The new queen arrived without much fuss. She had about seven attendants with her. I gave them a drop of pure ,cool water after their stressful journey. They needed a little refreshing drink and some liquid to soften the sugar.I thought at first she wasn’t going to come this particular day at all because I hadn’t heard a knock at the door. I had expected to have to sign something as she arrived and share a joke about feisty females with the carrier.
No…She arrived without any such fuss.If truth be told, I had almost dismissed her entirely for the day and was about to wait for the second post or even the following day as I threw her on the table with a few political fliers from the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP that had arrived with her ; easily mistaken for a small box of steel staples that I’d ordered on Amazon a few days ago for my staple -gun. The last time I had occasion to purchase a new queen honeybee , she had arrived , caged within a small cubed box which would never have fitted through any conventional letterbox. This time the supplier had deftly slipped her and her entourage of six or seven other bees into a little slimline introduction cage inside a small envelope which measured no more than four by three inches at most .The envelope was punched with a few ventilation holes and that was it.No fuss; no bother. She seemed lively enough and her back was marked with a neat yellow dot of paint.
I had earlier decided that my bee-stock might need a little fillip to gradually control and adjust its increasingly errant demeanour. My bees this year have been more than a little testy since winter.It could be a number of factors. The weather has been very changeable ; one day bright and sunny and the next rain all day. My original queens and colonies have long- since divided , their daughters have mated with the local wide-boy drones and the evolving hives have taken on the demeanour of generations of local Irish bees. Some of them might have been of Fighting Irish stock by the current evidence.The traces and colour of my original Buckfast strain gradually became darker; their stripes gradually less-evident.I didn’t care much about the colour of their skin , of course, but I didn’t want to be attacked every time I inspected my hives.
This can also happen when a hive is queenless for some reason; a perfectly good queen can die as easily as any other bee or if she loses her egg-laying ability the courtiers might supercede her, or even if there is thunder in the air.It can happen for any number of unknown reasons and the bees might blame anything or anyone for their discomfort .The bees know these things and become defensive if their equilibrium is disturbed at such times, especially by some blundering Boris-like oaf messing about with their homes.In my case I noticed that several guard bees were constantly butting against my veil or attempting to sting at my bee-suit. The problem was that I wasn’t really sure which hive housed the culprits or whether every hive had taken a notion and had all decided to go crazy and just attack when I was in the area.I had come through winter with five hives intact but as is usually the case , the balance of power had changed in the apiary.The hive that had been strongest last year was much depleted in the early months , for example.it had eventually stood at about six feet high on the stand, with honey super boxes piled high and had provided me with enough honey for one- and -all. Now that hive was struggling to build anew .That queen might be now too old and her best egg-laying days were on the wane.The hive was certainly seeming slow to repeat last year’s great effort..Meanwhile two other hives were still in the game but were also slow to grow.One other hive appeared to have lost the will to live .It was producing no new brood which seemed to indicate the death of a queen or a queen which had gone off the lay, so I combined it with one of the stronger hives a few weeks ago.This was done by placing a sheet of newspaper over the strong hive and placing the weaker brood box on top of it.it only took a few days for the bees on each side of the paper divide to chew through the paper and mix their pheromones together.Every bee other than the queen will only live for about a month so it’s best to utilise them as best you can.There is not much point allowing them to dither in a weak queenless hive to slowly die out or end up with a worker bee laying unfertilised eggs or only male drones. If that was the case the hive will die aslow death .
All my hives….and at one point they had built -up to eleven of them, originated and developed from one single strong queen and her small colony in a five frame correx nucleus box. From that small beginning , via swarming and splitting over the seasons, the number of hives grew. Bees will make more bees. Some were better than others ; some were weak and some were strong.Each hive had a different temperament ,dictated entirely by the daughters or grand -daughters of the original old original queen.Sometimes a virgin queen would not mate properly when it went out on its maiden flight or would become disorientated and be lost returning home , or picked off by birds whilst attempting to return to its own front door, after her maiden -flight. Sometimes the hive bees will not accept the new queen because she has some genetic problem or will not lay sufficient numbers of eggs. In cases like that they might begin to make new potential queens in peanut-shaped queencells..They’ll do that in any case when the colony has evolved sufficiently to divide and swarm. The first queen to appear after a swarm will kill all the other virgin queens in their sleep or fight them to the death if they have birthed at the same time. Usually two queens cannot live side by side although it might sometimes happen with a new daughter and a failing mother.Sometimes they can fatally destroy any future by killing each other and leaving a hive without any viable queen .As far as a rule book is concerned , you might as well tear it up, for they make their own rules constantly. There are so many variables involved. If the current hive inhabitants don’t like the new queen they can easily “ball her” and sting her to death which is why it’s best to introduce her slowly and in a protective cage.These female bees…..and they are all female because the male drones cannot sting … police their territory with an iron fist and usually bode no invasion or intrusion.
. The bottom -line is that to make viable queens, the queen must lay fresh young eggs that the nurse and worker bees can feed with that magical royal jelly . They only do that if they positively need a new queen and they “know” that the current queen is preparing to leave them forever in a swarm. If the new brood is all already capped -over and locked in , there will be no new queen to command the hive and that can spell disaster. The notion to make a new queen has to occur before the very young larva is capped over.
I decided some years ago that there was a limit to how many hives I wanted to contend with.It’s also down to the equipment needed .Every new hive needs more and more boxes , honey supers, new roofs, new floors, queen -excluders, frames for the boxes,wax sheets and so on.All of it has to be maintained and kept in good order. Hives boxes have to be repaired and painted. Old wax has to be cut out and replaced with some regularity. Then there is the element of space to consider, unless you have limitless space.
All the best laid plans change when you begin to see a few losses , of course .In this respect I have been somewhat negligent in bringing -on many new hives artificially. I’ve had my times catching swarms up trees and housing them in new boxes , but this year I am determined to build -up some brand-new nucleus hives from scratch , using my own hive -produced queens .Luckily there is one really strong hive working away at the moment .For whatever reason, this hive is building up much as the huge hive last year did so successfully so I’ve been keeping a very close watch on it. It is stuffed full of bees and is growing over two brood boxes. It’s bound to prepare for swarming at some point , so productive is this queen.I intend watching very carefully for queen cells and using any I find to produce as many new nucleus hives as is possible .With that in mind I’ve been busily building new five -frame nucleus boxes and box-top feeding boxes with little screened feeding ladders, to be in readyness to introduce these potential new queens. I also built roofs using used aluminium litho printing plates which I’d bought as a job-lot off Ebay. It’s amazing to see what damage the elements , birds and various winged creatures can do to the best -painted wood.If it goes to plan and the new queens are in turn as productive as their mother, these small nucleus hives will grow and eventually inhabit larger brood boxes and I’ll have several strong new hives by next year with fresh new queens. This current big hive should also bear splitting into two new hives to avert swarming.If they keep up their surge and I also get some of their extra honey this year as well , that’ll be a bonus.
The new queen which arrived in the post is essentially my back-up in case those best-laid plans should go amiss.Yesterday , before the rain came back I installed her into a new experimental poly nuc box.I had taken two frames of brood from the strong hive .I couldn’t find that particular box’s queen because she wasn’t marked and there were such a lot of bees, but I’m hopeful that she is still with her original colony.I added a frame of honey and a frame with some coloured pollen from one of last year’s hives and placed the new queen and her attendants inside their cage between the two frames of brood and nurse-bees in the new nucleus box. The introduction cage is stuffed at one end with sweet fondant candy and the bees inside and outside should eat through that within a few days while the new queen’s pheromones waft through the nucleus. By the time they have eaten through, the new queen will hopefully have gained acceptance and the new nucleus will be on its way.That’s what should happen but in Bee World that is not always the case, no matter what the books might say. When you look at videos of unprotected apiarists , I have to laugh.They wouldn’t do that with any bees I’ve ever had. A queen is a asset which can cost about £40.00.but I’ve seen them rejected on a colony’s whim.At one time in the past i’ve discovered a brand new queen sitting forlorn and helpless outside a new hive….in abject rejection, her neat little painted dot winking in the sunshine!
In the meantime , The plan is to watch out for peanut -like queen-cells and signs of swarming in the other hives and when I see any I’ll cut them out singly or simply install the frame or frames where they’ve been built into a new nucleus box or several boxes with some brood and bees and hope for the best.Given that each queen cell is potentially valued at around £40.00, they are more valuable than even the pots of wild honey they make, when you think about it.
That’s the real politics….the politics of the beehive.
Post Script: I just now checked to see if the new queen has been released.She has. I’ll the new box for a week or so before looking to see if she survived or not.They’ll only blame her if there is any further disturbance to the shape of their lives.So it’s game on ….watch this space.