Tuesday, April 30, 2013

And So It Begins: Queen Drama

I was hoping for a season free of Queen drama. Lord knows we had our share of it last year. I will admit, part of my love for this hobby is the seemingly endless amount of learning to be had! I thought we had mastered Queen issues last year,  seen it all, solved it all. Heck we even had two Queens in one hive for about a month. Go smoke on that one! And then along comes a drone laying Queen. So here we are with a complete dud in The Turquoise Bee.

She was a brand new queen but she acted like a old knackered thing, remaining rooted to the outside frames, wandering around aimlessly, like a frail aunt in her white dressing gown. Being a novice beekeeper is a lot like being a novice parent. There are manuals, but most of what you learn comes from actually interacting with the little darlings. So for as much as I have read, and I have read a lot, until you see it you don't really understand or appreciate it.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing too, all the signs were there, I noticed them, even said them out loud but failed to take action until today and now I am hoping it isn't too late.

Not only was she frail and slender, without that plump protruding abdomen of a mated queen but she was a drone layer at that. She didn't lay much of anything and what she did lay was spotty spoiled drone brood. Now, I can't be sure it wasn't workers laying and in fact as I studied the bees today I am sure I saw a few workers stick their ass into cells and lay. However, having capped drone brood in a matter of 10 days after hiving the girls seems too soon for workers to start laying. My worry of course is that we let the situation go on too long and now the workers are in fact laying.

Workers depend on the pheromone of a queen and the pheromone of brood to know or think they are queen-right. If they they don't have brood or a queen or a healthy queen, in the hive eventually the lack of pheromone will stimulate their ovaries to lay unfertilized eggs. When this happens of course the hive goes to drone and without any reproductive capability the hive dies off. Catching and remediating laying workers is a huge challenge.

Our mission today was to get her out, assess the damage and make a plan. We have new Queen arriving tomorrow so we removed her today, creating the illusion of a queenless hive in preparation for the new Queen. We found her easily, on one of the outer frames, an odd place for a healthy Queen. Usually she will stay in the middle of the brood nest. Of course she has no brood nest. There was less spotty drone brood than a week ago so I suspect her condition was deteriorating. My eyes are 55 years old and I have zero ability to see eggs, much less appreciate the sloppy laying of workers who will deposit more than one egg in a cell, hit the wall instead of the center of the cell and so on. However as i studied the workers I did see what looked to me like laying activity. Hopefully if they are laying it has just started and we can turn the situation around.

We are hoping to trick the girls into thinking they have good brood pheromone. We took a nice frame of capped and uncapped brood from Patrick's Pollinator, our strongest hive to help The Turquoise Bee out. Hopefully they will get busy tending to the brood and notice their Queen is gone just in time for a new Queen which we will introduce on Thursday.

Keep your fingers crossed this beekeeping 305 and I am not sure we have it all right. Worse case we loose The Turquoise Bee which would make me very sad for any number of reasons. In the mean time I am sorting out the ethics of doing what needs to be done for the greater good at the expense of one. I was able to extract the Queen into a jar and took her home. She passed about an hour ago and I am going to keep her for show and tell. I am often asked to give little talks to school age kids about bees and beekeeping and she will make a great show and tell item. So for those of you struggling with the loss of life here just think of her as being reincarnated to academia.

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