This month's update from local beekeeper Gerald Bushby
I finished last month's blog on a slightly gloomy note. Two hives had become queen-less, the weather was bad and I had just introduced a new queen into hive No 2, formed by joining hives Nos 3 and 2 together to try and rescue hive No 2.
Unfortunately the queen I introduced into hive No 2 did not survive. Introducing queens into a queen less hive is a common practice and usually is successful but it becomes increasingly difficult if the hive has been queen less for a long period of time as was the case in hive No 2. Spring is probably the worst time to have a queen-less hive as the production of newly mated queens is seasonal. They are not available to purchase until late spring by which time the hive has had a long time living without the direction a queen gives.
I suppose it is understandable that the lack of a queen in a hive affects the way the whole superorganism operates. There are no queen pheromones, there are no eggs being laid and no new brood to look after. Perhaps the operation of the hive becomes more democratic or perhaps anarchy takes over. Regardless, the longer that situation exists the more difficult it is for the hive to accept a system of monarchy to operate again. I had thought it was worth trying. I checked the hive some days after introducing the queen and found that the queen had been released from her cage. Unfortunately however further checking at various later times resulted in no evidence of the queen being present and no new brood. I eventually had to conclude that she had been “overthrown” the hive was still queen less.
Introducing a new queen had been a failure so I was left with having to decide what to do next. I decided the best solution was to merge this hive with one of the other two remaining hives. Hive No 1 was expanding at a faster rate than Hive No 4 so I decided to give the extra bees in Hive No 2 to Hive No 4. Out with a sheet of news paper again and I moved Hive No 2 on top of Hive No 4, this months photograph.
This operation proved successful. A few days later I removed Hive No 2. The news paper between the hives had been eaten away. There was no evidence on the ground of large numbers of dead bees so the joining must have been amicable. Hive No 4 now had additional workers to help it expand.
My new problem was that I had now lost 50% of my hives, from 4 down to 2. Time to try something new to replace the lost colonies. I would try to persuade the bees to make an emergency queen. If bees know they are queen less and have access to eggs that are less than three days old they can develop these eggs into a new queen. The procedure involves moving a frame of brood from an active hive, with new eggs, into a separate box. This sounds quite a simple procedure but it is really quite complex.
I decided to remove a frame from Hive No 1, the most active hive. The first problem is making sure that the frame that is removed does not containing the queen. One way of achieving this is to look through all of the frames in the brood box and find the queen first before removing a frame. At this time of year with 50,000 active bees in the brood box this is easier said than done. I could not find the queen.
On to plan B. Select a frame that is to be removed, shake and brush off all of the bees on the frame back into the brood box. This ensures that the queen is not on the frame being removed. The frame is then placed into a new empty box without a bottom onto a queen excluder screen and then back on the brood box. Worker bees are then attracted back to look after the brood but the queen can not go back to this frame as it is behind a queen excluder screen. A day later this empty box, now housing a frame with brood and eggs and loaded with worker bees can be removed and placed nearby.
Hopefully the frame that has been selected has some eggs that are less than three days old, it has worker bees which will realise that they are queen less and will, hopefully, form an emergency queen. It will take 28 days at least before I know whether this procedure has worked.
I hope Plan B will be more successful than Plan A was.