We are off to quite a start at The Flight of The Turquoise Bee Apiary. Both Royal Ruckus and The Drone Den have given us major queen scares and for the moment Royal Ruckus is queen-less. I am loosing sleep and making more than one visit to the bee yard on any given day. Our apiary is an hour away so visiting twice a day is a time consuming.
Royal Ruckus’s queen never made it out of her cage. Her attendants got out and somehow the bees lost interest in the caged queen. We think she got sick from not being fed and attended to. When we released her ourselves she was lethargic and sauntering around on the floor of the hive. We should of known better and killed her on the spot but we left her, hoping a little syrup would remedy the situation. The idea of killing a queen is just beyond my scope and I really didn’t want to be faced with it.
I know, I didn’t really want so many hives anyway. So why not just give in to the demise and divide the workers among the other colonies to avoid a total loss. For starters I have become a honey whore. More importantly I have this nagging over ridding since of responsibility about the bees compelling me to do anything within my power to salvage tricky situations like this one. I am not opposed to killing bugs in general especially those who take up house in my home. Find me a box elder crawling in my bed, you bet I’ll kill it, no remorse. But the bees are different, they aren’t in my house and if you ask me they should be protected. Not to mention I am raising bees here now.
We got major jitters about her as soon as we left the bee yard. After consulting my trusty mentor we knew we had to return and get her out of the hive. Leaving her in there was simply not an option. A sick queen just leads to a hive of trouble. Even if she made a recovery it was clear the workers had not accepted her and it would be just a matter of time before the girls would revolt trying any number of tactics to deal with her. They might kill her. If she actually started laying They might attempt a supersedure or they might let her march on laying in a sloppy haphazard manner causing a failure to thrive like condition in the hive. She had to go.
So we went back that same day in the early evening. We spent the time in the car driving down giving ourselves a pep talk. Who could kill her? I said, “I can do this Paula, no problem.” Initially we considered just having Paula go down herself but in the end it was good we were both there. We started going through the hive frame-by-frame, one, two, three, no queen. I thought I saw her on the bottom of the hive but as it turned out I killed a worker by mistake. I pulled out the forth frame and Paula said, “Whoa look at that big ball of bees, I bet she’s in there and they are balling her.”
Queen Balling is an occurrence in certain circumstances in which worker bees crowd around and enclose the queen in a really tight ball. It can happen if they are trying to protect her, when the hive is stressed for some reason or if the bees think something is not right with her and they are trying to kill her. Paula reached in with her fingers to break up the ball and heard a loud hissing. We got her out and into her smaller cage that we had saved with a single attendant. She was still alive but very distressed. Unsure what to do we sat and watched her for some time. We removed the attendant so we could get a better look at her. Paula wanted to bring her home, so did I. We could study here. You know weird geeky bee stuff. But alas we don’t have microscopes, no point in that academic endeavor. We had more than a fleeting moment of maybe she’s fine; she seemed to be trying to eat her way through the marshmallow we plugged in the cage opening. We went back to the hive to see about putting her back in. The bees had no interest in her, we got her onto a frame and she didn’t move. Finally we both knew it was time. Paula pulled her off the frame and killed her. We put her back in her cage; maybe we could still take her home and study her. In the end Paula decided it would be best to bury her so we did and Paula being a real legitimate minister and all held a little graveside service.
We have a new queen, we pick her up Monday, long enough for the girls to realize they are queen-less but hopefully not long enough to provoke them to start laying. You see when workers lay they only lay unfertilized eggs which leads to a drone den and eventually without any reproductive capability the hive dies. Been there, done that and passed the test. We don't need to repeat that lesson.
I try and think about the silver linings. We are learning a great deal. We are able to recognize situations that would eventually become catastrophic early enough to intervene and potentially remedy. I don’t imagine will forget how hard this one was for a long time, if ever. I hope to never be faced with killing a queen again.