|Periwinkle (left) and Daylily (right) hives in the morning sun.|
Early last week I donned my beesuit in order to remove the feeders from my two hives. Activity levels have been different with each colony, so I was also curious to get a closer look at what was developing.
Daylily Hive was busy, busy busy, with so much traffic at the entrance that I decided to enlarge it a bit. It seemed that almost every other bee coming in was carrying pollen, which is a good sign because it means they are feeding brood. The top box is almost completely drawn out with comb and I was happy with their progress.
|Daylily has been consistently active.|
Periwinkle, on the other hand, has been a concern. Activity has seemed sporadic to the point where I've sometimes wondered if anybody was still at home. I've been able to see the comb full of bees through the observation window, but I was still concerned. I wanted to take a closer look and see what was going on.
|Periwinkle hive has been much less active.|
I discovered that no more comb had been drawn since the last time I'd checked about three weeks ago.
|Not much progress in Periwinkle Hive.|
I pulled each top bar to examine them more closely.
|To examine the comb I used my smoker to puff away the bees|
The combs were covered with bees who appeared to be busy, and I found the queen running around, but there were no eggs, no capped brood, and no food being stored. What in the world were they doing?
I didn't know the answer to that question, but I did know that my queen was a dud. It had been a month and she should have presented the colony with brood by now. I reassembled the hive and went in to call the bee store. The guy I talked to on the phone said it sounded like she was either a virgin or lazy, but yes, they had replacement queens available. I told him I was on my way.
The first step to requeening is to dispose of the old queen. Two queens in one hive is a deadly mix. At the bee store I was advised to "kill and drop." This is where the old queen is killed and her body dropped into the hive. The rationale here is that with a body, the colony knows for certain she is dead. They won't be confused by any lingering pheromones, assume she's still in residence, and attempt to kill the new queen. Did that ever stir things up! I left them to mull that over while I went in to make a fresh batch of sugar syrup. I could see that numbers were down and that they would need help if I was going to save them.
I've described the queen cage before (photo below from my "Honeybees! (Here at Last)" post, where you'll find pictures of the entire hiving process).
|With packaged bees, the queen has traveled with them|
so that they are somewhat familiar with her presence.
There are holes plugged with corks at both ends of the queen cage. The one at the candy end is for a slow queen release while the bees eat through the candy. The one at the other end is for quick release because it opens directly into the queen's chambers. Because Periwinkle was going to be mourning the loss of their old queen and was unfamiliar with this one, I simply set her cage in the hive without removing either cork. They would need a minimum of two days to realize that a new queen was present and become familiar with her.
Three days later I opened the hive and checked on the queen cage. I found it covered with bees, so I puffed them away with smoke to make sure the new queen was still alive. I read that an ill-tempered colony can try to bite through the cage and kill the new queen, although this bunch of bees has been just the opposite. She was alive and well, so I removed the cork from the candy end of the box.
The next day I took a peek through the observation window.
|Bees completely covered the queen cage. You can also see that she|
has fresh new comb available after release, ready to receive eggs.
Three days later the status was the same. I wanted to go in and do something to help, but it was pouring rain so I waited until the following day. What I discovered was that they had eaten through the candy but left a lump in the middle of the path. I probably should have gently poked through the lump but instead I pulled the cork on the queen's side of the box. She climbed out and flew away.
Have you ever noticed how an idea is brilliant if it turns out okay but stupid if it doesn't? Well, after that I felt anything but brilliant. There were still bees on and in the queen cage, so I set it on one of the hive box handles.
When I went to the garden to get salad for dinner, I took a detour past my hives. I was surprised to see that the queen cage was piled with a mound of bees. I took a closer look and saw that the queen had flown back to her box! I tilted up the top hive body box and gently set the queen cage inside. Hopefully I'd gotten her!
About half an hour later the little mound of bees was still there and so was the queen! I gave the entire mound a gentle squirt with honey-b-healthy (in hopes it would keep her from flying off again) and brushed them into a little box. I dumped them into the top box hoping this time she was safely installed.
When I went to check again I found her outside again in front of the hive. Apparently she did not like that hive! She evaded my attempts to re-catch her. I spent some time looking for her but by that time it was late and starting to drizzle again. I gave up.
When a colony abandons a hive it is referred to as absconding. For whatever reason they just up and leave. Considering Periwinkle's circumstances, however, I suspect (hope) that much of its former population had already drifted over to Daylily and taken up residence there. So perhaps it was the low bee numbers that the new queen didn't like, perhaps it was the carpenter ants which were making a pest of themselves, or maybe the wax moth I'd seen through the observation window. All of these are probable contributing factors, but who truly knows the mind of a honeybee?
So that is the sad tale of Periwinkle hive. As of yesterday afternoon a dozen bees or so were still holding vigil over the queen cage but the hive itself is now woefully empty. Hopefully I'll catch a swarm in my bait hive, and there's still time to set up Periwinkle as a bait hive too. Other than that, I will just have to remain the humble servant of all my critters on the homestead, honeybees included.