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Down with the Queen! Rebellion!

Two days ago, on Saturday, I had big plans to add a second deep/brood chamber to the weak hive and possibly add a honey super to the strong hive. As always, things turned out a bit differently then I expected (why do I even ‘expect’ things!? they never turn out true with these little critters!) The adventures of this Richmond Beekeeper continue!

Hive 1 – the Strong Hive

After looking at this industrious group of bees last week, I was pretty sure that we were getting close to filling out the top brood chamber with honey. This was a definite welcome surprise and now puts in place the possibility of actually getting some honey from this hive in year 1, something I had not planned on. Well, I guess I left the possibility open, as I did pick up two honey supers last March, just in case.

So, I popped these gals open and threw my back out! I chuckle about this a bit now, as many folks have always been talking about ‘smaller honey supers’ and such, to protect their backs. I pretty much viewed these comments with disdain and ignored them. As usual, I now have lived to rue those arrogant thoughts. Basically, I checked each frame and we pretty much had about 70% of full, capped honey. In addition, the busy little creatures had either drawn our or begun to draw out all of the other three frames as well (with a good bit of capped honey on them as well.) And so, the goal of getting them a good food supply succeeded!

But, now the concern about them deciding to swarm crept up. These gals were nearly busting out of this thing and had very little room to expand. Two brood chambers full and no where to go! Fortunately, I was thinking this might be the case, so I had my first honey super (w/only 9 frames using a spacer that I purchased) ready to go. But, what was down in the bottom brood chamber? Doubt began to creep into my mind. What if they were already feeling crowded and had started a queen cell to jump ship? What if wax moths or some other nefarious creature of the night had gotten down below and things were not as good as I thought? Only one way to feel comfortable about this – remove the top brood chamber and give the main nest a good look. Well, that sealed my back’s fate for sure.

Up until Saturday, I had not lifted one of those daggone deep’s when it was full of honey. So, when I went to move this thing to place it on my cover (so I could inspect the bottom deep), I was not lifting with my legs like I should have been, but instead with the ole back. And that ole thing did not like it one bit! The back went poing and ole Jonesie-boy said a bad word.

Regardless, I was able to finish the inspection of the bottom deep and was happy to see no queen bee cells. There must have been 20,000 bees or more climbing all over this thing. No stings, but I did think about going to get my bee suit and veil a couple of times. I believe they were a bit grumpy because of the humid, overcast morning and the fact that rain ‘might’ be on the horizon. In the end, I placed the honey super on top of this hive and removed my feeder. The only negative experience with this thing were the several bees that I killed when putting the top Deep back onto the bottom Deep. Those little bees refused to get off of the sides and I probably killed a half dozen of them getting the boxes back together.

Hive 2 – The Weak Gals

With this hive, I was hopeful of putting my second deep onto the hive. After much ado, they appeared to have filled out 6 frames the last time that I looked and (I was hoping) might finally need a second deep to get them going. As always, this hive surprised me (and not in a joyful way.)

Alas, they were still only on 6 or 7 frames and really had not touched the other three (not even the beginnings of drawing out wax yet.) No matter what I do, this hive struggles and I was beginning to give up on trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. Dutifully, I went about inspecting each frame, figuring that I would see something that would once again alert me to some foul invader that I would have to deal with. Instead, I found out that a rebellion was on the horizon!

On the center-most frame, I found a small Queen cup, right dead center of the frame. Of course, my first thought was ‘these daggone things are swarming?!’ I had seen the Queen walking along the frames, so I knew that she was alive. But, there was plenty of room in this hive and they still only had about 3 frames of honey. How could they be contemplating a swarm?! After a few seconds thought, it occurred to me that this was no swarm, but instead a rebellion! Like me, they were getting sick of dealing with a weak hive and wanted a new ruler! They were preparing for what humans call a ‘supercedure’.

To confirm, I called Tom Fifer and he offered some fairly soothing advice. It was definitely a supercedure cell and I could either let them do their thing or I could scrape it off. With option 1, I would suffer the greatest risk. It was late in the year. When this new ruler came out, she would kill my existing, laying (although poorly) queen and go off to mate. If that flight turned sour and she did not return, there would be no time to really get a new queen. The hive would be shot. With option 2, I would need to continue to scrape these things off until Fall, when they would cease this activity and just try to make it through the Winter. Then, if they tried to knock the old queen off in the Spring, I could let them do so, with less risk (more time to get a new queen or let them try to build a second one.) Tom recommended Option 2, as it held the less risk.

In truth, I have followed all of Tom’s advice to the letter. He provides rock solid, no-nonsense advice. The wise man would go with Option 2. But, I am seriously considering Option 1. I have spent the Summer berating myself for not feeding these gals when I first got them, and thus giving them a hard start of it. That was clearly why they were so weak. But, now the troops are hollaring for the removal of their erstwhile leader. They are saying that the problem was not me, but the lazy queen! Should I interfere with this? I am seriously considering letting them do their thing and taking the risk. This would put my new queen coming out in mid-September. Even if she makes her maiden flight, would she have time to build up enough workers to put some stores away (20 days from the middle of September puts us into October!)? What’s the gene pool look like out there in September? Are those lazy, good for one thing, drones still going to be out and about, looking for love?

I, for one, have no idea. I can say that I did not remove the queen cup and have decided to mull this over while I am at the beach. I have a feeling that I will let these bees run the gauntlet and try to get a new queen going. I think that Mother Nature is telling me that this is what these bees need to have a good shot at future success, even though there is a high chance of complete loss. We shall see.

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