The bees’ last chance

An update on the plight of this year’s bees: Those supercedure cells … weren’t. They had drones in them too, but they had fooled me into waiting a little too long to intervene.

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you big fakers.

Last week, out of hope and patience, I found both dud queens and removed them. Eggs kept appearing in Darjeeling, and on closer inspection there were two and sometimes three to a cell – which meant it had been a laying worker all along, and that dang queen never laid a single darn thing. I needed new brood and bees – not to mention queens – fast if either colony was to survive.

But this is prime brood season, as every colony struggles to build up its numbers during nectar flow and right after a really bad winter with lots of hive losses. I called – I do not exaggerate – every single commercial beekeeper I could find within a two hour radius. I emailed the presidents of every single bee club, association, even the bee research lab at the USDA in Beltsville! No one could help me, and I was getting desperate. Looked like I was going to lose both colonies completely and it made me feel sick – the same feeling as watching every single peach sicken and drop last year.

Finally someone put me in contact with a backyard beekeeper in DC who still had some bees to sell. She’s a gal about my age, which is refreshing (99% of the beekeepers I’ve met are older men) and just incredibly knowledgeable. She must have talked to me for at least an hour, really chewing over all my options and figuring out a plan. She put together a 5-frame nuc frame for me, heavy on the brood (I already have frames of honey). The queen was on her own brood so I could see how prolific she is, which was nice; she’s also locally mated and the bees in Maggie’s yard had only 8% winter losses this year, so we might assume that this queen produces stock well-suited for this particular area.

In the end, we agreed that my old packages are doomed. Even if I put in capped brood and open eggs, there just isn’t enough time to raise new bees before the old ones die. The only thing we can try to do now is salvage some of the current worker bees from them and put them to work helping my new nuc.

I moved Darjeeling into the center (ish) of the hive stand and topped it with a sheet of newspaper and then Ceylon. I left a deep box overnight where Ceylon had been to capture any confused, returning workers. This morning I installed the nuc into the box I had been using as a swarm lure – Lady Grey – and topped it with newspaper and the box of Ceylon stragglers. Come Sunday, both combines should have taken. Then I can consolidate populated frames of the two combines down into one box each and do a second-step combine on top of my nuc. The idea is to have one strong colony rather than two weak ones.

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looks like two strong colonies… actually just half of one box.

I’m nervous about putting a laying-worker box on top of a real queen box. What if the laying-worker bees attack my precious new real queen to protect what they think is their own? Beekeeper Maggie says that probably won’t happen, but with my luck… I’m worried. Anyone have experience with consolidating laying worker hives?

4 Responses to “The bees’ last chance”

  1. Ayse Says:

    I’ve had good luck with queening laying worker hives. Sometimes the laying worker will persist for a short while but then the issue stops as soon as there is good strong queen pheromone everywhere. I’ve never had a laying worker hive off the new queen, especially when I do it as a combine rather than a re-queening. (Those are not always successful.)

    So, good advice.

  2. Diana Guillermo Says:

    Great news Ayse! That gives me a little more confidence. There were so many bees coming in and out from both hives today that it was impossible to see the difference in vigor between the two colonies. So sad… but I can always make more splits from a bigger, stronger colony later.

  3. Sam Says:

    I know nothing of bees but I love your bee posts.

  4. Diana Guillermo Says:

    Aw thanks! 😀

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