Murder, mayhem, mystery, suspense in the beehive. I killed the queen. Again.

We had our first official visit from the provincial government’s apiculture inspector this week, and one look into my hive officially confirmed that I’m a rookie.
For the second time in as many weeks, I’ve managed to kill my queen.
Or, more accurately, the cranky laying workers in my hive said “off with her head!” to the newly proffered virgin queen.

Jaquie Bunse, bee inspector

Jaquie Bunse, the province’s bee inspector for the Fraser Valley, came over to the apiary on Wednesday to try and help me figure out why I don’t seem to have a “queenright” hive. That’s a term for a hive that has a happy, productive laying queen.
If you will recall, about two weeks ago I discovered my original one had disappeared. She’d been gone for so long – either accidentally killed by my rough handling of frames or from the formic acid treatments I’d done to control varroa mite levels, or because of some other accident – that I had no sign of eggs, open or capped brood.
In an effort to get things started again, I’d swiped a frame of brood from Amanda’s hive and introduced a virgin queen I acquired from a local beekeeper. The hope was that the presence of brood would immediately prevent the development of laying workers, those worker bees that in a last-ditch effort to save the hive’s genetics, start laying unfertilized eggs wherever they can to produce drones to carry on the hive’s gene pool.

Drone comb in a shotgun pattern

I’d hoped the virgin queen would be taken out and mated in that patch of hot weather we had, and that she’s restore the hive by quickly laying eggs. Unfortunately, when I inspected the hive last Sunday I found lots of frames of open and capped brood, but all of it looked like drones shoved into worker cells, a pretty good sign of laying workers. The cells were tall and domed and there was a shotgun look to the laying pattern, rather than the uniform patches of smaller cells that indicate a productive queen.
Jaquie, who has been patient as she held my hand through all these various crises, offered to come over and inspect the hive with the practiced eye of 20 years’ experience.
She could see almost from the start I had problems. The bees were “a bit runny”, a term I found funny. That’s when the workers are agitated and run all over the comb. First sign of no queen.
Every frame she pulled out repeatedly confirmed to her that this was a hive in distress. While she didn’t find any worker eggs, she said the hive was on its last legs unless I could get a new mated queen in there pronto.
While she was here she also examined Amanda’s hive. It’s doing well, full of brood. No queen to be seen, but we found three-day-old eggs, a sure sign Mama was around.
The good news, if there is any, is that we have no diseases. No European or American Foulbrood, sacbrood, chalkbrood or any of the nasties that have been plaguing B.C. beekeepers in this wettest of years. We do have varroa mites, but then there isn’t a hive in North America that likely doesn’t.
At the end of it all, Jaquie pulled out her trusty inspection forms and wrote up what she’d found. How do you like that? Nicest inspection by a government official I’ve ever had.
Jaquie gave me some good advice for how to get rid of the laying workers – and it involves a bit of work. I’ll cover that in the next blog shortly.

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