This month’s hive maintenance was all about queens. The more we learn about beekeeping, the more I realize that the correlation between a beehive and royalty is no accident. They don’t refer to the matriarch of the hive as the queen for no reason! We encountered some trouble with our queens, that we had to work through to overcome.
First Trouble with Queens: A Missing Young Queen
Our largest hive replaced their queen through supersedure. Learn more about queens here. She was about 7 months old and had been an excellent queen. Her hive was full of brood and had a healthy population. In our climate, 7 months is a typical life span for a queen bee, so it wasn’t unexpected that the hive would replace her. However, even though we had seen the virgin queen early after hatching, she had disappeared.
As you can imagine, Philip was quite anxious that our strongest hive was without a queen. This time of year, predators, like dragonflies, are abundant. So the possibility that a queen bee might not survive her mating flight was a real possibility. To address the first trouble with our queens, Philip devised a plan to replace the queen within our apiary.
Beef Up the Smaller Colonies
When we began our hive maintenance we had two colonies that were queenless. We also had three colonies that were quite small, one of which was the colony we extracted from the Rosin family’s home. Did you miss it, read how we extracted them here. Philip planned to do some rearranging of the brood in the stronger hives to beef up the smaller ones and ensure that all of our colonies would have a queen. However, the first task was to secure the lucky queen who would be moving into the strongest colony.
Securing the Lucky Queen
After searching through the hive, the queen was found and secured in a queen cage. Philip was also looking for eggs, another sign of a healthy colony with a strong queen. Once she was secure, Philip shifted his efforts to the strongest hive. While we had not seen the queen, it’s not impossible for a queen bee to hide, so while Philip intended to move our secured queen into this hive, he still made an effort to look for the young queen who was missing, or signs of a queen, such as fresh eggs or young larvae.
Perfect Timing: Emerging Brood
As we were inspecting the hive, Philip spotted a tiny flap opening from a cell. When bees have to scramble to replace a queen, they might adapt a brood cell to make a queen bee. Possibly they had no queen cells prepared with eggs, so they would take a freshly laid egg and shift the focus of making brood to making a queen to protect the hive. Cells like these are not like a typical queen cell, but adapted to meet the emergent need.
We took time to watch this new bee emerge from the cell as it hatched right before our very eyes. I will apologize now if you have not yet viewed the video. When wearing a bee suit, your vision is quite impaired and it doesn’t help that my over 40 vision is a factor in my ability to see clearly without the additional obstruction. Forgive me, as I found myself watching the bee emerge, not watching through the camera. Be sure to watch the video to see this brand new bee emerge and see if our trouble with queens is solved by the emerging of a brand new queen bee.
More Trouble with Queens
As we continued shifting brood around the hives within our apiary. Philip found a queen in a neighboring hive. He held out the frame as I tried to get good footage to share with our followers. About that time the queen took flight. Queen bees are very heavy and don’t fly very well, she dropped to the ground and we lost sight of her. I heard a beekeeper once say that the only beekeepers who have never killed a queen bee are those who are lying about it. It looks like we might have accomplished another first in our beekeeping adventure, killing a healthy queen!
Our queen bees are marked for easy location. The queen bee marking system is used internationally by beekeepers. Any queen bees that hatch in 2021 is marked with a white bee marker to signify how old they are. I found the international queen bee marking schedule here.
Blue – 2005, 2010, 2015, 2020
White – 2006, 2011, 2016, 2021
Yellow – 2007, 2012, 2017, 2022
Red – 2008, 2013, 2018, 2023
Green – 2009, 2014, 2019, 2024
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Philip recommends this headband magnifier to easily spot eggs and queen bees when performing hive maintenance.
Watch the Trouble with Queens
Was the new emerging bee a queen bee? Did we kill our first queen bee? Did we successfully even out the brood among the colonies and balance out our queen-less hives, watch the video to find out!
About the Author: Barbra-Sue Kowalski grew up on a small hobby farm. She was always drawn to farm life, however, she was stuck in an urban life far from her roots. Barbra-Sue was a single mom for 13 years, raising her 3 children on her own. She met Philip in 2018 and they married in 2021. Between the two of them, they have 5 grown children and 4 grandchildren. These empty nesters are following their dreams! As they both turn 50, they are building their off-grid homestead to live the life that they dream about. Learn more about Philip and Barbra-Sue here. Contact them here. To leave a comment on this post, please scroll down.