Last month Ted and I bought a queen from a line of Vermont survivors (surviving winter and disease). She was mated and was laying very well in her nuc. On July 27 we released this queen into our weakest hive, Tylissos. Ted has been checking the hive often since then. For the last couple of weeks he has been quite concerned: he couldn’t find the queen, he saw only capped drone cells, and he suspected that the hive had gone laying worker.
Yesterday Jason Deal, who runs Star Valley Apiary and sold us the queen, very kindly came over to look at the hive, bringing another queen with him in case the first one had gone missing. The three of us suited up and looked at bars. Then we looked at bars some more. We searched every single bar of that hive three times. We had been out there for the better part of an hour before Jason sang out, “Found her!”
He had a yellow marker with him and dotted her with it. There is actually a color of the year you’re supposed to mark your queens, and this year is yellow. We watched her for a few seconds before she vanished under a mound of bees again.
Jason didn’t see signs of chalk brood, so the new queen’s first-hatched bees look to have cleaned it out, which is nice. There are some eggs and larva in a spotty pattern. Jason had two guesses about why her laying is so spotty. He was able to verify the first guess on the spot by watching the traffic in and out of the hive: they’re being robbed! He showed us how to identify robber bees tentatively slinking into the hive. With stronger hives swiping this one’s honey the queen isn’t getting the nutrition she needs. Guess two: disease. Since this hive didn’t build up in the springtime and had a bout with dysentery, Jason suspects nosema, which may still be present.
What to do about the robbers? We could swap the locations of a strong colony and this one, however, that would risk weakening the strong colony, especially if they have nosema. We could also truck the weak hive to an out yard more than four miles away. We don’t have any outyards yet though. We could just try to strengthen the hive, which is our choice.
What to do about nutrition? We’re going to feed this hive. Now that our big nectar flow is over (blackberries!), Kitsap beekeepers are currently not feeding so the queens will fill the empty cells with their winter bees. In this case though we need to build the colony’s nectar stores back up. Jason recommends feeding 1:1 (1 part sugar to 1 part water).
What to do about the possible nosema? Jason suggested sending a sample to Beltsville.
We’re awfully grateful to Jason for taking the time to check out the hive. He’s a very conscientious beekeeper and queen rearer, we’re extremely lucky to have him.