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).
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. (I’ll update this astounding post with a photo or video later if possible.)
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.
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. …
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.
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.) …
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.
I have a queenless colony of honey bees. I can tell because I pulled out a frame today with a supercedure cell — a queen cell — that’s a day or two away from being capped. (I’ll take a picture of it if I get the chance.) The bees are also a bit feisty, which often happens when a colony is queenless.
The queen will emerge in about two weeks because it usually takes about 16 days for the queen to emerge after the egg is laid, and the egg was laid two or three days ago. If my numbers are correct, the queen will emerge around July 12th. After that it takes about two weeks for her to mate and start laying. Add up all those days and it comes to about a month. So…
In theory, if I do nothing and let the bees work everything out themselves, I should see fresh brood in the hive by August 1st.
That’s (almost) exactly what I will do. I’ll add capped brood from one of my stronger colonies every four or five days to keep the colony’s number up during the full month in which it won’t have a laying queen, but other than that, the bees are on their own.
I could remove all the brood and bees from the hive and add them to one of my weaker colonies and be done with it. I could also reduce the colony down to a nuc box and move it to another beeyard where the new queen can mate with a variety of drones, which is probably the smartest thing to do because my beeyard only has two other colonies, so the queen is likely to be inbred if she mates in my beeyard. But an inbred queen isn’t the end of the world and I can alway requeen the colony later this summer when I have some well-mated queens on hand (which I’ve ordered from a local supplier).
So that’s my big plan and I’ll document it as well as I can. Let’s see what happens, shall we?
This falls in line with my general approach to beekeeping: whenever possible, leave the bees alone.