Maywood is in its glory as the May woods blossom with tulip poplars, black locust, and wild roses. The bees have already had their fill of red maple and skunk cabbage and purple dead nettle, a pretty purple-flowering ground cover that brought in bright red pollen.
Yesterday we went in to the bees for the first time in a month and discovered exactly what we found this time a year ago–queen cells, drone cells, capped brood but no larva, and no visible queen.
A year ago, at the beginning of the rainiest year ever in Maryland, the condition of the hives sent us into a near panic. These were brand new nucs. Had we gotten poor queens–again? We did some quick research and managed to avoid two swarms while getting, in the process, a third hive by creating a split with some frames containing queen cells. What the heck, if it didn’t work, we would still have our two hives. But it did work, and the three hives made it not only through the summer, but through the winter, too! This was the first winter in years that we brought all the hives through the winter.
Last year, the rainy weekends kept us from keeping a closer check on the hives. This year it was a combination of rain, cold, and Mother’s Day that kept us away. At our April check, BeeMan put queen excluders and honey boxes on the three hives, happy that the bees had plenty of room to expand.
Hive A, the only hive with its original queen, had been thriving the least of the three. In April we saw the queen (that I had beautifully marked in green last year!) and lots of active laying, but they had done the least to fill up the hive. So, yesterday, we were dismayed to not find her. Hives B and C had lots of baby bees in progress last month, even though we did not see their (as yet unmarked) queens.
While we inspected Hive A, a queen cell broke as BeeMan pulled out a frame. Out emerged a brand new queen, not that we recognized her at first. She ended up with some other bees in my plastic tub with the burr comb I’m saving. We were almost ready to close up the hive when I got a better look at her.
“Hey, I think this is a queen!”
Sure enough, the young virgin queen with her slender abdomen was wandering around the plastic tub. (Kind of like humans, the women are slender until they get fat with babies and stay that way forever. The queen gets one wild fling a mile up in the air with all the drones she can handle, and then she is just an egg-laying machine, confined to the hive to reproduce for the rest of the life. She doesn’t even get a career.)
The young queen was easy to trap and mark and plop back into the hive. Alas, I still only have the one green marking pen, so both the old queen and the new queen wear green dots. The new queen has a more delicate dot, since I did a better job this year. So, are there two queens in the hive about to fight to the death? Or just the new one? Our next hive check may tell.
Hive B was very active and full and looking more like it wanted to swarm than to replace a queen. The top box was all honey, so we were assured that the queen was in the bottom box when the excluder went on. BeeMan decided to make a split, taking two frames with queen and brood cells, two frames with honey/nectar, and three empty frames to start a new hive. He will add more empty frames soon. There are still queen cells in the original hives but since we did not see the queen, we were afraid to destroy them. He added another honey box so they have more room.
Hive C was also very active and looking more swarm ready. BeeMan, on a hunch that the queen was probably still in there, got rid of all the queen cells and added another honey box.
The advantage of having several hives is being able to try different things and see what works. We learned a lot last year. Let’s hope that we learned enough!