And God Save the Queen.
I was all but resigned to having lost my hive this summer. My queen was infertile or damaged, my package of bees burning out it’s lifespan, and a worker bee was laying only drone (male) eggs, so the hive was doomed .
I posted about the friendly beekeeper in Michigan who gave me a couple frames of brood and eggs (female!), and my hope was that the current worker bees would decide (quickly) to raise a new queen by feeding a tiny larva some royal jelly.
It didn’t seem likely. They would have to somehow keep the laying worker away from the baby queen in her enlarged cell, or she would kill it. They would have to work fast, since there was not a ton of uncapped brood (honeycombs cells still open and tiny larvae being fed).
Then the queen would have to leave the hive, mate, return mated, and the hive would have to go kill the laying worker who had appointed herself interim queen.
I checked a week or so after I added the new frame. I saw no queen cells being made, and somebody was still laying drone comb. Drones have no sting, and no purpose but mating with future queens, but they eat lots of honey. The females build honeycomb, tend babies, clean, tend and feed the queen, and do all the foraging to collect nectar and pollen for the hive. They are te worker bees, the nurse bees and the guard bees at various stages of their lives. They only live for a matter of weeks, but the queen(if there is one) lays thousands of eggs a day to replace bees who have flown themselves to tatters and died.
So it seemed like I was losing a race with time.
I went out again last Thursday on a coolish morning, and didn’t see much activity in the entrance/exit doorway of the hive.
I was like a poster for how NOT to be a beekeeper. Bare feet, tank top shirt, shorts. No smoker, no bee veil, no gloves. But I decided to test the romantic notion that if the bees sense no fear or negativity coming from the keeper, they will stay calm and not become excited or defensive.
I removed the cover and set it on the ground, and then lifted each frame to check out the top two “supers” (the word for the topless, bottomless stackable boxes full of hanging frames of comb.)
Not many bees, but fresh lovely yellow-white comb was being built. I have been making changes to encourage the bees to build their own comb without following the pre-stamped shapes on the “foundation” (a sheet of beeswax in the new frame that they will use as a base to build from.)
The new, bee-designed comb is lovely, soft and rounded and organic. But not many bees, not much honey.
The third super down was full of busy bees. I pulled the nine frames out of each super and looked them over, trying to link what I was seeing with pictures in the beekeeping books. New drone comb… smallish bees. Then — yikes, was that a queen cell? I found an empty cell that had been built out past the rest so it looked like a little igloo, with an open door.
I worked my way very carefully through thr frames in the bottom super. I found — capped brood cells! Flat topped ones, that meant female brood!
Then, for the first time in my life, I actually SPOTTED A QUEEN BEE among her daugters on the frame. In the past, once I released the queen from her box, I never saw her again, unable to distinguish her longer abdomen and short wings among the wall-to-wall, moving bees.
But there she was. My resourceful survivors had pulled off a successful coup, raising a queen in secret, and then assassinating the old drone-layer.
I grinned about it all afternoon. In human society, a bad leader can be a tyrant or mismanager, cause social, political or economic chaos… but in the hive, no queen means no babies. Like the movie “Children of Men”. They’re doomed.
A new queen means my hive has a darn good chance, and that’s a happy thing.
That’s the day’s news. I’m off to get supper for the “dad” of the house! Molly’s peeling garlic…