Getting a new hive of honeybees established is exciting but sometimes exasperating. Lately it has been more exasperating. Last year was so exasperating that not one of our new hives managed to survive even the summer. We strongly suspect the problem was the queens. When they arrived last year, the queens were so small we could barely distinguish them from their attendants. (Yes, queen bees have attendants.) In hindsight, we question the regal stature of those “queens.” So this year, we ordered three new bee packages from a different supplier.
Two months after installation of this year’s packages, two hives are ready for second hive body boxes. The third hive shows very little activity. Mr. Beekeeper inspects the hive and finds very little brood and a dwindling number of bees. Exasperating.
But lo and behold! A queen cell! How exciting!
The hive has recognized its problem and has chosen to raise a new queen. Why last year’s hives did not do the same is a question worth pondering. Why this hive needs to re-queen is another question. Did the queen die? Was she ill? Was she…gasp…old? Was she just a poor lay-er? (This reminds me of my sister and her poor laying hens. She shrieked death threats at them and the very next day, they resumed laying.)
Queens cells take eight days to hatch from the time the cell is capped. About ten days after spotting the capped queen cell, we take a peek inside. The queen cell is now empty. We look for the queen. This is sort of like Where’s Waldo–find the one bee that is longer than the hundreds of other bees. Fortunately, the bees are only on a couple of frames, one of those frames is exclusively capped honey, and the other frame is where the queen cell was. And we find her!
Now we wait. The new queen needs two weeks to get established. She must exit the hive for mating flights with drones. There are drones visible in the hive and a few drone cells waiting to hatch. There are also plenty of drones buzzing around the other two hives. Our queen will not lack opportunity. And then she must get busy laying eggs. In about three weeks we will peek inside again, hoping to see lots of new brood cells.
Here’s hoping we will still be excited in three weeks.