Archives for posts with tag: new queen

A little more than a week after installing the queen, I opened the hive to ensure she had been released. She had. All had calmed from the prior week’s mayhem and the bees were peacefully about their bees-ness within the hive. But the peace had come at quite a cost. All of the honey that had been stored for the winter was gone. I was thankful to have harvested in May because I think that, had it still been on the hive, it would have been taken as well. All that remained were a few frames containing some pollen stores. I don’t know if this is normal for a year when we received less than half our usual rainfall. On my most recent beekeepers’ meeting people were already talking about feeding, but others have mentioned that my area is still having something of a nectar flow. So it seems like this occurrence was unusual and likely linked to whatever it was I had witnessed, whether that was robbing, or an attempted takeover, or something else.

With all the honey resources gone, I need to supply them food again to ensure they can feed themselves and the new bees needed to rebuild the colony’s strength. I had placed a feeder on the top when I locked them in since they were already low on honey at that point; most of the damage had already been done. When I checked the feeding station, I was shocked to find an unmarked queen wandering on the board. How had this happened? I don’t know for certain, but I may have missed this one when searching, she may have recently hatched from an unseen queen cell, or she had recently returned from a mating flight. Clearly, my inspection technique needs improvement and I really need to be able to see eggs, since that is the hallmark of a queen-right colony; I’ve been skating by on seeing young larvae and it is not sufficient. Marc recently purchased me a magnifying glass, which should help with the eggs immensely. The rest, I hope, will come with practice…and probably more mistakes like those I’ve made over the past two months.

But what does that mean to find this wandering queen? Primarily, that my bees had not been queenless when I installed the new queen, which may have been the reason for all the turmoil. She may still have been in her cell growing with the few remaining bees caring for her, and the bees would have been reluctant to accept the new brood and bees I introduced from Andrea’s colony. It was odd to find her in the upper chamber because I had used a queen excluder so I wondered if she had hatched and then been trapped above, possibly leaving her a barren queen if she had not been able to conduct her nuptial flight, which is the one time she mates and collects all the sperm she will use for her lifetime of egg-laying. I caught her and a few others in my queen clip, which Andrea kindly bought for us after our last misadventure in trying to catch a queen.

Queen in a clip

Once I observed bees flocking to her without intending her harm, I decided to leave her in the upper box to see what she would do. Everyone was peaceful inside so it seemed she had been accepted along with the White Queen. However, she apparently had other ideas. When I returned with the refilled feeder, she calmly walked to the upper entrance and flew away. So far, never to be seen again.

I added a pollen patty a few days later and used my new magnifying glass to verify there are eggs. I also removed the empty honey super after finding wax moth larvae in it, a sign that there is too much space for the bees to defend from invaders. At this point, my plan is to stay out of the colony except for adding pollen patties and sugar syrup or fondant as needed. There really isn’t much I can do for them except keeping them fed and avoiding disrupting their brood nest. I’ll inspect it again in mid-August when I do another mite check for Mite-A-Thon.

I carefully installed the new queen (All hail the White Queen!) Tuesday night by nestling her cage between two of the three frames of brood we had just taken from one of Andrea’s colonies. I went to sleep content in knowing the bees would be back on the road to self-sufficiency soon. I peeked out at them after walking Jonah, sometime around 7 in the morning. What I saw had me thoroughly distraught.

I thought, at the time, it was a good sign that these bees were walking calmly over the cage containing the new queen. She’s not pictured here, but she has a white dot on her back marking her as a queen hatched in 2021.

Surrounding the hive were what seemed to be hundreds of bees at the entrance, at the back, up and down the sides of the hive, all trying to get in via any small crack they found. I thought for certain they were being robbed. I had never seen the behavior before but knew it was something that tended to happen when resources were scarce once the nectar flow dried up (called a dearth), which is what we’re experiencing in parts of San Diego county. Upon closer inspection, I could see bees being dragged from the entrance, and others tussling on the sides or in the mulch below.

I realized that the hive entrance was wide open. When a colony is strong and the weather is hot, the entrance can be open to better ventilate the hive, but for my weak queenless colony, that left them vulnerable. Maintaining a smaller entrance gives the bees a narrower area for the bees to defend from any intruders. I immediately grabbed the reducer and squeezed it into place, but it would do little to help them at that point.

The robbers’ strategy is to attack the entrance to overwhelm the weaker residents and raid the delicious, nutritious contents. There are multiple techniques to minimize the damage from robbing; the one that came to mind was the use of wet towels, blankets, or sheets to completely envelope the hive. The robbing bees can’t find the way in but the residents can because they know their home. They can also just stay home for the day and use the existing resources in the hive. I pulled the bottom board out to ventilate the hive so they wouldn’t cook inside from the heat. Marc was working from home and agreed to keep the sheets wet if needed. There was little else I knew to do.

Of course I called Andrea to give her the blow-by-blow and she was intrigued because a couple things did not seem to square with robbing: robbing tends to happen later in the day and the robbers overwhelm the entrance but not other parts of the hive. This seemed to look more like they couldn’t find an entrance they thought should be there. Hmmmm. Was this actually robbing? Or was something else happening? Could there be too many conflicting pheromone smells emanating from the hive? I had added both brood from another colony as well as a queen with a distinct scent from another colony. Perhaps they were simply confused. Could one of the hatched queens have finally returned? I didn’t know and there seemed little I could do at this point; they would have to sort themselves out.

I attempted to lock them in the following night using a plug of grass, which they promptly pushed out of the way. This seemed to indicate to me that the problem was coming from within and not robbers from without. Following another day of mayhem, I locked them in late last night with a properly sized piece of wood fully placed across the entrance and some Gorilla tape to hold it in place. There are still bees buzzing about the hive, but they are far fewer. The casualties seem extreme; at least the birds and ants are enjoying the spoils. I hope when I check back in a few days that they have released the White Queen and the survivors can go back to a harmonious existence. We’ll see!

Mayhem Day 2. I was fairly certain this was not robbing, so I removed the sheet and let them duke it out not knowing what else I could do for them.

I inspected the hive last Sunday expecting to see frames filled with fresh comb. (Remember a couple weeks how I mentioned my affinity with the virtue of patience?) Boy was I disappointed! Not a bit of fresh comb to be found. What I did find, however, were busy bees covering two full frames with plenty of bees roaming all around the other parts of the hive. I also discovered how much heavier a frame can be when it has honey in it. At best my frames have a wee bit of honey, so I can’t wait to see how a full one feels.

Looking at one of the frames.

I also observed a bit of packed pollen in another corner.

The area circled in red is packed pollen, and, I think, the area circled in blue is capped honey. The other closed cells, capped with a lumpy looking dark orangish-brown covering is capped brood (baby bees). There might also be three cells of uncapped brood (baby bees that haven’t pupated yet) in the three open cells directly above the red circled area.
The shiny fluid inside these cells is honey that has yet to be dehydrated to the appropriate level. Once that occurs, the bees will cap it with a protective wax covering for storage until it’s needed later in the season.

Again I could not detect eggs. Along with the lack of fresh comb I was concerned as the bees seem to have little room for more egg-laying and brood production. So I posted a picture and posed the question on the San Diego Beekeepers Association Facebook page to see if there was anything more to be done. Two key points emerged: 1) since my colony is so small there just aren’t enough workers to tend to all the eggs and babies were the queen to lay more eggs. These are highly intelligent creatures! Maybe not in the same way humans consider intelligence, but there is an awareness here and the queen will only lay eggs to the extent that there are workers to care for them, and 2) it is possible that we are getting into what’s known as “the dearth” when there is less blooming so queens reduce their egg production since there is not as much to eat. There’s that intelligence in nature again!

It seems that my bees are doing fine. After conferring with my beekeeper friend, I added two sticks a little wider than a bee to each side of the feeder to lift it above the cover and give the bees access to more drinking areas on the lid.

Sticks inserted under feeder to lift it above the inner cover and give additional access to feeding holes in the lid

It made a huge difference! They had previously eaten only approximately 16 ounces in a week. When I checked it on Tuesday they had consumed another 16 ounces in just two days. My hope is that now that they have more food, and more bees emerging soon, there will be fresh comb on the next inspection in two weeks. We’ll see! Thanks for following along on this adventure.

It’s always exciting to check on the progress of the hive. Once we removed the feeder and inner cover we saw that they had devoured all of the pollen patty, but had not eaten much of the sugar syrup. Moreover, there were clearly a lot more bees than with which we started. When we first captured the swarm, I barely had one side of a frame and now there are bees on two frames, plus they are moving out to a third.

Me carefully pulling out a frame.

Below is a comparison of one frame a week after requeening (left), and two weeks later on the 16th (right). These are two different frames, but it gives an idea of the increase in bees. The frame on the right is one my friend gave me that had capped brood (baby bees going through their process from egg to larva to adult bee), which you can still see a few of on the frame. They’re the 15 or so reddish-brown spots that you see on the comb towards the middle-top where there aren’t many bees.

They still haven’t built much new comb, and they have very little honey stored, so that is a bit worrisome. I’ve been feeding sugary syrup using a black, plastic jug type thing with a small metal screw-top lid with holes in it. Food in the black plastic may last a little longer before growing algae or fermenting, so it may be better for the bees, but it’s harder to assess their use of it. You may have noticed something black on top of my hive in the video on my last post…that was the feeder.

Since the hive inspection, my friend gave me a different feeder to try that has more area available from which the bees can feed. I like this one a bit better as it is made from clear plastic and has measurements on the side so I can gauge how much they are drinking, if at all. The clear plastic may grow algae or ferment faster than the black plastic, but once I have a better idea how much they’re eating, I can adjust and not fill it as full so as to avoid spoilage. Also, since it sits flat on the inner cover, I avoid crushing bees as I did when I checked the other one where the lid fit into the hole in the inner cover. In case you are curious, here are pictures of the two types:

There are also other types of feeders that I have yet to try. I’m hoping that feeding the bees is just a short-term thing I’ll need to do until next spring and that beyond that, my colony will be self-sustaining. We’ll see!

The rest of the inspection went well. I haven’t been able to spot eggs as they are really tiny, like a grain of rice, and my eyes are old so that even with my glasses and in full sun, I have yet to be able to confidently say I have seen one.

I can though see the brood (bee larvae) and cappings indicating that new baby bees are growing.

I’ve also found the queen each time, which is pretty easy to do with her bright blue marking. I’ve noticed that her marking is fading a bit and there is a gap that wasn’t there in the beginning. Maybe it’s a result of her entourage cleaning her? In any case, all looks well with the hive. I’ll do another inspection where I remove the frames in two to three weeks.

Long live the Queen!

Today was the big day! The great reveal. Had the queen been released and had my bees accepted her? My friend the beekeeper arrived with another frame to swap, this time of brood, and a pollen patty to help nourish the bees while they got themselves started with this new home. We lit the smoker, made our plan for the inspection, and donned our veils. We opted not to wear full beekeeping regalia as it’s a little warm here in southern California, and we were feeling brave. I wore gardening gloves and hoped as I got going that I wouldn’t regret this choice when I realised how much skin was revealed once I started really moving around.

First, we replaced my bottom board with a new one that has a slide out piece that I can regularly check as a more gentle way of indirectly looking into the workings of my hive. Various things fall on it for me to see whenever I pull it out: bee parts, flakes of wax, or parasites. All providing useful information about my bees without requiring me to disturb them.

Next, we began the actual inspection. I removed the upper hive body and feeder, then carefully removed the inner cover. The bees had moved to the middle of the hive. I removed and inspected three empty frames, making enough room in the hive to shift the other frames for easier viewing. I’m still pretty clumsy and learning how best to handle the frames. I’m a clutz at the best of times and feel like I’m all thumbs when handling the frames, but am sure I’ll improve in confidence over time.

Bees are still mainly on one frame, with a few on a second. There hasn’t been a serious expansion in drawn comb, but we were able to see what appear to be eggs in a few cells and Queen Aliénor roaming around one corner with a few dedicated attendants. Success! The blue marking dot sure does make it easy to find her! It also helps that there aren’t many bees.

Queen Aliénor la Bleue

We placed the frame of brood from my friend’s hive between the two frames where the bees were, removed the queen cage and rubber band, replaced the frames, placed a pollen patty on the top, and closed it all up after checking that they had adequate sugar syrup in the feeder.

Thankfully, these bees are rather mellow and haven’t been inclined to sting, other than that first day. I had one dodgy moment when placing the pollen patty on the top and a bee was rather focused on my face, zigzagging within inches of it. I had the foresight not to swipe at my face or the bee, and instead chose to walk away for a moment to regroup. The bee moved on and no one was harmed.

Since my hive was queenless, there was no need to remove the existing queen before installing the new one. If that is needed, GirlNextDoorHoney advises removing her 24 hours in advance.

My friend arrived and this was the first time where I would be the person working the bees. So exciting! She had brought me a frame from one of her hives to swap out with one of my empty ones, this way I had some honey and drawn out comb. It would have been ideal to have uncapped brood, but it wasn’t possible this time.

We lit the smoker, made a plan for all that we would do this time, and then we put on our hats and veils. My suit hasn’t arrived yet, so I’m still borrowing her spare veil and wearing a heavy flannel shirt with jeans. We opened the hive and removed a couple frames to make space allowing us to more easily see the rest of the hive. Most of my frames are empty, which made the process go faster, but we still checked each of them. There were more bees inside the hive than I’d thought! They were mostly on one frame with a few on a second. They’d even made some comb with a few pollen and honey cells. We carefully checked the frames for any sign of a queen and, finding none, attached the new queen (I’ve named her Aliènor) to the frame brought by my friend. We slid that frame in next to the frame where the bees had started building and shifted everything slightly more towards the center. Now the wait begins as the bees cannot be disturbed for a week while they release the queen from her cage, and, hopefully, accept her. We’ll see tomorrow!

Unfortunately, I was so excited about the new queen and working with the bees that I forgot to take any pictures or ask to have any taken. So here is a picture of my hive. Hopefully, the queen has been released and all are happily preparing for eggs and babies soon.

I had hoped to find a local supplier that I could easily drive to and pick up a queen that weekend, but to no avail. What I did find is a company that ships queens next-day via UPS. Wildflower Meadows is located in southern California and does occasionally offer in-person pickup, it’s just that none were available at the time. So I reviewed all of their information and opted to order a queen from them that would arrive that Thursday as that was the earliest available. One of the things I like about Wildflower Meadows is that their queens are genetically selected for increased vigilance towards mites, which are a recurring concern in bee colonies. I opted for delivery at my home rather than at the pickup center because the weather forecast for the week was pretty mild.

I still had nearly another week without a queen in my colony. I didn’t know how I would contain my impatience. I watched the video on their site for how to install my queen once she arrived, and found through them a fabulous new resource in GirlNextDoorHoney who even offers online beginner beekeeping classes. I’ll be there soon!

I was ready! Thursday morning was perfectly overcast and I could see from the UPS tracking that my queen would arrive late morning. She arrived without incident and remained on my kitchen countertop until my beekeeper friend could come over in the late afternoon to help me with the installation.

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She’s here!
Queen Aliènor la Bleue and her attendants
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