The bee story, a sequel

Our beekeepers had been anxious about the queen-less hive. Another inspection revealed no sign of a fertile queen. Even the previous queen cells were gone. Without eggs or young larvae, the workers could not raise a new queen either. This was not good. Without a queen, the colony cannot exist.

Bee keepers have some tricks in their hat to revive a hive and help the unemployed bees, too. One of them goes like this: take eggs from a thriving hive and put them into the queen-less hive. The bees will then build a new queen cell, carefully move an egg into this cell and feed the larva with royal jelly. Also: move unemployed worker bees to a hive that can use their labor.

Last Sunday, Ray came back to do just that. This time, there were 5 of us helping, as we had to open both hives, check for frames with eggs and keep all bees from getting too upset by keeping the smoker going. Ray first opened the old “white” hive that currently doesn’t have a queen.

Opening the white hive

A frame full of honey

We found that, not surprisingly, these bees had not been lazy. Since there was no brood to take care of, they had made a huge amount of honey. In fact, almost all frames contained only cells that were filled with honey. The box was correspondingly heavy. It needed two people to lift it. A quick search on the internet reveals that bees must visit two million flowers and fly around 50,000 miles to make one pound of honey. This box contained many pounds of honey. Isn’t this totally amazing?

We were glad that our bees were so productive. But we would have been even happier, had we found larvae or eggs instead. These were present in our new “green” hive (along with several frames filled with the sugar water that we had fed them).

Brood cells: In the middle and bottom of the left photo, white larvae are visible inside of open cells. These larvae are still being fed. The other cells contain pupae and have been capped with wax. In the right photo, some larger cells with dome-caps can be seen on the edge of the frame. These have drones inside. Drones are bigger and twice as heavy as worker bees and need more space inside of their cell. A worker bee spends 9 days as larva and another 9 days as pupa. Queens develop a bit faster and drones take a bit longer.

Ray selected a couple of frames with a lot of eggs to move from the green hive to the white hive. We would then move an entire box with honey frames and workers from the white hive to the green hive to give these ladies something else to do.

This swapping of brood and workers has one problem, though: Bees are very loyal to their queen and defend their hive against intruders. To simply mix bees from two hives could result in a massacre, even if the bees come from the same hive initially, like ours. Therefore, we had to make sure to brush off the bees from the frames with eggs before placing them into the white hive. For adding the workers to the green hive, we resorted to a trick. Because hive recognition depends on scent, bees can get used to their new environment as long as this happens slowly. A sheet of newspaper placed between boxes containing two kinds of bees keeps them apart for a while until they are adapted and chew the barrier apart.

Preparing the green hive to receive a box with bees from the white hive. Excess wax has to be scraped off. The Sunday New York Times lies ready to serve as barrier between the boxes.

So this is what Ray did for our bees. He taped a page of the Sunday newspaper over the frames with the green-hive-bees and placed a box with bees and honey from the white hive on top. Then both hives were reassembled. It took the bees a while to calm down and go inside. The new bees on the green hive had an entrance on the top of the hive, as they were, for the time being, kept from using the bottom entrance. After another hour or so, they had reoriented themselves more or less. We now had to hope that the foreign bees were accepted into the green hive. Most of all, we were hoping that the new eggs in the white hive would be raised to become queens.

The first part worked quickly. By the end of the next day, some strange grey-green fuzz covered the ground under the hive. A close inspection revealed that this was the shredded New York Times. Also, all bees seemed to use the bottom entrance to the hive. A couple of days later, we opened the hive again to remove the paper. But the bees had done a very thorough job on their own. Every bit of newspaper in their reach was gone.

Shredded newspaper between leaves and some wax under the hive. The bees did a perfect job removing the foreign barrier.

It will be a while until we know whether the second aim of this operation also worked. It takes about 3 weeks until a new queen hatches and then, again, she needs to go on her mating flight and come back to the hive. Meanwhile, the workers in the white hive are bringing in more nectar every day. By the way: we got a chance to sample the honey. It tastes very floral and mild.

One of our ladies collects rose pollen