No Brood Doesn’t Always Mean No Queen

Let’s steal more wisdom from the 1947 edition (which seems to reproduce most of the the 1879 edition) of The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture:

This might be a good thing to keep in mind, especially for Newfoundland beekeepers, and especially for Newfoundland beekeepers like me who can see the cold North Atlantic Ocean from their backyard/beeyard.

The first time I noticed a broodless colony was in September of my first or second year, and I thought damn, what am I going to do now? But it wasn’t a queenless colony. The queen had just shut down for the year (stopped laying). Some queens shut down early like that. It seems to be a genetic trait. Russian honey bees supposedly shut down as soon as resources dry up, but Italians will lay sometimes well into November, depending on the temperature. (Most Newfoundland honey bees are a mix of everything, so it can be a challenge to pin down the exact genetic traits at play.) However, I’ve heard from some people who claim that it’s the opposite is true. However one more time, I think it’s the Russian queens that usually shut down early and become broodless before winter.

It’s also good to know that the queen looks smaller when she’s not laying. (I love this book.) I’ve noticed this myself. I’ve also noticed how queens that aren’t well-mated look stubbier than a well-mated queen. Her abdomen is fatter instead of long and slender.

The ABC and XYZ is an excellent beekeeping reference, especially the cheap old timey edition that I have. It seems to have as much relevant information on beekeeping than most modern beekeeping books do.

Empty Supersedure Queen Cells

I found a frame full of queen cells in one of my hives last week (on September 5th). Specifically, supersedure cells. I’ll skip the sad story of how they got there. Just for kicks and giggles, I moved the frame of supersedure cells, along with three other frames including a frame of brood, into a nuc box. Queen cells are usually capped eight days after an egg is laid inside, which means these ones were at least eight days old. Seeing how the queens usually emerge about eight days after the cells are capped, I figured there was a good chance I’d find open supersedure cells about a week later. And I did (yesterday).

Empty supersedure queen cells. (Sept. 11, 2016.)

Empty supersedure queen cells. (Sept. 11, 2016.)

It was only six days later, but that shows the cells had been capped for at least two days before I found them. I noticed the bees building the supersedure cells near the end of August, so I knew this was coming.

Assuming everything went according to plan, there should be a single virgin queen running around my nuc box now and once her wings and things have dried and hardened, she will, in theory, take off on a mating flight or two by next week. I’m not confident she’ll mate well this late in the year as the drones are already getting the boot in some of my hives. At any rate, it might take her another week after mating for her to start laying. So…

If it all works out well, she’ll be laying by October. So come back in October and we’ll see what happens!

UPDATE (Sept. 30/16): No signs of a mated queen. The bees are calm like they would be if they had a queen, so… I’ll give it more time and see what happens, though I don’t have high hopes.

Insert Feeders Spell Disaster For Nucleus Colonies

In my experience, plastic insert feeders that fit inside medium or shallow supers are dangerous because they don’t provide the bees convenient access to the syrup. Using an insert feeder to build up a nuc could be disastrous, especially in a cold climate like Newfoundland.

Plastic insert feeder in a medium super (June 1, 2011).

Plastic insert feeder in a medium super (June 1, 2011).

I bought an insert feeder during my second spring of beekeeping in 2011 because it seemed like a cheaper alternative to a hive top feeder. But I could never get the bees to take syrup from the feeder. (I’ve heard the same from numerous beekeepers over the past four years.) My bees would have starved had I kept trying to feed them with the insert feeder.
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The Piping Queen Revisited

I forgot to post an update about the possible Piping Queen I heard in a queenless colony a while ago. (It’s a longer-than-usual but detailed post that might be interesting for beekeepers who’ve never encountered piping or even heard of it.) The update: I pulled a frame from the hive six days after I heard the piping and found a frame full of royal jelly.

Brood cells full of royal jelly. Signs of mated queen (I hope). (Aug. 10, 2015.)

Royal jelly found in a hive that’s been queenless for more than a month. (August 10, 2015.)


Royal jelly isn’t a guarantee that I have a well-mated queen. I could have a laying worker or a drone-laying queen. But I’m taking it as a good sign. For now on if I hear piping, I’ll assume that a good queen is present. A shot in the dark: The virgin queen mated the very day I heard the piping. (I’ll update this post if it turns out the queen is a dud.)
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A Piping Queen – Virgin or Mated?

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.

Are these bees acting like they have a queen? I hope so. (August 03, 2015.)

Are these bees acting like they have a queen? I hope so. (August 03, 2015.)


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…
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A Requeening Gone Bad

June 2019 Introduction: I’ve deleted some bits from this 2015 post, but instead of rewriting the whole thing, I’ll just tell you what happened in the end.

I purchased some mated queens from a local breeder who has virtually bred out what some would describe as “blonde bees,” or lightly coloured bees, usually honey bees of Italian stock. His bees are what some refer to as “black bees,” or honey bees of mostly Russian stock. And here’s the deal with Russian honey bees (to quote from a PDF article published by North Carolina State University):

“Requeening Italian hives with Russian queens can be difficult, and many beekeepers lose their newly introduced Russian queens. Russian queens have a different ‘odor’ than Italians, and parent colonies must become acclimated to this odor before they will accept the newcomers.”

And that’s exactly what happened with this requeening gone bad. My Italian colonies simply did not accept the Russian queens. All but one of the queens were killed outright and the colonies went on to make a new queens and were broodless that whole time and it was a headache I could have done without because it basically left me with a bunch of weak colonies. I wrote more about this in my post, A Stubby Ragged Queen. The moral of the story is, be cautious when installing a dark queen in a colony that previously had a light queen. If I do it again, I’ll cage the queen for a week and manually release instead of allowing the bees to chew through the candy plug to let her out. See How To Install a Mated Queen for more info.

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 (and if you click the image to enlarge it, you can easily see the larvae swimming in royal jelly):

r

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 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. To make it more confusing, the presence of swarm cells usually means the bees are going to fly away with their old queen, but presence of supersedure cells means they’re simply replacing a failing or dead queen. That’s how I sort it all out anyway.

A Winter Die-off

It seems as if one of my honey bee colonies starved to death sometime over the past two months. At a glance it may look like a normal colony. But trust me, those bees are dead.

My first starved out colony. Yup, they’re all dead. (Feb. 03, 2013.)

I didn’t have time for a close inspection, so I can’t confirm that starvation is the cause of death, but I’d say it’s a pretty good guess. I didn’t top up any of my hives with sugar syrup before winter. I let the bees take honey from their own honey supers instead. Unfortunately, these bees didn’t get enough. And so it goes.
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