Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Dilemma: 2 Hives Queenless; 1 with 2 Queen Cells...

It's just the beginning of the 2010 beekeeping season, and already I've come upon my first problem.

Last Saturday during the inspection I did not see a queen in either hive, nor did I see any eggs. I was not sure I eyeballed every frame, so I wanted to do a specific check for the queen. I did that, and to my chagrin, there was no evidence of a queen, either in person or by seeing eggs. I know that a little over two weeks ago, I saw the queen in the green hive. I have no idea where she could have gone. The brown hive could have been queenless 2 weeks ago; I wasn't sure.

When I inspected the brown hive, the top box had a good deal of honey and pollen, and this is what I saw on the bottom box:

The brown and white thing is part of a pollen patty that they haven't touched in over a month, so I removed it and the one from the green hive as well. Anyway, you can get an idea for how many bees you have by looking at the cluster of bees on the top of the bars. They will be located over the frames with the brood. So you can assume there are about 3 frames with brood on them.

Well, that is what I found. I only saw about 4 sides of frames with brood in them. It was all mature brood, capped. Here's a picture:

You can see that there isn't much capped brood left - it makes sense given that there hasn't been a queen there to re-fill the empty comb with new eggs.

However, I was able to discover something a little encouraging: two queen cells! These are located in the middle of the frame, so they are called "supercedure" or emergency cells. They would build queen cells there if they had an unexpected need to do so (as compared to swarm cells, which are located along the bottom of the frames). Here are the pictures of the cells:

The queen cell is obvious in the first picture - it's right in the center (looks like a shell peanut texture). On the second picture it's a little harder to see - it's actually about 3 holes down right below the top bar in the center. This queen cell isn't as large as the other one, and doesn't hang down as much. I question whether or not it is a good one. But the first cell looks good.

The green hive showed a lot more activity at the hive entrance than the brown hive. Here's a shot of the bottom box (again, the top box had mostly pollen and honey):

You can see the larger "footprint" (or would it be "beeprint") of the cluster - there are a lot more bees here. But I only saw about 6 sides of frames with brood, like this:

One difference between this frame and the ones from the brown hive is that this frame has some brood which are uncapped - not old enough to be capped yet. The brown frame had brood all capped. That tells me that this hive had a queen no earlier than 8 days ago, but not later than 3 days (due to the lack of eggs).

I saw the queen on March 21st, but didn't see her or any eggs on April 3rd. So somewhere between March 31st and April 3rd she went missing.

So here's my dilemma: what to do? Here's what I see are my options:

For the brown hive:
  1. Let the queen in the brown hive hatch, mate, and start laying. According to Michael Bush's excellent website, the queen should start laying eggs in no more than 20 days from today.
  2. Get a mated queen and install her (removing the queen cells)
The problem here is that it is way too early in the season to get a mated queen locally. If I ordered one, chances are the queen cell(s) would have hatched by then and I may have problems finding her, etc. So I am pretty much resigned to letting this queen hatch. Twenty days isn't too bad.

For the green hive:
  1. Try to transplant one of the queen cells from the brown hive, and let these bees raise the queen. Again, you would have the 20 day wait for new eggs.
  2. Get a mated queen.
  3. Wait for the brown hive to start laying well, and transplant a frame of newly laid eggs to the green hive, and let them make a queen. This will take longer - the 20 days for the brown hive queen; plus a couple of weeks of laying to get some good patterns; plus another 28 days (+/- 5) to make and hatch and mate a new queen. We are looking at over a month.
I have pretty much convinced myself out of #1 - the top queen cell looks kind of stunted, so it may not be good. Plus, that frame is a plastic foundation, so I can't just cut through the comb to get the cell. I'd have to carefully scrape it up and I'd be afraid of damaging it. Getting a new queen is still too early. So I'm resigned to being queenless for a while...

If anyone has any suggestions, please feel free to let me know.

In other hive maintenance news, I took off all of the feeding jars. The brown hive had stopped taking syrup, and there are plenty of flowers blooming (plus both hives had ample stores already). I saw some dandelions blooming today, so I'll probably throw on a honey super to give them more room to place honey (in the off chance there will be some for me).

Here are the hives today:

Life sure isn't dull!!


  1. I don't know about New England, but I haven't seen any drones around here yet in western Washington. You may find you have trouble getting your queens mated in time to save the colonies.

    Perhaps you would be better off combining the colonies in the hopes you can keep one going until you can find a mated queen. Two relatively weak and queenless colonies don't stand much of a chance this time of year. Can you contact a local bee club and try to buy a queen that way?

    Let me know how it turns out. I'm interested.


  2. Steve
    I'm reading this late in the game but for future .
    When this happens you can place wire mesh around one of the queen cells; (take a square of wire mesh and fold the 4 sides up to make a "cup" of wire and place it over a queen cell push into the comb around the queen cell.) Check daily to see when the queen hatches remove the virgin queen
    and spray the queen with a honey water mixture
    and place in queenless hive. If your lucky she will mate and return to lay eggs.
    West Palm Beach fl
    see me on facebook at
    Bee Understanding


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