The Queen is dead


It was a day in the life…. per the photos above,  I had just retrieved a queenbee from one hive, ready to move her into another hive.  I was moving bees and bars around, feeling confident.

But that feeling never lasts long when you are dealing with Mother Nature.

Three weeks and many sagas of queenbees later, I can tell you one thing for sure, the bees will always trump and continue to surprise.  After all, they are wild things.

It has been the summer of queens.  Trading and swapping and wheeling and dealing in queens, to keep my hives afloat.  The worker bees have done their part, producing a bumper crop of queen cells through the beautiful nectar flows, due to the rains. They have been eager to give me new queens, even as I have dropped a queen, lost a queen, killed a queen.

Here’s the latest…

Over a month ago, when I opened my hives, I noted that none of them had queens, but they were dutifully trying to grow queens by nurturing new queen cells.  So, I closed up the hives and left them to their devices.  After all, as one wise beekeeper has said, ‘If you don’t know what to do, it’s better to do nothing”.  In other words, “Leave ’em alone!”  it’s better to do no harm and be as non-invasive as possible with your bees if you are confused. In the end the girls know best what is going on.

So I took this sage advice.  When I returned a few weeks ago, I noticed that all three hives still had no queens.  Queens had clearly hatched out…but where were they?  Likely out on their mating flight, according to my calculations.

In talking with seasoned beekeepers who were still waiting for their queens to come back, only 40% of bees had made it back from their mating flights—— due to rain, wind, birds and other little problems.  That’s a miserable statistic.

So i set about figuring out how to “Queen up” my hives quickly before all the workers died and there were no eggs or a next generation to carry on.  Luckily, or mercifully, my #1 Mother hive’s new, freshly mated queen showed up the next day.  But that still left one queenless and another with a failing queen whose conditions inside the hive were poor.  Moth worms had moved in.  The worker bee numbers were plummeting with no sign of new eggs or bee larvae, and a poor queen laying pattern.  I would have to put the old queen out of her misery and give them a new one.  Pronto.

It’s never pretty taking out an old queen.  I felt like a hitman, hired by the darkside of the insect world.  I said a prayer over her and beheaded her.  She was now Missing in Action in her hive.  I gave the girls an appropriate grieving time.  3 hours. Then I hived my new mail order bride.

She had arrived, jittery and clearly upset in her little cage, after 2 days of travel by mail. She was named “Chia” and had a blue dot on her back, easily identifiable in the hive.  I attached her cage to a bar in Hive #3 and within a day, my girls had chewed out the sugar plug and accepted her.   All was well.  Long live the Queen.


The next day I came out to check on this hive with their new queen. At that very moment,  I was horrified to watch a small cadre of girls solemnly coming out of the doorway, carrying a perfectly beautiful queen. Dead as a doornail. No blue dot on her back.  It definitely wasn’t Chia.

Suddenly it occurred to me exactly what had happened.  Over a month ago, when I thought the old queen was still viable, I noticed that the workers had been building a number of queen supersedure cells.  I had stolen one for another hive that was queenless at that time, and squished out the remaining ones, assuming their old queen was just fine.  Evidently the bees knew something I didn’t at that time.  The queen was ailing.  Her pheromones were weakening. So they did what bees always do when the queen is no longer fertile—– they were getting ready to dethrone her by building their own queen.  Despite my meddling, they had still managed to keep one of their queen cells under the radar, from my sight,  nurturing her to full strength.  She hatched and went out for her mating flight, unbeknownst to me.

By the time she had returned, triumphantly entering the front doorway to overthrow the old, ailing queen (in other words sting her to death) she was met with hostility by the very girls who had raised her.  Faced with a strong, young virile queen who had  superseded her merely by being dropped in from nowhere, she was killed—likely stung to death and balled by the workers.

I felt sick to my stomach.  A perfectly healthy, beautiful young queen, raised in New Mexico by my girls.  Not easy to come by.  Certainly not cheap. Now she was carried out in state and with honors, dumped off the edge of the landing board.  There she lay.  Lonely and lifeless. I gave her a proper burial.

It was a sobering day for me as I pondered this.  My ignorance, my impatience, my oversight, my steep learning curve.  I thought about all the ways humans impose our will upon the natural world—meddling, messing, always according to our time schedules and ideas. And Mother Nature, even my girls, are forgiving.  They right the wrong and continue on with their lives— without regret or hatred.

I closed up all my hives that day, resolved to leave them alone for a month. Resolved to learn how to move through my own transitions and passages—whether self imposed or superimposed upon me—with more grace.  More trust.  Like the bees, getting up and brushing myself off, grieving when necessary, then, going on with a positive attitude, despite the inconvenience, hardship and downright messiness of some days.


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