My two colonies had been doing very well until one (the package I purchased this spring) began declining in population. I noticed it happening but was too busy to inspect for a problem at the time, and before I knew it 4 weeks had gone by without opening up the hive to see. Sure enough, no eggs, no larva, very little capped brood, and no queen in sight and too late in the evening to do anything about it.
The very next day, I took a frame of eggs, larva, and capped brood from my strong over-wintered hive and gave it to the weaker one, hoping this would tide me over before the workers decided to start trying to lay themselves. Searching ever harder for the queen I came across frame after frame of supercedure (emergency queen) cells, all of which appeared hatched out of or in waiting of an egg, but one very tiny one was sealed closed. And then I found her, the queen! She was in there afterall. And she even appeared to be dipping her bottom into a cell or two, but when I looked I saw no egg. Maybe she is a brand new queen just starting to get the hang of laying, she seemed large and slow like she had been mated. I decided, satisfied for the moment, to close up the hive and wait a couple weeks to check back in on her.
I’d been planning on replacing this queen from the beginning with this hive, since they were from Georgia and my goal is to keep local honey bees, and had been on a waiting list for a special “ankle-biter” queen from Meghan Milbrath. This ankle-biter queen has special genetics to help protect against the mite known as varroa destructor, the very mite that took down three of my colonies over the winter. The funny thing about the timing of all of this is my ankle-biter is ready to be picked up! So today, nearly two weeks after I found the queen in my weak hive, I tasked myself with searching for her again to capture her and allow the hive to be queen-pheromone-free for at least 24 hours. This will allow the bees to recognize that they are queenless and hopefully cause them to accept more willingly this new special queen that I am bringing them home tomorrow night.
The weather was lousy today, raining off and on, and super windy, not the kind of day you would plan on opening up your hive to the elements, but I was determined to do my best for these bees in preparation. Frame after frame, I did not see the queen. I began having to double-back over frames and brood boxes I already searched, excitedly finding some 3-day old larva, still not seeing any eggs but it was very overcast and dark that they had to be there if I was seeing 3-day-old larva, and I finally found her in the second story hive body closer to the last honey frame on the end. What in the world was she doing there?
Finally locking in on her, I now came to the part that I was anxious for – capturing her, marking her, and caging her. Many beekeepers kill off the queen when they go to replace her, but I figured I might as well practice capturing her and marking her, and somehow getting her to go into that tiny hole in the queen cage so she doesn’t go to waste. The whole process went very smoothly I could hardly believe it! First, I trapped her against the honey comb frame that I had found her on, with the plastic queen marking cylinder cupped over her. Then, I proceeded to slide very carefully the cylinder with her in it against the honeycomb surface, pressing too hard that I was accidentally uncapping some honey at the same time. I think the hard part for me was trying to get her to travel higher into the cylinder away from the opening and also trying not to injure her, all while holding the frame in my other hand – it was more of a patience and juggling game, and she eventually explored the top. Then, I quickly and clumsily took the plunger and pressed it into the cylinder halfway so I could leave her for a bit and start closing up the hive, it had begun to sprinkle very lightly. Once was all closed up, I found my never-before-used blue queen-marking marker and carefully plunged her closer to the grate at the top of the cylinder and dotted her back through the holes. Lightly blowing on her blue dot to help it dry, I began thinking about how I should have a few attendants with her, surprisingly none made it into the marker trap with her. For why, since I have no plans of selling her? Well, I suppose it’s for a bit of practice as well. And I don’t know, maybe I’ll take her with me to Meghan’s in case she has a use for her or knows someone who could use her.
I took this video of the queen in her cage with an attendant, their behavior got interesting where the attendant began feeding her as they appear with arms locked on each other and tongues a-lickin’: