Release the queens!

A couple of weeks ago our mentor George came over to inspect all the hives with us. One of our healthy top bar hives, Knossos, had a lot of queen cells. This hive was filled with a Carniolan swarm from one of our April packages. George helped us make up a nuc for the old queen, thus rendering Knossos queenless. We put the queen cell bars together and hoped they would grow themselves a queen.

Another top bar hive, Tylissos, was very weak. Last Saturday we pulled the old queen (she’s in a queen cage), Sunday we introduced the new queen into the hive.

Yesterday afternoon Ted and I went out to check out how she was doing. Ted pulled the two bars next to the one with the new queen cage on it, then the bar with the queen cage itself. We listened closely and did not hear the clicking sound we were told would mean that they had rejected her. The bees on the cage seemed quite calm.

So…out she came! Ted pulled the cage off – the bees had excavated around it so it didn’t take much. The dot Jason put on her made her easier to spot to be sure, but we would have seen her because of the attendants she immediately collected.

See the queen?

See the queen?

While Ted was pulling the bars he remarked that Knossos had a lot of play flights. We thought some brood had hatched. As Ted was admiring the new queen, more and more bees boiled out of Knossos. I said, “You know, I think they’re swarming.” There was an energy to it that was different from anything else I had felt from a hive, building and then cresting. A few minutes later there was no doubt about it as the world filled with flying bees.

Ted quickly but carefully put the bars back in Tylissos, and reported that bees at the entrance of the hive started fanning, another indication they had accepted the queen. I ran into the shop, grabbed the iron frying pan and a hammer, and walked around the swarm, panging. When Ted did this before it may have helped as the swarm (same line!) settled into a low tree. Either I didn’t do it right or it didn’t affect them, because they settled high, high up in an alder tree. We watched them decide for a while, forming strands of bees on several branches – we thought they might have more than one queen. Ultimately though they formed up into a single ball.

Swarm in formation

Swarm in formation

We contemplated buying a thirty foot ladder, but decided against it. Instead we made up a couple of boxes and scattered them around the meadow, baiting them with waxed bars and drawn comb. Ted put new lemon grass oil in the bait hive he leaves out all the time.

While I took pictures of the swarm Ted sat with the hives and called out that he heard queen piping in Knossos. So they hatched more than one queen! I’ll be curious to see how many queen cells hatched and how many were killed by the emerging queens.

I sat between the hives for a while. I didn’t hear queen piping, but I did see one bee fanning in front of Knossos, another indication of a queen in that hive. I also saw a lot of bees around the entrance of Tylissos, making play flights, and going in and out. It occurred to me that Tylissos probably picked up bees from the swarm, because they were swarming just as Tylissos was fanning for the new queen. Talk about timing!

Fanning bee

Fanning bee

I’m so glad I got to experience a swarm! Ted has seen two, this is my first. We ended the day very calm and happy. We had acted to prevent the swarm, we had panged the swarm, we had done everything we could to hang onto those bees, so we could sit back and enjoy the wonder of the swarm without the niggling am-I-a-good-beekeeper? guilt. It is a marvel to behold. Walking around the swarm panging them was a thrilling experience. I felt as if I was inside the swarm itself.

The only thing about leaving the swarm out there was that it felt like we had a baby exposed out in the cold! It didn’t rain last night though and they’re still there today. I hope one of them takes the bait. This is a swarmy line of bees to be sure and that goes down on the line-of-bee assessment list.

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