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. …
I’ve probably requeened about a dozen hives since I started beekeeping in 2010, and I’d guess that about half of those requeenings were successful. I feel like I have a pretty good handle on feeding in the warm and cold seasons, a pretty good idea of when a colony is on the verge of swarming — and that’s probably 75% of what it takes to be a good beekeeper right there. But requeening, which seems simple, throws me for a loop about… well… 50% of the time. And it annoys me off and depresses me all in one blow. Because I know there’s something simple and ingenious to requeening well. But I don’t have it yet. I’m too careless, too inattentive to something crucial. As a mentorless beekeeper, I often feel like I’m overlooking something obvious. It’s the worst aspect of beekeeping in Newfoundland. But I guess I love it anyway.
Man oh man.
What Makes Friendly Springtime Honey Bees Turn Mean?
My healthiest honey bee colony, one that was always full of mean bees but has been playing extremely nice so far this year, is back to being mean. Any slight vibration on the hive and the bees come pouring out. I’m not sure what reactivated the mean gene, but these bees are definitely not playing nice anymore.
Things that may have triggered the mean gene (and I’m just making this up): …
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. …
The ragged queen I kept alive with a light bulb for two weeks. Caged four days ago and put in a new hive with new bees because most of the bees from her original starved-out colony were dead. How’s she doing? I would love to know.
I had hoped to lift up the top of the hive today to see if the queen is alive. Did the bees eat through the sugar plug and release the queen? Did they accept their new queen or did they kill her? Is she starved and dead in the cage? Is the cluster large enough to keep the queen warm? I do not know. The snow and the -16°C windchill (3°F) kind of put the brakes on my plans and the weather forecast calls for more of the same over the next two days. I’ll check on her as soon as I can, but man oh man, springtime in Newfoundland is brutal. Perfect timing on the snowstorm, Nature. Thanks a lot.
UPDATE (the next day): She’s dead. I’ll write a separate post soon to explain what happened and what I’ve learned from all this.
Here’s a brief recap of the saga known as They Killed Their Queens: Mated queens (in standard cages with candy plugs) were added to three splits about 25 days ago which were checked five days later (July 18th) and the following was found:
Split #1: The new queen DEAD inside her opened cage and several capped supersedure cells. Today (18 days later): A naturally mated queen, because Life Finds a Way. Happy Ending #1, or as good at it gets anyway.
Split #2: The new queen alive and one supersedure cell full of royal jelly. Five days later:Fresh eggs and supersedure cell gone. Happy Ending #2.
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.
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.