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A New Queen In A Week (Twice now!)


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For the second time in our short career as novice keepers, this happened: This time we caught and hived a swarm and verified that it was queened. It was active unless the weather turned ugly and through a patch of that weather a fortnight ago went quiet-ish. I took a grubber down to the apiary to create a new pad in case of further swarming and cut the grass around the swarm and the other hive on site. As soon as I began the earthworks though bees emerged from the swarm hive en mass and went for me. I retreated and picked out the stings. then went carefully back. The swarm wasn't having a bar of that so I went and suited and opened their hive. No brood, about six frames of bees left from the swarm that started out as a three-quarter box full, and no queen or queen cells found.

I swapped two frames of capped and uncapped brood and some tiny grubs from the neighbors into the swarm box and marked my notes to come back the next weekend, eight days later, to look for cells. That was last Saturday. On approach there was more activity at the entrance and they would crawl over my hands, nice and docile. Inspection found very fresh brood and more fresh bees, and a gorgeous queen! Oh, and four empty queen cells on one of the frames swapped in. Hatched-out bees were making up numbers but definitely more on the way.

The first instance of these express delivery queens happened when we were first year keepers where a grumpy barren hive was inspected for AFB a week later and was queened and had brood. It's enough to make a guy a Believer!

Either that, or I need some whole-lot-better glasses. We'd love to hear from the Clever Ones whether there is an alternate way that a hive can obtain a queen as we have twice now had no queen cells observed and a week later a laying queen.

 

Cheers,

Suse and John.

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None of my captured swarms have ever left again. 

Without that information I can give you some possibilities but not tell you which one it is.   The swarm came with a virgin (the most likely) The swarm came with an old queen that took

I hived a swarm last weekend in a nuc box. I went back this morning to pick it up. The nuc was empty.    I have noticed that there is no hard and fast rule with swarms . Sometimes virgins, s

1 hour ago, The Frasers said:

Oh, and four empty queen cells on

Empty as in formed but with no grub, or ripped open, or hatched ?

I'm thinking there was a virgin in the swarm? and those 2 weeks of cruddy weather was enough to send us all grumpy. Unless you fed it- they were probably hungry.

 

Thays my tuppence. Now to wait for the Clever ones  answers..... 

 

 

 

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Thanks for that, Mummzie. The queen cells were textbook cups all nice and smooth inside and with an even rim. Not looking chewed, no raggedy bits.

The frames that went into the box with the swarm were drawn comb and foundation but only about one full frame equivalent of stores. Something in the order of four drawn frames in the center, one partly filled stores frame outside that each side, and then two foundation frames outside each side. Which as you point out was a rotten trick because they would naturally chomp through the stores PDQ and not be bringing much home. Lesson learned.

The idea of a virgin queen disappearing to mate over that week had occurred after this question was submitted. We'd put a plastic excluder under the box to stop them swarming again (forgot to mention) but a skinny-Minnie virgin might still have wriggled out? That excluder was removed the day the hive was inspected and found queenless. She would have been able to return all fertile and get back in a week later to be found laying. Another lesson learned: -excluders are not the best way to keep a swarm from going again.

 

We'd welcome the Clever Ones' comments, and finger-wags. One can never stop learning.

 

Thanks.

Edited by The Frasers
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1 hour ago, The Frasers said:

Which as you point out was a rotten trick because they would naturally chomp through the stores PDQ and not be bringing much home. Lesson learned.

 Should a swarm be fed?  The swarm heads off with full bellies and expects to fend for itself. Some feel a swarm should be housed on foundation so they use up their stores making wax rather than feeding brood, as a means of reducing the risk of AFB. In better weather conditions the swarm would have established house and foraged. 

 

One of several opinions- this is beekeeping after all. 

2 hours ago, The Frasers said:

The idea of a virgin queen disappearing to mate over that week had occurred after this question was submitted. We'd put a plastic excluder under the box to stop them swarming again (forgot to mention) but a skinny-Minnie virgin might still have wriggled out?

sure could have. 

would an excluder stop a swarm leaving?

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You left out some critical information. Which is, how long had the swarm been in the hive before your eventual inspection finding the laying queen, and, on day which of that was the excluder placed and on what day was it removed. And, are there other hives nearby and are they queenright or what?

 

Once we know that, a little bee math will be able to tell you what happened.

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Without that information I can give you some possibilities but not tell you which one it is.

 

The swarm came with a virgin (the most likely)

The swarm came with an old queen that took a while to get started laying

You did not see eggs even though some were there.

A queen was unknowingly transferred to the hive when you gave it brood.

A queen drifted from a nearby hive.

 

I have seen every one of those scenarios, they all do happen in real life.

 

Re the empty queen cells, they are not the reason for the new queen. Because you found them 8 days after placing the brood, that is not long enough for the bees to build queen cells and have them hatch and produce a new queen. Unless they were already started, but not noticed, when you transferred the brood. But they still did not produce your laying queen, because even if cells about to hatch had been transferred, it is not enough time for her to hatch, mate, and start laying. Not with our NZ bees anyway.

Edited by Alastair
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11 hours ago, Wildflower said:

Nor mine. 😊

I hived a swarm last weekend in a nuc box. I went back this morning to pick it up. The nuc was empty. 

 

I have noticed that there is no hard and fast rule with swarms . Sometimes virgins, sometimes old queens .... how do I know ... mainly because we run our bees lean and mean in the spring and I pick up my neighbours swarms, and he marks them 😘.

The main thing with swarms is that they are something for nothing , and if convenient, I'm happy to shake them into a box and hope for better odds than lotto.

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It’s possible to capture a mating swarm which generally leave pretty quickly, I’ve experienced this a couple of times. 
queenie catches her breath close to the hives on a low branch and attracts a fair collection of bees...

old eagle eyes comes along in his ute “aha, I’ll have you” smacks them into a coreflute box and lets them settle as he works the site.. 

happened to me again the other day.. second hive in had superceded didn’t see the VQ gave a frame of eggs.. about to leave .. swarm vanished from Nuc box sure enough VQ and escorts back at home. 
3 hives in a row today I saw the queen laying eggs as I held the frame.. you do see it occasionally but 3 in a row I’ll take that as a good omen for the honey flow. 

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I've got one yard to resuscitate.  It's struggled all spring. The Kowhai blossom got hit by the frost. The Matagouri got hit by the rain ..... and the syrup went sour.

 

Resucitation yard will get evened up again.  I don't like yards that have strong and weak hives, so we take from the strong and give to the weak and end up with an average and then plonk them somewhere with a later flow.

Queen less hives get brooded up with four or five frames of sealed brood  ..... and marked for interest's sake to observe how nature takes its course with raising their own queen.

 

After that, it's every man for himself.

 

 

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Alastair, in reply to your math questions, the swarm was seen to have a small-ish red-ish active queen when boxed from the Ivy hedge it settled on and she was last seen heading up the side of the box toward freedom before the boxes were lidding. (A three-quarter box of assorted frames was given them with an empty FD on top as a "funnel". A hive mat being used as a lid was slid almost closed and the few stragglers outside crawled in. That done they were sealed up for a short road trip to their new home in the early evening. The excluder went onto a Hive Doctor base and the boxes on top with a proper roof. Next evening a bee escape was installed between the two boxes, no queen in the top box (checked) and the following evening the empty top box removed. No further inspection done then. We don't know enough yet about how soon to disturb newly hived swarms!

Fast forward two and a half weeks and the hive was found grumpy and aggressive and when inspected was queenless with a lot less bees. And no eggs, brood or queen cells seen. The excluder was removed then. That was also when the two frames of grubs and brood were moved in from the other hive mentioned below. We'd hoped the remainder of the swarm might rear a new queen. As mentioned, no swarm queen cells were noticed on any frames, but that doesn't mean they weren't missed.

There is another hive two metres away, queenright throughout and doing well. The brood donor hive.

Our best uneducated guess was that the swarm queen was a virgin, that she escaped and mated, and returned to lay after the excluder was gone. The weather here has made regular inspections in the evening after work really difficult this month. Pick your weekend.

From a lay-person's observation, the queen we have now is plumper and a darker shade of brown than the recollection of the swarm queen was. Do queens darken when they have been, you know, mated? Just asking.

 

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The virgin queens catch my eye by both their unsettled speed on the frame and also their reddish colour settling down to a golden plump Beauty following some laying. 
Freshly mated queens can appear skittish and speedy like a VQ for a few days until they settle often mimmicked by the bees behaviour (speedy unsettled) best to not disturb at this time. I generally leave alone and mark them on the next visit after checking the pattern. At times you may see mating “sign” protruding from the VQ which the bees will sort.. Have seen the poor drones bits extracted from the Q by the beekeeper before with no apparent issues but I’d leave nature to sort. 

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Also, if you saw the queen when you hived the swarm, one way or another it must have got into the hive because if it had not, the bees would not have stayed, with a good hive nearby.

 

Even mated queens will often shrink right down in preparation for flying with a swarm. Not always, but sometimes. You can look at them and think they look pretty pathetic, but next time you see them they are big and fat.

 

Can't say if it was a mated queen or a virgin. A ratty old mated queen can sometimes take up to a couple of weeks to start laying after swarming. On the other hand if it was a virgin, removing the excluder 2 1/2 weeks after hivin g the swarm was probably just within the time window she has to mate. So, could have been either or.

 

After queens mate, they usually appear a little lighter in colour, purely because they get a lot bigger and their pigment is spread thinner. But as they age they tend to darken a tad. Your queen may appear a different colour due to sun, or absense of it, at the different times you have seen it.

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Thank you all, lots of useful information there to store away. The "queen had gone" theory centered around the factors of the excluder under the hive as a way to prevent the bees leaving again still allowing a skinny queen out? and that after they attacked me for the grubbing there wasn't a queen in the hive anywhere. Three passes of frame examination in a three quarter box makes us pretty sure, and the bees were noisy and bumping us throughout. -What there was left of them from the original swarm numbers that is. Then the next weekend they were queened and had fresh brood and their numbers were climbing again from the hatched donor frames. And they were docile again and would allow handling.

This has been a really useful discussion. Bees are fascinating creatures that play by the rules it seems, but still have curve balls in the cupboard to throw. All's well that ends well we say.

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It is also possible to inspect the colony while the VQ is taking her orientation or mating flights concluding the colony is QL on inspection at that time and they can also be quite fizzed up at this time. 
There are so many complex factors involved in a colony and their Queen that keeps it interesting and fascinating however the key is timing. 
 

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