UPDATE: (Oct. 3/10): So it turns out the queen may not be dead after all. The absence of larvae usually means the absence of a queen. But not always. (Deep sigh.) I’ll tell you about it in the next post. Man oh man.

Well, Hive #1 is done for. The queen is dead. We did a full inspection of the hive today and didn’t find any signs of a queen. This is what we found:

— Lots of honey (we originally thought the queen may have been honey bound).
— Plenty of empty cells, the equivalent of at least 5 empty frames.
— Some capped brood but not much, maybe a frame or two in total.
— No drone cells, though plenty of empty drone cells (on the foundationless frames).
— No three or four-day old larvae. No little white grubs in any of the cells.

And that, more than anything, tells us the hive is queenless. A queen lays up to 2000 eggs a day, so if a queen is around, there should be plenty of larvae. There were none. For the past two and a half months, we saw curled up larvae like this every time we inspected the hive:

The absence of larvae is the absence of a queen. So now what do we do?
[Note: What follows is a bit of a rant.]

Or more to the point, how did this happen? As usual, I don’t know, but here are some possibilities:

1) We squished the queen during our last inspection about two weeks ago. 50,000 bees in the hive and we manage to squish the one bee that’s vital to the colony’s survival. This was around the time we discovered the bees chewing out and discarding most of the drone pupae, something not unheard of with fall bees recently introduced to foundationless frames.

2) Water got in the hive during Hurricane Igor 11 days ago and killed the queen. Then we got hit with frost and condensation built up under the inner cover. Something happened around this time, because it was shortly after the hurricane that we began to notice the bees weren’t taking up much syrup and weren’t foraging as much.

3) Wasps got in the hive and killed the queen. Does this happen? I’m not sure, but we’ve seen more wasps hanging around the hives in the past two weeks than we’ve seen all year. And we saw plenty walk right in through the hive entrance. The wasps are everywhere.

4) We noticed the bees in Hive #1 bearding for the first time ever about a week ago. Did the hive overheat? Did the queen die in the heat? Beats me. But it was around this time we noticed the bees apparently fighting with each other, one or a group of bees latching on to a bee and not letting go. At first we thought they were just kicking out some drones for the winter, but I doubt that. They all looked like normal sized bees.

5) The hive was robbed by the bees in Hive #2. They are Italian bees, which are known for robbing, and we did have feeders (internal) set up on both hives, which sometimes encourages robbing. Robbing bees will often kill the queen first, because it’s a lot easier to steal honey once the queen is dead.

So who knows?

Another unusual find during our inspection: We noticed a few bees looked like they were marked, like a queen bee is sometimes marked with a dot of paint so she’s easier to find. But for these bees, the two of three that we happened to notice, the spot looked more like a yellow fuzzy dot. Maybe it was just pollen, though we’ve never see it like that before. I just thought I’d mention it in case it’s a sign of some kind of disease.

Anyway, the hive is still active. They’re still foraging and doing their best, but they don’t appear to be making a new queen, so they’re hooped. So back to the question: What do we do now?

I think it’s too late to replace the queen with another queen. There’s only one beekeeper on the island who sells queens, but I don’t think they sell or produce them at this time of year.

We might be able to steal a frame of brood with open larvae from the healthy hive (Hive #2), and maybe the bees in Hive #1 will feed the larvae some of the royal jelly to create a new queen. But that’s a long shot, and it might be too late in the season to make any difference.

The last option is to combine the two hives and transfer all the queenless bees in Hive #1 to Hive #2. But I don’t know how to do that, so I’ll have to look into it. If that’s what happens — and it seems most likely — at least we’ll have one really strong hive ready for the winter. Then we’ll see what happens next year.

So… Not a great day for us or the bees in Hive #1, but these last 75 days of beekeeping on our own — flying blind most of the time — have been a learning experience. When someone says, “It was a learning experience,” what it usually boils down to is an experience that absolutely sucked. “I hated every minute of it” is usually more truthful. But in this case, not so. Admittedly, I was disturbed when I saw all the dead drone pupae discarded outside the hive entrance a couple weeks ago, and I’ve been a bit on edge ever since. But everything before that was enjoyable. I loved every minute of it.

Don’t ask me what happens next, because I don’t know. I’ll tell you later.

Good night, and good luck.

7 Responses to “The Queen is Dead”

  1. Steve Cook says:

    God save the Queen
    We mean it man
    We love our Queen
    God saves

    – Sex Pistols

  2. Phillip says:

    I’ll give the bees in Hive #1 another day or two. Then I’ll check them again. Who knows, maybe they created a new queen that just hasn’t started laying yet. Though I doubt it.

    The plan now is to combine the two hives. From what I’ve been reading at http://www.beesource.com/forums/, the basic method for combining goes something like this:

    1) Reduce queenless hive to one brood box — one deep super.
    2) Place a piece of newspaper with a couple of one-inch slits in it on top of the good hive’s second brood box.
    3) Install the queenless box on top of the good hive, so the newspaper acts as a divider.
    4) Put the inner and outer cover on as usual, but block the inner cover’s entrance so the queenless bees can’t escape — they have to combine with healthy hive.
    5) Place a pile of branches in front of the entrance, so the new bee (and the regular ones too) will be confused when they exit the hive and will immediately re-orient themselves to the hive. This prevents the queenless bees from returning to their old hive location.
    6) Unplug the inner cover’s hive entrance a day later.

    All of this is done around dusk when most of the bees are in the hive for the night. Some people smoke both hives to disguise the scents so the bees don’t fight it out as much. But usually, the newspaper keeps them separate long enough that by the time they chew through it and combine, they’ve gotten used to each other and they’re one big happy hive.

  3. jeff says:

    Did you call Andrea or Page just to be certain that they cannot provide a queen. They may have a few week hives they are recombining leaving them with an extra queen or two. Rather than squish them they might be able to help you out.

    You have me all nervous about mine now.

    On a separate topic the bees were out in full force today seaching for nectar and pollen. Unfortunatly the flow is really over. You can see the bees flying around the house looking for flowers, yet there is nothing to be spotted. They were even landing on me around the yard today and sticking there tongue on me. Intersting to watch.

    I guess this little warm spell put them full speed again into the collecting busness but there is nothing to be found right now. Maybe a few Bok Choy flowering. The frost early last week did in the sun flowers and everything else still in bloom.

    Oh well.

  4. Phillip says:

    I saw Aubrey today. I knew how I would combine the hives. He confirmed my plan. I will check for the queen one more time tomorrow. Then I’m adding a bee escape to get the bees down to one box. Then around Tues or Wed, I’m adding the single box to the good hive. Eventually, though I’m not sure, I’ll reduce the hive down to 2 boxes for the winter.

    Andrea and Paige rarely return my calls. Their business number does not seem to be the number to call. I called them right away and emailed them. No word yet. Aubrey said it’s too late in the season to requeen anyway.

  5. jeff says:

    I’d still check, I have a cell # if you want it.

    Then again Aubrey would know what your options are.

    I think my hive is good but I want to check to see if they are buildign wax on the last frame. But I’m afraid something like that may occur and as you say this late in the season.

    If you combine the two hives you should have a good strong hive for the spring. Get them started early and you;ll be good for splits.

    Does aubrey do any splits? Why does he maintain just 40 hives?

    • Phillip says:

      I’d still check, I have a cell # if you want it.

      Can you email me their cell number? I never get a live person when I call their business number. I doubt there’s anything I can do, but who knows. They may have an old queen they can give me to hold me over for the winter. It doesn’t have to be the greatest queen in the world as long as it holds the hive together for the winter. I can requeen first thing in the spring if I need a new young queen for the hive. Anyway, send me their cell number if you have it. I’d like to make direct contact with them if I can.

      Unfortunately the flow is really over. You can see the bees flying around the house looking for flowers, yet there is nothing to be spotted. They were even landing on me around the yard today and sticking there tongue on me. Interesting to watch.

      I noticed that too. They’re getting desperate. Mine are still bring back some pollen, but not much. The bees in Hive #2 are extremely active — mostly from taking syrup from the frame feeder I’ve installed over the inner cover. That’s working like a charm.

      The bees in Hive #1 are doing their best without a queen, but they’re pretty slow going.

    • Phillip says:

      I think my hive is good but I want to check to see if they are building wax on the last frame. But I’m afraid something like that may occur and as you say this late in the season.

      If they’re taking syrup, then they’re probably building on the frame. Aubrey said the bees will stop taking syrup once they’ve finished building or storing food. There’s a chance the queen could become honey bound, but it’s less likely if they’re still building comb. After talking to Aubrey, I have a much better idea of how to feed developing hives and established hives. Anyway, I think you’re probably safe to leave them be. My plan for my nucs next year is to leave them alone most of the time. And I’m ordering marked queens with my nucs. I’d like to learn how to spot my queens and mark them myself. Inspections can be a little unnerving when replacing frames and trying not to squish the unseen queen.

      If you combine the two hives you should have a good strong hive for the spring. Get them started early and you’ll be good for splits.

      That the one good thing about combining. I’ll have a nice strong hive for winter.

      Does Aubrey do any splits? Why does he maintain just 40 hives?

      Aubrey only has 20 hives. He sometimes goes up to 25. He said more than that is too much to manage. When I saw him yesterday — I just dropped in unannounced to return a wintering inner board he let me borrow so I could figure out how to build one myself — he was removing a wheelbarrow full of empty frames from the extractor. He said if he has more than 25 hives, he’d too busy extracting and processing the honey into all the various products they make (they make them all on-site).

      He said doesn’t sell nucs. He does splits and nucs for himself to manage the hives, but never bothers going over 25 hives.

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