The Queen Bee Problem

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The Bee in the center there is the Queen, she is longer and larger than any bee in the hive, and also is the only hairless bee.  All the other bees in the hive are fuzzy.

Today my friend and I went out to work in my bee hives.  I really enjoy them very much, but last month I did a split off of one of my hives and the bees being ever unpredictable when it comes to splitting or swarming or even their housekeeping…though their proclivity for stinging you if pinched is constant….decided on the split to just clean up the capped queen cell instead of letting her hatch and become their queen.  I thought, well, that is just wonderful, now I need to come up with a queen.  Then the rains set in on every day that I could conceivably have time to go and work my bees….so waiting it was.

So on Friday I get an email from a lady who happened to be not to far from my home stating that she had some bees in a tree.  I called her number and talk to her for a minute and recognized right where she was.  She said that the bees were 15 feet off the ground hanging in a tree.  I told her that sounded doable to take them.  I called  a friend of mine and asked for help as I don’t like to be on a ladder taking a swarm of bees without someone to hold the ladder.  He agreed to come and help.

About now, you all are probably wondering about what a swarm is if you are not beekeepers or friends of beekeepers and how a beekeeper would go and get them.  Thus the picture is worth a thousand words.

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Anyway, the swarm in question turned out to be in a tree that was directly over an endless thickness of bushes, and was more like 30 feet in the air from the side we could work from, the 15 foot side had a pool and a fence there.  So there was no place for a ladder.

The ideal swarm is about 5-6 feet off the ground and you can walk up to it dressed in your bee gear, and hold a 5 gallon bucket under it and shake the branch vigorously a few times and they fall like a basket ball into the bucket, then you cover the bees up with a screen or towel, put them in the car and go home after assuring the home owner than any honey bees which did not go with you would be moving away on their own in a day or so.

It is probably stating the obvious at this point that those bees that were 30 feet in the air were not an ideal swarm.  In fact, if my friend and I had not been so stubborn we could have just told the home owner that they would leave in a day or two on their own for their new home and went on home ourselves.   However, we were there already…so we got this really hair-brained idea that we would go ahead and try to get them.  My friend, Dave happened to have brought along his long poled branch loppers and we decided at first to try and shake those babies out of the tree and maybe they would cooperate and land lower so we could get them.  Of course, it did not go so well.  He ended up cutting the branch and those stubborn girls just landed on the next lower one, still 20 ft up.  So for about two hours we worked at it, and I kept gathering bees a few hundred at a time.  Finally, they were gathering in a bush that I could reach.  I thought I had the queen.  Now, I actually wonder if they were queenless all along, on rare occasions this can happen to a swarm that the queen gets hurt or dies and they are just bunched up and don’t know what to do with themselves because the pheromones are still around so they don’t realize she is gone.  Dave and I did discuss this possibility.  To shorten this story I thought I had finally managed to get the queen, as I had most of the bees.  I then took them home and hived them.

The next day I went out to my bait hive and there was another swarm in it…it wasn’t in there when I hived that swarm the night before.  Funny thing is that I had lost a swarm 2 days before that, they were too high and I couldn’t get them.  I heard from Dave that it probably was hit by the school bus…about half a mile or so from my house.

Well, to get on with it I checked those two swarms over twice and ended up that after about 5 days there was no sign of queen or egg or brood of any kind in either of them.  This made me wonder if the swarm that got hit had the survivors come back and move into the bait hive after all…there is no telling of course…but it was odd to have two swarms with no queens.

So you can now see that as a beekeeper I have three hives of bees without a queen between them.  In the normal scheme of things what happens is when you need a queen for a queenless hive, you never ever have one available…you scramble around calling fellow beekeepers and bee suppliers trying to buy one.  If you are really blessed you can get hold of one, but finding 3 doesn’t usually go well.

The other option is if you have other hives to try and steal some eggs by giving a frame with eggs on it to the queenless hives and letting them make their own queens.  So this is what I set out to do today.  I had bees in boxes with different sized frames so I had to go to a couple different hives to borrow from them.  Well, I managed to get the deep frames into the two swarm hives, and I was feeling pretty good about that.  Kellie, who was helping me today, was too.

Then we opened up the hive to look for a shallow frame with eggs to give to the hive split.  This is when God greatly blessed me….lo and behold…this hive was in a swarming mood.  They had so many capped queen cells on different frames, and they were newly capped that I was able to take a capped queen cell and put it in all 3 of the queenless hives along with the brood, and still leave a couple for the hive that I was taking them from, just in case they needed them.

This was such a huge bit of convenience that we could hardly believe it!  Now, if those 3 hives will just keep those queen cells warm then in a few days they will each have a newly hatched queen ready for a mating flight!

I truly feel that this was a gift from God!  (Now, I know you are wondering how many stings we got while we were playing in the bees…the answer is neither in the swarm taking, nor in the work today did any of us get stung…not to say that we don’t, but we didn’t today, and for the most part we don’t.  I average about 1-2 stings a year.  Last year was an exception, but they got me badly then. Most of the time honey bees, where I live, are very gentle and tolerant of being messed with.)

 

By the way there is a story in the Bible with honey bees in it…Judges chapter 14…Samson is the main character.

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This is a queen cell which is newly capped.  It will hatch sometime within 8 days.  By the time it hatches the comb will be a cinnamon brown color instead of this light off white color. The bees walking around in this picture are all females called workers they don’t lay eggs unless they don’t have a queen then they may start laying unfertilized eggs which make drones…they can never be a queen…however all eggs laid by the queen are usually female and can become queens if treated differently by the bees at the egg or very young larval stage. There is only one queen per hive and she is the mother of all future generations of bees in that hive. The “king bees” or drones all die either when they mate with the queen or they are kicked out in winter. The average honey bee hive as 50,000 bees or more in it.
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