And it was all going so well.

The last time but one I inspected the bees, there were a few queen cells there, which indicated that something was afoot. Exactly what was afoot wasn’t entirely clear. It’s hard enough to read someone’s mind at the best of times, and trying to read a hive mind is damn nearly impossible. For some reason, the bees had decided to create a new queen. This could be for one of three reasons:

  1. There were too many bees in the hive and they wanted to swarm (unlikely because there weren’t enough bees yet).
  2. They weren’t impressed with the existing queen and they wanted to supersede her (unlikely because she was less than a year old and she seemed to be breeding OK).
  3. They just fancied doing it for shits and giggles.

Either way, the correct procedure to adopt in this case is to create an artificial swarm. This is a moderately complicated procedure which involves moving the existing queen to a new hive and then letting the new queen emerge from one of the cells in the existing hive.

The flaw in this is that at the time I still didn’t have a second hive. So I took the alternative approach, which is to break down the queen cells, as described in my last post but two.

Then I bought a second hive and awaited the arrival of the next set of queen cells, which duly turned up by the time the next inspection came along. The problem was that according to the information I had, you needed to have at least one of the cells to be uncapped. We’ll come onto what that means some other time, but basically the idea is that you can actually see into the cell so that you can make sure you really have got a queen on the way. Unfortunately, all three of my new queen cells were capped, so I panicked and destroyed them again.

This was possibly a bad move, because when I inspected them again yesterday, queenie had moved on anyway, to judge from the complete absence of new brood. Worse, there didn’t seem to be any new queen in there either, although there was a new (empty) queen cell. So I was now in the position of having a hive full of queenless bees. Not a good position to be in at all.

So I contacted my friends who live in the village and who know everything there is to know about bees (and who, frankly, I should have consulted when I was considering doing the artificial swarm in the first place). They came over and their first remark when I took the lid off the hive was to the effect that there clearly wasn’t a queen there, to judge from the agitated behaviour of the colony. We went through the hive slowly looking for a new queen anyway, but no-one seemed to have any interest in claiming the throne. We also, incidentally, found a wax moth larva and a varroa mite, along with one or two bees with stunted wings that didn’t look too healthy. That would have to be treated in due course, but the lack of a queen was the more important issue.

At this point, one of my friends took a small plastic box out of his pocket and introduced me to a queen that he’d just happened to have brought along with him. (He called her Gwendoline, incidentally, but I think he calls all his queens that.) If we were lucky, we might just be able to get the colony to accept Queen Gwen in time before the workers started to lay eggs themselves. This was definitely something to avoid, because it cocks up the pheromone balance completely and makes it damn nigh impossible for a new queen to be accepted at all.

So Queen Gwen is now sitting perched in her plastic cage, with a load of fondant stuffed in one end. Once the worker bees have eaten their way through that to release her, with any luck she will have had time to spread her own pheromones through the hive and be accepted. Either that, or they will simply kill her as soon as she gets out. And if there is a new queen already in the hive, then they’ll have to slug it out to see who’s boss. I’ll take another look in a couple of days to see if she’s got out, but nothing more. For some reason, if you go for a full inspection just after you’ve introduced a new queen, they have a tendency to kill her for no good reason.

I’ll let you know what transpires.