Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Long live the Queen, and the Queen, and the Queen. .

Generally, optimism rules here at chez Stefani. I figure that most things work out, and I can almost always get a handle on whatever's happening. But I also know when I'm in over my head and need to call in reinforcements.

Bob and Barb were my reinforcements yesterday. That hive full o'queens was bothering me -- surely they were planning to swarm? And I called them for help. Good people that they are, they came over to help.

We got into the hive and almost immediately started finding capped queen cells. Small wonder, really, as this was the bottom brood box. Crowded -- quite crowded. This is the hive I split, taking a new queen to the hive on the left. Unfortunately, the foragers didn't get the memo, and they stayed in the (now smaller) home hive, so the bees to space ratio got messed up. I should have done more to help equalize that.

At first, we cut out the queen cells and set them aside. No one knew how well we were doing, as Bob and Barb are overly modest about their abilities, but suddenly, Barb said, "This one is hatching." She grabbed the cell and kept the cap shut, but said she could feel the queen's legs pushing against it. Bob is a very prepared beekeeper, unlike, oh, me, so he had queen cages. We started putting both the hatching queens and the still-capped cells into cages. Out they came -- it was like popcorn: once one started, they all came out. I think if you click on the pictures below, you might be able to see one of the ladies emerging.

Finally, we had seven queens in cages. We'd seen and left free one unmarked queen, since I couldn't remember if this was the hive with the marked queen. A few frames later, we came upon the marked queen, just wandering around. We'd missed an already-hatched new queen. The marked, "mother" queen wasn't getting any attention from the bees. No stroking or feeding, so that plus the crowding might be part of the problem. Either she's old or they just don't like her for some reason. We left her alone and figured the bees can work it out. By then, we were also sort of bemused at the ridiculous number of queens we had on hand -- piping along. They were trumpeting their battle-readiness, and it was kind of nice for me to have someone else hear it and certify that I am not nutty. Well, at least that I didn't imagine hearing piping the day before.

There are two queens in that picture above. One of them is winning the popularity contest, and she's covered in bees (oh, go ahead. Click on it!). She was also the loudest -- just beee bee beeing for all she was worth. We decided that she was the queen with the most potential. Therefore, we ended up releasing her (marked, by this time) into the hive again. She moved so quickly I couldn't get a picture of her, but here's how we did it:

It took her "court" a few minutes to realize that she was gone, and then they chased down after her into the new box on top of the hive.

The hive will now either swarm in about ten days, or the shouting Amazon will kill her rivals and start making all things right. We'll see. And I think I'm going to put in an order for some more bee boxes too, just in case. Maybe cardboard nucs.

We lost two of the new, caged queens because they were so small they walked right out of the queen cages. They're not supposed to be that small. Although we looked diligently, we found one and I ended up with three new queens in cages, waiting for new homes. If I had enough equipment, I could start new hives and sell them, I guess. But I don't, so I'm telling all the local keepers that I have new queens -- come and get'em. I hope they do, otherwise I'm going to force them back on Bob and Barb.

By the end of our shenaigans, it was late and chilly. The bees had gotten fairly testy, stinging both of us. I was really grateful for their help. I was also grateful that I'd put kale and sausage soup in the crockpot earlier that day.


el said...

Stef, every time I read about your bees I sit here and wonder if I am "up" to keeping them. I always wonder if I am spreading myself too thin and I would never want to cause any creature in my care discomfort...especially so very many creatures as would be the case with caring for a hive! Then I see all the supers stacked 2, 3, 6, 8 high in the orchards and fields around me and I am back to my usual stance: "how hard could that be?" so I will have you know I am completely still on the fence! I even have a few supers...just haven't taken the plunge.

BUT I do find your bee tales to be both edifying and entertaining! Buzz buzz.

Ktrion said...

I so love your bee tales! Fabulous pictures, too. And I meant to tell you before that I'm always so happy when I see that your hives are painted lavender and yellow!

I am also "completely on the fence" about keeping bees. (I'm trying to talk my neighbors into keeping the bees) We're sort of a compound: we have the chickens so they should get the bees. (of course my partner malucho is afraid of the bees so that's why i'm trying to get the neighbors to do it).

Stefaneener said...

Bees are really easy to start, and in theory they're easy to do. The complexity grows the more one knows, unfortunately. Having a mentor would be great.

I've learned a LOT in the last couple of days -- Bob is a more attentive keeper than I am, so it's like a little course.

Ktrion, I have plans for the future woodenware : ) And for the coop -- I don't know if we're going representational or not, but it's going to be fun. I know people who share out the work like that. Or you could come to an alameda county keeper's meeting and see if you could persuade someone there to keep the hives for you?

Jackie said...

I enjoy your bee posts...such another world from the one I live in :)

Also, I gave you an award; it's on my blog: http://jackiessecretgarden.blogspot.com/


Susan said...

Our beekeeping has been so uneventful compared to yours. But then we've only been at it just over a year now. Eventually one of our queens will have to get old. And then we'll have queen cells and swarming and all that. Let us know what you do with all those queens.

Kristin said...

Maybe the marked queen didn't like having her back painted or being dropped awhile back. Remember? Did she seem wounded?

I think that it is wonderful that you saved so many queens and that you had some help to explore the hive.