So I did something daring today. I took a ridiculously successful, laying queen from one hive, and put her and some of her nursery babysitter bees into a hive that I deemed queen-less.
I didn’t actually know this hive was queen-less, initially. I had been watching them for weeks as the weather warmed. They started out busily gathering pollen, but as the temperatures soared they disappeared into the dark dungeon of their hive. I wondered what on earth the girls were doing. I rarely saw them leave the hive. They had stopped gathering food. When I put my ear up to the hive, I heard an amiable low hum— as though they were having a quiet backyard garden party. Since I rarely open up the baby bee brood nest when the weather is still cranky and could turn cold, I continued to check on them occasionally by pulling a few bars way at the back of the hive just to make certain they were still alive and crawling about. They were. I closed the hive back up.
But as this strange pattern continued, I decided to crash their little party on the first warmish March day. The temperatures had climbed above 55 degrees. The evil, crazy making winds had waned this particular day. The tumbleweeds had stopped rolling across the road for a moment. I was going in there.
What I found was troubling. No sign of a queen. No queen cells—which would indicate a possible queen in the future. Lots of bees and combs full of honey. Some pollen stores— protein for the hive. But there was nary a bee egg to be found or any sign of infant life. In other words, no babies, no nursery. This meant certain doom for the future. A population crash.
There wasn’t even “worker brood”, a beekeepers nightmare. This is when a lady worker bee decides to become uppity and begin laying eggs, acting as the queen in residence. It’s gnarly to try to oust one of these imposters, with her gang of thugs surrounding her. A laying worker is usually bursting with a sense of self appointed, exaggerated importance. But her unfertilized eggs are worthless.
This hive would die within 30 days if I didn’t give them a queen.
After consulting with my best beefriends on the beesfordummiesutubes—I decided to check the hive across the yard. If they had a good queen, I would kidnap her and put her in this crippled, queenless hive (with the paper trick of course— a paper shield between them so they could sniff each other before chewing through the paper and uniting as one big happy, blended family). This was always a bit worrisome and highly risky. If I had missed a little secret virgin queen hidden away or out mating in the queen-less hive, trouble would ensue. There would be blood between the rival queens and courts. There would be a day of reckoning.
But at this dire intersection—the sure death of this hive—all I could do was trust my 6th sense and what my eyes told me. It was the best I could do.
When I opened the queened hive, I was stunned by the multitude of eggs and babybrood. This queen was unbelievably prolific. And there she was, in the midst of the bustling brood, almost languid and lackadaisical from the unbelievable amount of eggs she’d been laying since January. It was ridiculous. There was a whole bar of drone brood, meaning, there were going to be lots of dudes breaking out of their cells soon. Ready to mate. Likely this hive was on it’s way to swarming and leaving for a new zipcode.
I had just broken into a rock concert and the queen was the rock star.
I hurried the queen and a few bars of her entourage to the queen-less hive, sealing them in. The girls from the hive where I had just stolen their royalty would be building their own queen, as soon as they noticed her disappearance. Likely within 24 hours. The hope was for a new queen to emerge within a month ready to go to work.
It’s scary. Some days downright ridiculously risky. I would hate to lose any of these girls that I have nurtured through the winter. But, beekeeping is often a huge Russian Roulette game. It is a combination of the wild mystery of bees, external variables(think weather, pests and chemicals), and the beekeeper’s next move.
Stay tuned next week to find out if the combining of two families of bees resulted in a feud or loving reunion. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, and a direct line to heaven open….it’s Easter after all. Season of resurrection.