22 July 2017
Left: We split two colonies on 28 May and found five capped queen cells in one of them (the C-hive) on 10 June; on 18 June all had been opened.
Top right: After establishing the queen had not been mated (no signs of brood for weeks on end), we tried to find her without any success. Today we took the rather extreme measure of moving the hive away from its spot in order to brush all the bees off the frames.
Bottom right, right: A good shake and then a brush, making sure not a single bee is left behind.
Top left: While we were working, they rather took to the wooden box we had standing next to the sheet. They started moving into it!
Top right: We put the empty boxes back in their original position. Some bees started flying back immediately.
Bottom left: Then we shook all the bees from the sheet onto the grass. After a few minutes, they were all gone. If the queen was there, she would not survive as she can’t fly back to the hive.
Borrom right: We took the new queen we bought 2 weeks ago (today was the first time we saw new brood from her, so she must have started laying almost immediately after we put her into the 6-frame box after she arrived in the mail) and put her in the top box, separated from the other bees by a layer on newspaper.
Our beekeeping year has been full of ‘there’s a first time for everything’ and today was no exception. It was all about solving the problem of a colony with an unfertilized queen.
On 28 May we split two of our hives to prevent them from swarming. Both hives had queen cells on the go, one even had five! Pretty safe to assume they will raise a new queen we thought. And so they did. But the weather was not great in June, so only one of those new queens was mated (we discovered new brood in that colony only last week, we had nearly giving up on her).
Now the problem with an unmated queen – apart from the fact that the colony will die out, because there is no regeneration with no new eggs being laid – is that the bees completely accept the queen as theirs, whether she is laying or not. They are calm, they get on with gathering pollen and nectar. They don’t attempt to raise a new queen (hard to do without fresh brood anyway). So if you were to introduce a new queen into this colony, one you had bought and were sure had been mated, the non-laying queen would kill the fertilised queen in a heartbeat. So, it’s crucial to find the unmated queen. And here’s the catch: she’s incredibly hard to spot because she’s smaller than a mated queen, she moves around much faster, she’s hardly distinguishable from the other bees. We tried a visual check without success. We filtered all the frames through the queen excluder, no luck. I did another visual check in the middle of the week, de nada. Today, we decided to take another route (after talking to Rolf, our teacher). We carried all the boxes about 20 metres away from their usual spot, brushed all the bees down onto a sheet. Put the boxes back, and let them fly back. Which they did. In theory, the queen would be left behind because she cannot fly. We didn’t see her, but we are pretty confident she’s no longer in the hive.
We then checked up on the queen we bought 2 weeks ago, who’d been living in a small 6-frame box with a few worker bees. We couldn’t spot her (she has the tiniest yellow mark on her back, I’ve spotted her just once out of four tries) but she had started laying, so we assume she’s on one of the frames. We put a layer of newspapers on top of the first two boxes, and put the queen in a third box on top. In theory, they will unite. (I took a quick peek about 4 hours afterwards and saw that there were already far more bees in the top box than we had left there, so they’ve already eaten through some of the newspaper.)
The bees stayed incredibly calm during this process. They happily sat on the sheet and even started crawling into a wooden box that we use to offload frames into during inspections. Here’s hoping this worked! All other hives are doing well, lots of fresh brood, a little honey.
Welcome to beekeeping, the Stockholm way!