Naming Queen bees after someone you love is a risky game!

We have been in the habit of affectionately naming hives after ourselves or people we care about.  And although we were sad when we realized that queen Tyler died, we had a pretty good laugh about his inability to stand up to disease while queen Debbie thrived and produced honey for days!  Queen Debbie was so wonderful she overwintered strong, and as she geared towards swarming this spring, we took a reverse split (simulated swarm) and then allotted time and resources for her to raise a daughter.

This is when our decision to affectionately name queen bees gets a little questionable.  Certainly, as a mother of just one child, Queen Debbie’s bee-child would be named after her daughter.  We have been patiently waiting until this week to check for Sydney to rule!  Specifically, we would like to see her or eggs/brood from her to confirm her success.   Tuesday, we looked and saw a few emergency cells with eggs.  They were literally the only eggs in the hive.  Not a good sign.

Today I went in, and the entire hive was laid up!  Top to bottom, sidebar to sidebar, frame after frame filled with fresh eggs. No larvae yet, no sign of hatching.  Seems good right?  Queen Sydney sounds like a champ?  Well, unlike Debbie’s actual daughter (props to my son’s amazing babysitter, by the way) Queen Sydney is a complete failure.  Whether she got eaten by a bird, experienced some bad weather, or all around was just terrible, I am concluding that we have ourselves a laying worker situation.  I could feel the general tone of the bees to be queenless.  The egg laying?  Chaotic.  Yes, sometimes a young queen lays sporadically and can lay multiple eggs per cell.  But there were many eggs, many eggs per cell, eggs placed at willy-nilly locations within the cell.  I don’t have much confidence in our success here.  This will have to be addressed ASAP, we have options, and we will follow up very shortly with a course of action.

But in this article, I have so much to say!  I got a text around 10AM regarding a swarm at the orchard.  What?!  After all the time we have spent managing space and taking reverse splits to simulate swarms and managing strong hives…  We still had a swarm.  Again, we called upon our tall friend Dean, and this time me, Debbie and Dean in 30-minutes flat had the swarm in a cardboard nuc.  Wow! We are getting good at this!  As I type they’re settling down in their new nuc with fresh frames to draw.  I intend to follow up with a frame of brood to anchor them but letting them settle now.

Where did the swarm come from?  A peek into the Mason beehive, Debbie’s geriatric queen split donated to the gardens, and we found the answer.  I took a reverse split from them 2-ish weeks ago.  Peeking in there, there was a significant reduction in bees. The first frame I had revealed a scrambled small queen running around.  Yes, the timing checks out.  Day 16, queen emergence.  I pulled 5-frames because one thing 2024 has shown me is I cannot resist maximizing queen rearing as we work with the natural swarm process.  On the 5-frames I pulled I saw 7 opened cells, 7 cells that are still maturing, and pulled 4 peeping queens from flapped cells.  And yes, here I go again with my homespun queen rearing, taking unmated queens and splitting into nucs.  Sitting on my desk waiting to go into a queen hotel so we can have a backup plan and queens on hand for the summer, we have beautiful single ladies!

As for the swarm, it may or may not have a queen.  It’s possible of the 7 emerged queen cells in the mother Mason hive, one went with the swarm.  In which case it’s a complete colony that is ready to grow. It is equally likely that after I give it a frame of brood, the bees will choose to create emergency cells and attempt to raise a queen.  We may end up just recombining this split with the mother hive. Errr, the daughter hive?  Ok, this is getting to be a LOT! Your editor… (Debbie) is getting confused.

Rest assured, the beekeepers are keeping good notes and will make sure everyone is queenright in due course OR maybe we will combine some of the hives for better success and will at least to fix the laying worker situation. Either way, we have a feeling this season is just getting started – it is not even June as of the writing of this blog issue.

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