Saturday, 27 May 2017

One Queen, Two Queen, Hatched Queen, Flew Queen

So, if you read last week's Update on the Queens, you'll know that I was expecting a queen to emerge from the queen cell that the bees have been carefully growing and nurturing.  So yesterday I opened up the hive to see if she has indeed emerged.  Regular reader Stewart was on-hand to take photos, and when we lifted the frame with the queen cell, we saw this:

You can see that the end of the cell has been carefully cut through, and at the bottom end a flap of wax has hinged open.  The queen is out!  But where is she?

There was only one way to find out - I needed to go through every frame, and try to find the queen.  The first thing I noticed is the bees were still in a bad mood.  This was surprising, as they usually calm down when the new queen emerges.  Then, 4 frames in, I found two "emergency" queen cells, still unopened.  I thought I'd checked through very carefully last week, but clearly I hadn't checked well enough.  And, given the colony size (very big!) and the weather (warm and sunny), I started to suspect that the queen may have emerged and then swarmed.  Bees will do this if the colony is big and there are other queen cells in reserve.  I had to be sure, so I kept going.  More queen cells on frame 5, and still no sign of the queen.  I pressed on, and didn't see her anywhere in the brood box.

Back to the super box, and I went through frame-by-frame - still no sign of the queen.  Then, on the 8th frame, I found this:

Another primary queen cell!  I'd made the mistake of not looking through the super frames last week (I'd taken several stings by that point, and decided to give up), and therefore never seen this queen cell before.  So, what to do?

Firstly, I had to decide whether I had a queen or not.  There were two possibilities:
  1. I have a queen, but she is out mating
  2. I had a queen, but she has swarmed
Scenario [1] was possible, but I would have expected the bees to be in a better mood if the queen had stayed.  So, I decided I had to accept that she had probably swarmed.  What to do next?

There is a risk that each queen in each of the remaining queen cells will also swarm, until they are down to the last queen cell.  I need to minimise the chances of that happening.  So I decided to split the colony, and spread the risk.

I took out frames 1-5 from the brood box, where I'd seen the emergency cells, and put them (with plenty of bees) into a nucleus box.  I then put 5 new, empty frames into hive and closed up.  Here's what I now have:

  • The hive contains (probably) one primary queen cell (on super frame #8).  I'm expecting the queen to emerge in the next couple of days, and hopefully not swarm.  She will then take over the hive.
  • The nucleus contains 3 or 4 queen cells.  I'm hoping the bees will recognise that their colony is too small to swarm, and that when the first queen emerges she will kill her sisters and take over the colony.

So, that's the plan.  Will it work?  Difficult to say - so far the bees haven't thought much of my plans, they seem to prefer their own!

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