that day.

This is the nuc to which I added her. I took medium frames (since those were the only frames with capped brood available) from Melissa, the orange hive. These bees, as they emerge will not have been exposed to a queen at all, so adding a virgin should lead to a very quick acceptance. As the old adage goes: give the bees what they’re expecting. A queenless hive with loads of new bees (a.k.a. nurse bees) are waiting for a queen to care for and brood to tend. If you give them a virgin they will be extremely happy and do everything necessary to care for her and the as yet unlaid brood. This same day I took a frame of deep honey from Melissa and used it to replace a medium honey frame that was almost entirely consumed in 3 days. I made the nuc Friday and added the queen Monday.

I pushed a toothpick through the end as Adam, the breeder, advised. I used this toothpick to suspend the queen between 2 frames of still capped brood. I didn’t think I would have space but a little finagling worked.

Even when grabbing frames of capped brood, there were clearly eggs or very young larvae along the edges. This is the degree to which workers will build a queen cell in only three days, Friday to Monday. There were more on the other sides.

One of the larvae. I ended up scraping off about a dozen cells, I felt terrible because I knew how much the bees wanted (no, NEEDED) a queen. But it was less tragic knowing I was giving them one that would be laying quickly and would be a Varroa Hygienic queen. I double checked all of the frames to make sure I didn’t miss any queen cells. I even scraped off a couple of empty queen cups, I was a bit paranoid.

Hello queenie!

I checked the queen on Wednesday the 20th and she was released. I waited until today to check for eggs. It’s very hard to wait, but we must. I planned to move them into this hive as I won’t be able to check on them and I needed to know they have the extra room they MAY need. This hive is made up of extra parts I have. Very handy that it makes a sturdy nuc and then a transitional hive if needed.

Bees in the nuc, waiting to be transferred. Well, not really waiting as they didn’t know what was going to happen.

The bees are clustered on the bottom of this medium because they were ready to build comb off the bottom (it’s a medium frame in a deep nuc) I’m glad I caught them in time because I would have really disliked messing up worker brood.

The bees in their new home with the entrance reducer on the smallest setting. I shook out the rest of the bees left hanging in the nuc and then moved the nuc box away from the spot so they would stop going to it. At first I added a few pieces of clover and grass at the entrance to the new hive but then realized nobody would be leaving to forage, only returning. I expect the returning bees to do one of several things:
1. Return to their location find this box instead and go in, no problem.
2. Return, be confused, realize their home is gone and then beg their way back in (if they have pollen or nectar this will be easy). Guard bees realize that robbers don’t show up bearing gifts.
3. Return to the old hive location, find this instead, recognize their home pheromones and be able to go in without an issue because their own pheromones will match the home hive. Similar to number one above and I think this is what will actually happen. The returning foragers will smell “right” to the guard bees.

The bottom board is screened and setting it on a solid surface with a reduced entrance kind of defeats the purpose of a ventilated bottom. Since it’s over 100º here, I added some wood to provide cross ventilation from below.

Queen cells

For the new beekeepers: don’t cut these out! There are posts all over the forums from new beekeepers who have cut out queen cells but gosh darn it, they can’t find their old queen or any eggs. What do you think these new beeks have done? Made the hive hopelessly queenless. Not a smart move.

A safe rule of thumb for anyone: if you don’t understand what you’re seeing, don’t do anything, close them up and leave them alone. The bees will sort it out. You can always ask for advice from your local beekeeper’s club.

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.

Adventures in the land of nucs…

So remember how I thought I maimed Connie’s queen? I’m not sure if I did or not, but if I did, they must have already had a new queen in the works. Because get THIS: there was a laying queen in the hive, about 2 weeks ahead of schedule. What do ya think? Crazy isn’t it?

If I maimed the queen on May 26th, assuming they used a 3-4 day old larvae (the last day that the larva is fed royal jelly before switching to worker bee bread), she would have emerged June 7th at the latest and June 6th at the earliest. So we checked Connie’s purple hive (appropriate that her purple hive houses bees from my purple hive!) and guess what?? A ripped out queen cell….eggs….and (drumroll please) FAT LARVAE!!!! Ready to be capped! So if there was a virgin she’s been laying since last weekend. Clearly anything I may have done to the queen, did not result in those queen cells since there wouldn’t be any eggs until the end of the week at the earliest.

So I figure these are the 3 options:

1. I did NOT maim the queen and they had a queen in the works the whole time (how could we have missed it???) and they just replaced her.

2. I DID maim the queen and they had a queen in the works and they just replaced her with a queen in waiting.

3. The old queen is still there, she killed the virgin and has kept laying. This is my favorite theory but Connie didn’t see eggs or larvae last weekend.

In either case, she has a laying queen a lot sooner than I expected.

The other hive (a green one) is a new nuc she installed 2 weeks ago and had loads of swarm cells. Swarm cells people! It was a nuc from HTKrantz in Frederick and it looked really good. Lots of bees that wanted to swarm… We desperately tried to find the queen to no avail (she was not marked, mind you if she was marked it would not guarantee that we would find her). I wanted to take her out and place her into a nuc and dump lots of bees to make a “fake swarm,” this would make them think a swarm had occurred and hopefully stave off an actual one. But failing that, we took out frames of eggs that we thought she would be on, shook some bees into the nuc and called it good. The parent hive didn’t have frames of only nectar/honey for us to shake forager bees off of so we settled for taking whatever bees we could get.

The plan at this point is to recheck the hives either Wednesday or Thursday; Connie will look for queen cells in the nuc, if she finds them she’ll know there’s no queen in there and she’s still in the hive. She will look for the queen as hard as she can and IF the queen is located, the queen will be moved into the nuc, any frames with queen cups FROM the nuc will go TO the parent hive, effectively switching them. Our goal is to avoid a swarm, for various reasons. Whether or not she finds the queen, the hive will be given LOADS of space via new frames. 

I’m going to start bringing my camera with me.

We’re keeping our fingers crossed. Oh, and my VSH queen will be ready for me on Monday!

Nuc update

I checked the nuc on Saturday and did not see the queen, did not see any eggs. I wasn’t too worried as the hive wouldn’t be considered queenless until next weekend (if eggs were still absent). I’m guessing with this bizarre cold/rainy/sunny weather, the queen may have needed extra days to be well-mated. All of the queen cells I noticed previously have been torn down. There were a good number of bees as I mentioned before.

Just to make sure things stay on the positive side, I gave the nuc 2 frames of mixed brood (including eggs) so if they are queenless they’ll have the resources to make another one.

I’ll check the nuc this weekend for eggs, or newly hatched larvae (tiny C-shapes). The egg hatches in 3 days, falls over and forms a C-shape, so if I see either eggs or new larvae, I’ll know there’s a queen-in-residence. If I DON’T see any queen cells built out then the bees consider themselves queenright and we just need to be patient. I just hope I didn’t transfer my queen over to the nuc! I haven’t seen my queens for a while now, though I know they’re there. I may have new spring queens and have no idea, there are so many bees that you can’t spot the queens!