Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Abdication or Assassination?

When last we checked in with the Pooh hive, almost exactly a month ago, things were looking good.  Last weekend when we did our inspection, we thought things looked good then too.  In fact, more experienced beekeepers told us so.

We primarily checked the "new" frames - the ones that were ours, clean, and didn't come with the nuc - during that inspection, and we saw them building out a bunch of comb and filling it with pollen.  As one beekeeper pointed out, pollen is bee baby food, so things were looking pretty good.

And then we looked again this past Monday, Memorial Day.  First, a note that makes me proud of myself.  My brother-in-law was over, so I lent him my gear to wear for the inspection, while I stood just a foot or two away in jeans and a t-shirt, taking photos of the open hive.  Bees buzzing all around me, and I barely noticed.  I'm a beekeeper!

But back to the hive.  We checked the nuc frames for the first time in about two weeks, which is normal, but we didn't like what we saw.

Lots of larvae of varying stages and some capped brood too, but see  how spotty it is?  Kind of like a shotgun effect?  Yeah, that's not right.  It's supposed to be more clustered.  And we didn't see eggs, which isn't good.

Here's a couple of closeups for the curious.

Of course, the first move was to post these photos to our beekeeping group's Facebook forum and get some feedback.  As new beeks, we're not relying solely on our own shaky knowledge.  And the best thing about being a beek is the font of knowledge others are willing to share.

We got some varying opinions - some said we were queenless, some said we had a weak queen.  One said it looked like chalkbrood (it's not) and another that it looked like 100% drone comb and that we'd been sans queen for a long time and things were dire (it's not drone comb and things aren't so dire).  The key is to weed through the varying opinions and information and figure out who to trust.

We did that, and realized we've got a weak or defunct queen.  Not sure which.  I picked up a new queen after work today, and an experienced beekeeper came over to try & find our queen.  When re-queening a hive, the best thing to do is to kill the old queen.  Oddly, though with any other insect I wouldn't think twice about stomping it, the idea of killing our own queen, one of OUR girls, bothered me.  I didn't need to worry.  Yet.  Our experienced beek examined the hive three times and couldn't find her.

So the new queen went in still in her cage, and we're hoping that there's no old queen.  If that's the case, the workers will have time to acclimate to the new girl while she hangs out in her cage.  Tomorrow we need to check again for the old queen.  If we still can't find her, we have to hope she's simply not there anymore.  If we can, an assassination is in order to make room for the new.  Either way, in a few days we have to hope that the girls have worked the new queen out of her cage and accepted her.  If they don't, they'll simply kill her and we'll have to try again.

Wish us luck!

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