I purchased four mated queens in August with the intention of splitting some of my older colonies to create four new colonies. The requeening didn’t work out so well, but eventually I think (I hope) I got one colony started up well from a split and another one requeened. The other two mated queens were killed outright and another replacement queen I picked up a week later isn’t dead, but it’s barely laid an egg and it’s currently living in a nuc box — and it looks like this:
It doesn’t look good. Her wings are cracked too. …
What follows is an example, from my own experience as a small-scale hobbyist beekeeper, of what’s involved in keeping bees and keeping them alive and well. This is nothing compared some things I’ve had to deal with before, but the point is that beekeeping takes time and effort and close attention. It’s not all about the honey (though the honey helps). So anyway, I says to Mabel, I says…
One of my little honey bee colonies is toast.
The queen is failing. She’s been on the way out for a while, but now she’s fading fast, laying small, spotty patches of brood over three or four frames, the entire brood nest contained within half of a single brood box (a single deep). The cold weather we’ve had for the past two weeks (well below 10°C / 50°F) hasn’t helped. I did a quick inspection yesterday and found a few patches of capped brood abandoned in the bottom deep, abandoned probably because it got so cold the bees were forced to cluster up top.
I’ve never seen that before. Not good.
I reduced the hive to a single deep and put the abandoned brood frames in with the regular brood nest. I put on a jar feeder with honey. I don’t have high hopes.
It’s possible the queen doesn’t react well to cold temperatures, that she needs a good warm spell to get into a strong laying cycle. But I doubt it. Now that I’m feeding them, maybe the bees will create a supersedure queen. But I have my doubts about that too. If there’s no improvement by next weekend, I’ll probably remove the queen, if she’s still alive, and add whatever is left to one of my healthier colonies. …
Here’s a photo and text that I’ve copied from a beekeeping journal I maintain for myself. It’s a more detailed entry than I normally bother with, but it’s a summing-up sort of entry, setting the stage for what I’m dealing with going into winter. I’ve also added a few more details for my legion of Mud Songs followers.
1401 (in the back): 3 deeps + a honey super. (All of my honey supers are full of drawn comb, as are most of my deeps.) Approximately year-old naturally mated queen. Good layer and the most docile bees I’ve ever seen. Colony was used to create splits in July. Not likely to get any honey, though I did see nectar in some honey frames the last time I looked. No inner cover. Empty moisture quilt for ventilation. …
SHORT VERSION: I inadvertently created a walk-away split on July 18th when I removed some brood from an established colony to make a nuc. I would have much rathered that the mated queen I gave the bees hadn’t been killed by the bees, but that’s another story to be continued as a video at a future date.
LONG VERSION: The answer to my previous post — Bees Returning with Pollen – A Sign of a Queen? — is yes. I found a big fat brand new queen in a hive that was queenless 18 days ago. Or as Dr. Ian Malcolm said in Jurassic Park: “Life breaks free. It expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously. But… well, there it is… I’m simply saying that life… finds a way.” You better believe it.
If we return briefly to the beginning of this story, 18 days ago on July 18th (A Requeening Gone Bad), we learn that a mated queen was added to a split about 23 days ago and five days later, the mated queen was found dead in her cage along with several open and capped supersedure queen cells. I didn’t touch the hive until today when I noticed a few bees bringing in pollen. Foragers don’t usually collect pollen unless they have a reason to do so, and that reason is usually to feed a queen bee and her brood. So I decided to take a peek inside and low and behold, I found a new queen scooting around one of the frames looking for a place to lay.
It’s been 18 days since I found the dead mated in her queen cage in one of my hives, where I also found capped supersedure cells (see A Requeening Gone Bad). I haven’t touched the hive since. Today I noticed some honey bees bringing in pollen. If you look closely, you can even see it in this cellphone snapshot.
I’ve been told by many beekeepers that foragers don’t bring in pollen unless they have a viable queen. Does that mean this colony has a queen? A capped supersedure cell from 18 days ago would have produced a queen by now and, who knows, maybe she even mated successfully.
SHORT VERSION: I heard what I believe is the sound of a new queen piping, but I was unable to spot the queen because, most likely, she hasn’t been inseminated by drones yet, and thus probably looks like every other bee in the hive (she doesn’t get big until she mates and begins laying). If a queen bee doesn’t mate within about 20 days, then it’s game over. Tomorrow is Day 20 for this queen. Bloody great.
LONG VERSION: Well, here comes another learning experience.
I checked on a hive yesterday that was queenless and in the process of capping a supersedure queen cell a month ago. I didn’t touch the hive until today when I discovered no signs of brood and no queen that I could see — but I did hear a high pitched piping squeak from one frame that sounded similar to something I recorded back in 2011 (see Piping From Inside The Hive):
I followed the sound of the piping on the frame for five minutes but couldn’t spot the queen. It was maddening. So I carefully put the frame and everything else back the way I found it so I could ponder over what might be happening in that hive. So let us ponder… …
So-called natural beekeepers like to think they can just “let the bees be bees” and they’ll reproduce by creating their own queen cells when they need them. I’ve had my bees reproduce naturally several times and it’s great. But as with most things in natural beekeeping, it’s an ideal that often doesn’t correspond with reality. Here are some things I’ve learned the hard way by letting the bees make their own queens whenever they feel like it: 1) Unless the virgin queen can mate with drones from another bee yard, it’s likely she will mate with her own siblings and produce inbred and ill-tempered bees. My queens mated well only when there were about a dozen other hives in the area. 2) Swarms that happen later in the summer can result in two weakened colonies instead of one strong colony (assuming the swarm is caught and re-hived). While swarm colonies typically expand quickly after a swarm, they can only grow so much once the weather turns cold and are often too weak to survive the oncoming winter. 3) Whether through supersedure or swarming, the natural process of requeening usually results in a 2-4 week period of reduced or even zero brood reduction, which again weakens the colony no matter when it happens. A weakened colony can be propped up with brood from a stronger colony, but not all hobbyist beekeepers, especially starting out, have that luxury. That being said…
The following video demonstrates my method of installing a mated queen and checking on her to make sure she’s been released from her cage and then checking on her again to make sure she’s laying. I don’t have years and years of experience installing mated queens, but I’ve followed this exact method about a dozen times since 2010 for myself and friends, requeening and starting up new colonies from splits, and it works.
I added a caged mated queen to three splits last weekend. I checked on them today and found supersedure cells in all three hives. Here’s a sample (if you click the image to enlarge it, you can easily see the larvae swimming in royal jelly):
Here’s what I found in…
Split #1: The new queen DEAD inside her opened cage and several capped supersedure cells.
Split #2: The new queen alive and one supersedure cell full of royal jelly.
Split #3: The new queen M.I.A. (possibly dead) and several capped supersedure cells.
I have video of the whole bloody affair which I might post once I’ve determined what happened and what I’m going to do next. I’ll provide more details at that time, but feel free to speculate while I pour myself a drink…
P.S.: I say supersedure cell, but I suppose the more accurate term is “emergency queen cell.” Supersedure cells are created when the queen is failing but not yet dead, whereas emergency queen cells are created when the queen is suddenly dead. I think. Maybe. The difference seems so minimal to me, I always say supersedure. Furthermore, the presence of swarm cells means the bees are going to fly away, but presence of supersedure cells means they’re simply replacing a failing or dead queen. That’s how I sort it all out anyway.
JULY 23/15: I did a quick inspection of Split #2 and found a few frames of fresh eggs. Woo-hoo! The supersedure cell full of royal jelly is gone too. Way to go bees! All of this will be revealed in detail with a video and photos that are in the works.
We recently added three mated queens to some of our hives and splits. Here’s a quick video of us checking to see if a queen was released from her cage. The video ends with us looking at some foundationless frames in a honey super.
I didn’t post a video or photos of the actual requeening because we posted an instructive video of a requeening last year. You can watch it on YouTube if you like and then follow the link back to Mud Songs to read the original post for more detailed info. Here’s a semi-short story about requeening, Part 1: The candy plug in one of our queen cages was rock solid and the bees hadn’t eaten through it five days later when we checked on it, not even close. To prevent that from happening, we might spray the candy plug with some water before we install the next queen cage. I’m not sure if that’s recommended by the experts, but we rarely get consistent advice from the experts, anyway, so we’ll probably do it. Part 2: We’ve been told that the attendant bees should be removed from the queen cage before the cage is installed. Supposedly in the commotion of being introduced, the attendant bees can get over excited and inadvertently sting or harm the queen. We’ve also been told not to worry about the attendant bees and just leave them in the cage with the queen. So that’s what we did and everything turned out fine.
P.S. (July 19/12): We might not spray the candy plug after all. Read the comments for more details.