What’s going on in the apiary?
So last weekend was the first of the year, really nice, t-shirt sleeves type weather that means you can actually open up a hive and have a real look. Colony 2, my smallest colony which was a late August 2013 swarm have worried me all winter. Due to being a late swarm their numbers were quite small relative to colony 1 which are much larger in size and therefore seemingly more robust. They also entered the hive with not much in the way of stores and so I supplemented them with sugar syrup through the autumn and then fondant in January. However upon opening the hive I was amazed to see not only a hive full of honey (for themselves, hands-off humans!) but also the Queen in full lay as there were four frames of really healthy looking worker brood in all stages of development, eggs, unsealed and sealed larvae. This is exactly textbook and what any beekeeper will be happy to find in their hive in March.
Colony 1, the colony that entered the winter with a brood box and a super full of honey, much bigger in terms of numbers and therefore in theory more robust and with an increased guarantee of surviving winter, are not in such a good state. There are still plenty of stores, plenty of bees, but no worker brood. This means no baby bees being produced, therefore if left to their own devices without beekeeper interference they would eventually die out. What I did find though was sporadic drone brood…..baby boy bees. In the bee world, boys serve little purpose, they are bred to mate just once with a Queen and that’s all they do. They contribute nothing to the daily running of a colony but are a drain on resources as they still require feeding, grooming etc (sound familiar anyone? ;-)
This find implies that I have either a failing Queen, she is no longer fertile and therefore laying drones or even worse the Queen is absent and therefore the ovaries of a few worker bees have been stimulated due to a lack of Queen pheromone in the hive and they are now laying eggs. However they can only lay unfertilised eggs as unlike the Queen they have never mated, therefore producing only drones (boy bees). Right now I am uncertain which scenario we have, failing Queen or laying workers? If the latter there is slim chance of recovering the colony back to a normal state as any introduction of a Queen will see her destroyed by the laying workers. If Queen failure and no laying workers involved then hopefully I can encourage a new Queen to be raised. Really? How?
I have taken (sorry bees!) a frame of lovely healthy worker brood and eggs from colony 2 and placed it in colony 1 to see if they start the process of raising a Queen from the eggs. They will do this if there is no Queen present or in this case a Queen that is not performing well, they work for the greater good i.e. the whole colony. This is achieved by continuously feeding this one egg Royal Jelly and giving it lots more attention.
I will be leaving them alone for a week to see what has happened, fingers crossed they are indeed busy producing a new Queen cell right as you’re reading this! If they are, there is a chance the colony can survive and continue, if they are not then the situation is probably one of laying workers and the colony has little chance of survival. I will therefore unite all but the laying workers with colony 2 to create one very large colony. However fingers crossed for that Queen cell……………