La Historia de Una Abeja

Empty Throne

Readers, let me tell you of my bee woes. One of my hives has been a regular telenovela.

Round about this time last year, we noticed one of our two hives was quiet … too quiet. It turned out as we feared. The whole colony had departed for greener pastures after a wet, cold winter. It was tragic inside the hive. I found several bars of bees frozen in place with a comb full of honey not that far away. I wasn't in the market for a new colony so it just sat there empty.

Well, EcoDaddyo couldn't stand for that so he ordered me a new colony with arrival this spring 2015. After a bit of back and forth with the supplier, they arrived in April. The bees all looked great and raring to go but there was one little problem. The queen was presented to me in a cage without the traditional sugar plug. Normally, the queen and a few attendants are put in a little wooden cage with a sugar plug at one end. If all goes well, you place the queen cage in your newly installed hive where the worker bees smell her enticing pheromones. They eat through the sugar plug, liberate the queen, and by that point everyone is best friends. The queen goes about the business of laying eggs, the workers have some direction in life, and the colony flourishes.

Well, for some reason, this installation did not go well for me. I was completely all thumbs and only managed to get most of the bees in the general direction of the hive after clumsily breaking apart the shipping box. Then came the real challenge. Instead of the sugar plug in the queen cage, I was presented a marshmallow. So all I had to do was pop open the little cork stopper, squash a mini-marshmellow into place while wearing gloves and then hang it and let the honey flow. Well, this worked out about as well as expected. I popped open the stopper and before I could say buzz, the queen whizzed past my ear. I could practically feel a breeze as she went by. Call me gobsmacked. I was so stunned I couldn't do anything for several minutes. The best I could hope for was that the queen would return so I left the hive roof slightly ajar.

Then the next morning, there was a strange clump of bees hanging out on the ground about three feet from the hive. It was a roiling little ball. So to the apiary school of Google I went. No one had a good answer. So I suited up again, scooped up the bee ball as best I could with hope in my heart that the queen was at the center of the mass.

I check them a few days later and there was some comb construction going on but not as much as I had hoped. The situation not looking good, I asked for help from a local friend and experienced beekeeper. He said to put in a bar of brood from my other hive and the bees will create their own queen by feeding a proto-bee royal jelly. Brilliant! Tried it, didn't work.

Then I ordered from an apiary in Texas with the queen to arrive around May 12th. Great! All my problems are solved! Then the floods arrived. After my order, Texas promptly experienced a series of spring storms of such intensity that they took care of the drought that the Lone Star state has been suffering under for the last few years. This delayed my queen's arrival for about a month.

Once the weather lightened somewhat, the apiary gave me a better date on the queen. Now I had to worry about the problem of a laying worker. This is what happens in a "queen-wrong" hive. The assembled workers deem one of their own a queen and she starts laying. Unfortunately, she only lays the good-for-almost-nothing drones. And to make things more exciting, if you try to introduce a new queen, they will attack her as an interloper even though she is the right and true heir to the throne.

Well, the new queen arrived and I tried almost every trick I read about to ease her introduction. I wrapped the (properly sugar plugged) cage in newspaper to slow her introduction, I put in a good does of honey as a bribe, and swapped in two bars of brood from the other hive so there would be some new bees used to her scent. Now I cross my fingers. I keep watching the hive to see if I can sense a renewed purpose in my bees. So far, they just seem to be zooming out on foraging flights as usual. Come on bees! I'm pulling for you!

More Info:

Bee Keeping for Dummies - What to Do If You Lose Your Hive’s Queen Bee