Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I Don't Know!!

I wish I could figure these bees out. Just when I think I know what is going on I am perplexed by a whole new set of circumstances. Let me start from the beginning.

As we all know, Virginia had been queenless for a while and I had ordered a new Russian hybrid queen from the Walter T Kelley company in Tennessee. While the hive was to be queenless I removed the queen excluder just to make sure there was nothing to hinder the workers from putting honey away in the supers. Walter T Kelley couldn't ship the queen right away due to the heat wave occurring in the Midwest at the time. They shipped her off to me last week and she arrived on Friday.

I went out to introduce the new queen on Saturday morning at about 10:00. The day was just beginning to warm up and the temp was in the low to mid 80's. Here is a photo of the Russian hybrid queen and 5 attendants.
I rigged up some wire and part of a coat hanger with which to hang the cage in the hive. Sorry you can't see the bees very well. The queen should stay in her cage for a while so the rest of the hive can get used to her scent. If she is released too soon she will be killed.

Anyway, I set the queen cage off to the side in the grass while I got into the hive. Virginia was stacked up with 4 supers. The top super was still empty, the next was about 50% filled with nectar, and in the next one I saw the following three photos. (I hope you can click on the photos and get a closer view. Sometimes Blogger works that way with my photos and sometimes it doesn't.)

Multiple eggs in the cells! Two things are wrong with this. First of all there was no queen. I know this because there had been no eggs or brood for quite some time and I did not see any queen cells in the hive before she went queenleess. Second of all there are multiple eggs in the cells. I saw some cells with up to 5 eggs in them. To me this looks like the work of laying workers: my worst nightmare come true. (If you are unfamiliar with laying workers click here for a quick explanation) Laying workers are very difficult to get rid of, and this late in the summer I don't know if there would be time to rescue the hive even if I were able to get rid of the blasted things. In any case, once you have laying worker(s) it does no good to introduce a new queen because all the bees think they have a laying queen and will kill the new queen as soon as she is released.

I finished looking through the hive and found no eggs in the deep hive bodies which were nearly full of honey. I then put the hive back together and picked up the new queen wondering what I would do with her now. As it turned out I didn't need to wonder at all. As the sun heated up overhead it baked the queen and her attendants- they were all dead in the cage! What a day! I was really bummed out about the prognosis of the hive. I did not realize that I had become emotionally attached, not to the individual bees but to the hive as one single organism.

I convinced myself that there might be a little bit of hope left. If I had missed a queen cell before Virginia went queenless and she had just started to lay, she might be laying multiple eggs in a cell before she gets her laying legs under her. That did actually happen when Georgia superceded last year. Is it possible? Yes- but I think chances are pretty slim.

Today I got back into the hives. I figured that if there could be a new queen in Virginia then I needed to make sure she was down in the deep hive bodies so the honey supers don't get turned into the brood nest. I went through each super frame by frame and brushed every bee down into the top deep hive body and reassembled the supers. I looked for eggs and brood also and found that about 50% of the cells with eggs had multiple eggs and about 50% had single eggs. Only a few of the larva that had hatched were being capped- most were drone cells (indicative of laying workers) but a couple looked like workers. So maybe a queen?

Now see if you can follow my logic for what I did next. A) Virginia has a relatively small population of bees since bees have been dying but have not been replaced since there has not been a queen. B) Virginia had tons of space with 4 supers and relatively few bees. C) Georgia's population has been growing as she has been queen-right since her swarm early in the summer but has much less space with only 3 supers. D) If Virginia does not have a queen but does have laying workers then drone brood will continue to muck up the frames of honey that are being stored in her supers since laying workers can move up and down through the queen excluder.

So here is what I did. I removed a couple deep frames of honey in the upper deep hive body and replaced them with frames of empty comb. Hopefully this will give the queen (if there is one) space to lay eggs. I then found all of Virginia's frames with any eggs or brood and condensed them down into a single super and put that back on above the queen excluder and put an empty super on top of that. I took all of Virginia's frames of honey and combined them together into a couple of supers and put them on top of Georgia. Now Virginia may or may not be queen-right and has 2 supers. Georgia is queen right and is very tall with 5 supers- one of them is empty, one is about 50% full, and 3 are nearly 100% full.

Do I know what is going on inside of Virginia? Nope. Am I doing the right things to manage the situation? Not sure of that either. Maybe in a week or two I will have a better idea- or maybe I won't.


Jim Davis said...

Yep, the more you think you know them the more you learn they have endless ways to confound you.
My only thought about what you've done is that, if you go back in in a couple of weeks and only find drone cells, more multiple eggs (laying workers in other words) you've lost a couple weeks in which you could have been making a queen (or ordering another if that's still possible). It might still be worth it to take the supers, now that you're down to 2, move them a ways away, brush all the bees onto the ground, then put maybe one hive body back in the original spot with honey and some frames with eggs from Georgia and see if they can make a queen. But, then I might be queenless in my hives so what do I know?? Good luck--can't wait to see what happens.

bees in the bay said...

Great piece of information for a new bee keeper. I really enjoyed reading it and can't wait to see the end results.

Good luck


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