Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Bees in bikinis

You remember my checkered past with the queens, right?

Queen #1 flew off.

Queen #2 had to be overnighted to me and installed but then WHOOPS the cork in her tiny cage reset itself in the opening, meaning that she was stuck in there for a week until I opened the hive and released her. Sorry, friend!

Queen #3 is, well, probably dead. And the reason for this post. And the many frenzied phone calls and emails I've placed in the last two days. And the reason why, yet again, I'm feeling like a total hoser when it comes to my bees.

I do hope they don't hate me forever.

Yeah, so I'm really not doing so hot with the queens, so I'm not sure why I was so surprised at my most recent failure: breaking the supersedure cell.

Know what a supersedure cell is? Yeah, I didn't either until two days ago.

See, I went out to check the hive because I'd seen a few drones wandering aimlessly around my yard with fuckered up wings. Like sorta mangly and sad looking and representative of the presence of mites in the hive. A fact that I, initially, freaked out about until I referred to my handy Beekeeping For Dummies book (yes, I love it and I'm not ashamed of it) which stated very clearly that I shouldn't freak out because this "happens" with drone cells in the spring time and to just do a check of the hive and make sure it's not rampant.

So, that's what I set out to do.

Of course, I also set out to sugar the bees again (because that was retarded good fun the first time), except that in all of my OH MY GOD WHAT ABOUT THE MITES frenzy, I totally forgot the damn sugar set up until I was out there with the hive open and the smoke going, so whoops.

Good news was that I didn't see much evidence of mangly wings inside the hive, so at least these poor sad souls escaped the hive to go quietly be eaten by the birds elsewhere on the property.

Also, yes, the damn birds are still picking off my bees. Good times.

But, what of the queen massacre? Let me tell you.

I had just gotten started with the check, so was only a few frames into the top brood box (which used to be the bottom, remember? You remember.) when I was using my hive tool to pry apart the #3 and #4 frame which were stuck together forcefully with propolis and heard an unnatural sounding crack.

Maybe it sounded like cracking into a peanut, I don't know, but it was the sound of me cracking open the supersedure cell that was mounted to the west-facing side of the #3 frame and the east-facing side of the #4 frame.

That gal with her head stuck in there? She's eating the royal jelly. Piglet.

The cell was stuck to both frames, is what I'm trying to say here. So, basically, there was no way I was going to *NOT* damage it, no matter how much of a masterful beekeeper I was.

This is my justification for the ensuing sadness.

And, before I get too far into this post without explanation, I will tell you that a supercedure cell is this peanut shaped cell (thanks to Beaver Creek Bees for that photo) that the worker bees build at the top of the frames when their current queen either dies or starts wandering around all deranged and possibly pants less.

They all huddle up over cocktails (or so I imagine) and decide that it's time to make a new queen to replace the one that's started peeing in the potted plants and eating glue.

Then they climb up to the top of a frame, find a viable egg that looks like she'd fit the soon-to-be-empty crown, and go to work building a nice peanut shaped annex off the frame, with the larvae in the bottom of the peanut and the royal jelly (what the larvae eats to become The Boss Lady) at the top.

16 days later - bam! New Boss Lady emerges and either lays a swift youthful beat down on the old queen who's strutting nude through the hive reciting the TV Guide or realizes that these bees have been queen-free (because the queen died) and gets to setting things straight in the colony again.

Except when the hapless idiot beekeeper, all awash in noob anxiety and Stupid, comes a crackin' into the hive wrecking their future queen in her peanut condo.

Ugh. I suck.

I actually saw the queen at the bottom of the cell - still all white and larvae looking (so, gross, but in a regal kind of way) and the royal jelly at the top of the cell (also kinda gross looking and white like yogurt) - when I lifted the frame out to inspect it.

Sadly, had I approached the hive from the east side, I would have probably (maybe?) seen the cell before slamming in there to *inspect* it and would have left the frame alone.

Maybe. Because, let's face it, I'm still a total noob when it comes to this stuff. But I like to think that from now on, I'll be more careful and notice things like HEY THAT'S A NEW QUEEN LET'S NOT KILL IT.


Also, would have been nice to read some warnings or guidance about this in my bible for dumbasses, but alas, all it did was tell me how to distinguish a queen supersedure cell (because this queen supersedes the old one, get it? I finally do.) from swarm cells, which was also helpful because I had both.

Swarm cells, for your info since I assume you're all interested, are the cells that the bees build up on the bottom of the frames when they're building up ranks to peace out and swarm from the hive. This is not good news and, if found when checking the hive, need to be scraped the fuck off so that the bees don't take off on you.
Hello swarm cell and giant-eyed drone larvae. EW.

Which I did. Scrape them off, I mean.

Though, sadly, I also broke the queen supersedure cell and, regardless of how carefully I sandwiched the frames back together so that the two halves would be a whole again, the nice gal at the bee yard from which I purchased my bees last year told me that she probably wouldn't live.

Which made sense since I saw a bizarre activity going on after I closed up the hive and I'm pretty sure it was the colony bidding a sad farewell to their Killed In Utero queen.

Peace out, mama.

Thus commenced much calling around to Hawaii, of all places, to find a new queen to be shipped post haste so that I could re-queen the hive and hopefully have a decent season that produces enough honey for me to make mead.

Which isn't the stupidest thing I could hope for since, aside from the ritualistic abuse of the queens, which I seem to be ALL ABOUT, the rest of the hive looked decent. Good honey reserves, no ants, no beetles, light on mites (I broke open the swarm cells and found some drones with a few mites, but no mangly winged freaks wandering the hive otherwise), but precious few babies.

Red dot = mite. Also, see the bee larvae? Grody.

This is why I'm pretty sure that good 'ol Queen #2 probably croaked after a year of building up my hive.

Thanks, sister. Sorry I gave you such a rough start.

Let's just hope that the people at Hawaiian Queen *have* received my order (no confirmation email) and my voice mail (no return call yet) and that Boss Lady #4 is on her way to my hive where I will install her WITHOUT leaving the cork in the cage, letting her fly into a tree or smushing her house.

Wow. If I get any honey from these ladies, I'll be lucky if it's not spiked with arsenic. And, really, I'd probably deserve it.

1 comment:

  1. Gurrrrrls in Surfboards... (Thanks for planting that song in my head - Ahem!)

    Okay, I am soooo glad to be living the Beekeeper's Life vicariously because - honestly? - it seems like an awful lotta damned work!

    I'm still keeping an eye on our Mammoth Pepper Tree, out front, to see if the "natural" hive (from whence I shall never collect honey) is coming back. I do see bizzy buzzers out in the garden, so that's all I care about!

    Annnnywaaaayyy... Good Luck with getting your Hawaiian Queen!

    You don't suppose she'll make you Mai Tais? (I think you deserve one!)

    WV: iticatin - sounds like something the bees do when they're makin' babies


[2013 update: You can't comment as an anonymous person anymore. Too many douchebags were leaving bullshit SPAM comments and my inbox was getting flooded, but if you're here to comment in a real way like a real person, go to it.]

Look at you commenting, that's fun.

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Sucks, right?

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