The Lucky Beekeeper #5

A swarm is the old queen from a colony, leaving with half the bees from it.  Drones fertilise her in-flight (incidentally leaving their genitals with her, just like their stings), and they find a safe place to hang while scout bees find a nice new home.  Like my waiting hive.  BTW, I’m not just calling myself a lucky beekeeper – every one I meet who here’s this story includes the word “lucky” somewhere in what they then call me…

Anyway, so Simon has set up a frame with one of these in the middle:

So he can gather larvae from one of his healthy and calm hives.  He then introduces those cups, vertically, to the hive you want to re-queen.  And leave the workers to do the work.

Normally, if a colony decides it needs a new queen, it creates a larger cell that runs vertically to the comb.  Remember that normal cells run horizontally, and can be filled with food, pollen or eggs.  A vertical cell is either large for a full queen, or slightly smaller for a “supercedure” queen, I think.  And sometimes they just build larger vertical cells for practice.  It’s common practice for beekeepers to destroy these when they find them, to halt swarms, in the case of larger cells – if you get a new queen, the old one is soon off, with half your bees.

But supercedure means they think the current queen is on her last legs – so to speak, and what your suggestion is aiming at.  Make her lame, and let the colony deal with the result.  The thing is, in all this time, I’ve not seen her.  You can lift out all the frames and search both sides, and she’ll escape every time.  I’ve seen one of Simon’s, and we trapped her and painted her back immediately.  But generally, you judge her presence and health by what she’s been up to – laying, mostly.  Find lots of eggs and sealed brood, and you know she’s doing OK.  And I’m still finding that.  But then one of Simon’s was full of worker-laid eggs – which are drones, and the caps are domed for more room, as they’re bigger.  And when we looked, the hive was half full of drones, which was a very bad sign – we’ve now seeming got a new queen happy in there.

So anyway, you get larvae in a plastic cell, and you mount it vertically on a frame, and the workers will find her and give her royal jelly, as that’s what you do with vertical cells.  And you get them bringing up the new queen, which will then replace the old one.  Especially if, once you know you’re safe to, you find and crush the old queen so there’s no competition.  It’s not unknown for two queens to kill each other in contest for the colony.  Leaving you worse off than when you started all this.

So, that’s the plan, anyway.  He’s learning to rear and breed them now, and needs some for his own hives.  We might in the meantime be able to take a filled queen cell that’s appeared naturally in another hive and graft it into mine, but it’s getting a bit late in the year for that.  He’s had 6 or 7 from his other hives earlier in the year, that went to other beekeepers.

For the sake of the colony though, they should have a new young queen to get through the winter.

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