Long Live the Queen

We’ve been experiencing the joys and challenges of beekeeping. Overall I am reasonably happy with our progress. For our two Langstroth hives, one is booming and one has a new queen. The top bar hive continues to perplex me, though it seems to be doing well. Read on for the recent hive report.

May 23 Hives

The hives on May 23, showing how we added a third box onto one hive (Mars) and reduced the middle hive (Jupiter) down to a single deep.

I’ll talk about each hive separately, even though the chronology spans a few weeks.

Mars

The hive we call Mars continues to boom. After repeatedly inspecting every week, we relaxed and gave the hives a two week reprieve. We opened it up on May 23 and were surprise to find the top box bursting with bees. Many of the frames were built out with comb and it was clear the hive was ready for another box. We didn’t see the queen, but the bottom box was also pretty full and we saw both larva and capped brood. So Mars seems to be our star hive right now.

We managed to put another box on top (keep reading to find out how) and the hive was very active today (May 31) when I watched the bees flying in and out.

Jupiter

Poor Queen Eponine. We never did find her, and when we opened up her hive (Jupiter) on May 23 the difference between this hive and the first one (Mars) was stark. No bees in the top box and no comb built out. Looking through the bottom we found no larva or brood. The queen appeared to be gone.

I thought about moving a brood frame from Mars into this hive so the bees could nurture a new queen, but the time from egg to laying queen takes around three weeks. That means our new queen would show up when the Virginia nectar is starting to run out due to our high summer temperatures. In addition, I didn’t want to weaken one hive to save another. We needed a new Eponine (we never saw the old one, so I think the name is still good).

We closed up the hive with a single deep box, and moved the medium box over to the Mars hive. I snapped the picture at the top of this post that same day.

I gave a call to beekeeper Chris Hewitt. Chris was recently certified as a breeder in the USDA Russian Bee Breeding program, and provided the two nucleus hives that started our Mars and Jupiter hives in April (see the posts Song of the Queen Bee and Bee! I’m Expecting You). So we found ourselves at Chris’ home on Memorial Day morning to obtain a new queen.

150524 Queen CageMuch to my surprise, Chris very graciously gave us a new queen. I really do enjoy the beekeeping community around here. We watched him cage an additional 5 or 6 queens while we were there. He maintains small colonies of three frames each, with a 10 frame deep Langstroth box divided into three such colonies. In these he verifies that each queen is mated and laying eggs before he cages the queens for sale.

To cage a queen, Chris deftly grabs the queen by the wings right off the frame and guides her into a plastic cage; then picks up four or five workers in the same manner to serve as her attendants. The other bees were quite calm, although he did get stung a handful of times while picking up worker bees.

Returning home, we put our cage in the hive that same morning (Monday), and on Wednesday evening I pulled off the pink cap you can see in the picture. There is a plug of candy underneath so the attendants can eat and feed the queen, and after removing the cap the hive bees can eat this away to reach the queen.

So this morning (Saturday) I checked the hive and the bees had not quite eaten through the candy. I figured it was time so I removed the cap and set the cage on top of the frames. I missed the queen walking out, but a few minutes later the cage was empty so hopefully the queen walked into the hive and is even now laying eggs. I placed a feeder on top of the hive with some sugar syrup to make sure they have food close by, and closed it up.

So now we wait. I’m not sure if I should wait one week or two, but I do think the queen needs some time to acclimate to her new home. I’m sorry I didn’t see her walk in, as if she isn’t inside for some reason I’m pretty sure this hive won’t make it.

Venus

150531 TBH Comb3After finding the Jupiter hive somewhat devoid of bees a week ago, we didn’t feel up to checking the final hive, Venus. So I checked this hive today before I freed the queen in Jupiter. One feature of this hive is that there is an observation window in the side (normally covered but we can open it up), so we are able to check their progress regularly.

With our temperatures in the 90’s this week (over 32 Celsius), this hive has been bearding quite a bit. A small cluster of bees forms on the front of the hive, like a beard, to reduce the heat generated inside the hive. While our Langstroth hives have a screened bottom board for added ventilation, the top bar hive is solid so the bees only had the two 1-inch entrance holes at the front for air flow. There are three holes, but only two were open at the time.

Today I removed the cork from the third entrance, but last Wednesday I screened a hole in the back of the hive. I stapled a small square of old window screen over the hole, which was previously plugged. Hopefully this helps the bees generate better air flow. Not sure if it is helping, but it can’t hurt.

So I opened Venus up and inspected most of the frames. They were working on a 15th frame, and the first 14 are reasonably built out. Top bar frames are delicate, so you can’t turn them horizontal as you typically do for a Langstroth frame. Today I had the nerve to rotate a frame upside down and set it on top of the hive. It was perhaps the tenth frame from the front. The pictures here are of this frame.

150531 TBH Comb5

A close up of the top bar frame I photographed today. Later I found the queen in this picture.

Later while examining the pictures I found the queen, which you can see in the lower center of the image. Her blue dot is somewhat worn off, but it is the second time I’ve snapped a random picture of a frame which happened to hold the queen. Beginner’s luck, or something.

The hive itself is doing great, although I wish I’d realized the queen was so far back. I saw larva and capped brood, so our Queen Beezus remains busy. It would probably be good to move Beezus to the front of the hive somehow. I will have to think about this.

I got as far as the fourth frame before the bees made me nervous. They started landing on my veil and otherwise buzzing my head. Not a lot, but I am new at this and knew I’d had enough. So I left the first three frames for another day. At the time I thought the queen would be at the front of the hive.

Pushing the bars together is a bit of challenge, though I think I’m getting better. Unfortunately, I could not insert the final top bar to close the hive. The bars were snug to begin with, and the occasional squished bee and other material between the bars had widened them just enough so the last bar no longer fit. I closed up the hive, but with a missing bar at the back there were new openings into the hive here. Probably not good.

Back at the house I thought it over and remembered I had some 1 by 1 inch wooden stakes. So I cut one of these into the length of top bars and went out later that afternoon. Not a perfect fit, and they but they closed up the hive well enough. A little room was left, but smaller than a bee space so it should be okay.


 

Our title is a play on the phrase The King is Dead! Long Live the King! This is a translation from the French “Le roi est mort, vive le roi!” According to Wikipedia and other sites, this was first declared in 1422 after the death of Charles VI upon the accession to the French throne of his son Charles VII. Given we lost one queen and gained another, it somehow seems appropriate.

It turns out Long Live the Queen has some history as well, including a 1995 Dutch film, a song by UK singer-songwriter Frank Turner, and a 2012 video game by Hanako Games.

May our new queen live long and prosper.

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