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Ross’s Bee Journal, #11: Thelonious Monk Has No Queen

June 2, 2008

It’s not for lack of trying, on their part and ours. T. Monk is the hive formerly known as #4. We tired of trying to keep the numbers straight (the hives weren’t set out in numerical order) and it would have been too easy to actually put numbers on the boxes. I even bought peel and stick numbers 1 thru 9 for the purpose, then left them in my coat pocket for a year. So our hives now have names.

Monk came through winter pretty strong. This has always been an odd hive, however. We started it two seasons back with frames of brood and eggs from our three thriving packages of 2006, and let them raise their own queen. They did well. The following spring I accidentally moved that queen to a package hive. You may remember the queens from our 2007 packages both froze overnight before they could be released. We gave each package a frame of eggs to raise a queen and Monk’s queen eluded us when we inspected the donor frame, ending up in one of the package hives. So Monk raised another queen last season.

Monk was the hive where drones kept appearing at the entrance well into winter. Lots of bees were present when we did the January feeding. It seemed like their numbers were increasing when we took a quick look inside in March. Still looked good in April when we fed them spring syrup and rotated the boxes. (On box rotation: Over winter, bees work their way from the bottom box up to the top box as they eat their stored honey. In the spring, moving them back to the bottom by rotating the boxes will increase the likelyhood that they’ll use both boxes for brood, as their tendency is to move up rather than down.)

In early May it was obvious that Monk had lost its queen. There seemed to be lots of young bees but no brood, no sign of a queen. And there was a capped queen cell. We had queens on order, but they were not in yet so we thought we’d wait and see if these bees would be successful again raising their own queen.

By mid-May Monk had not re-queened. Either the queen cell was not viable, or the virgin queen did not return from her mating flight. So much depends on a single insect! We got a Kona queen (a Carniolan raised in Hawaii and mated with Italian drones; same type our packages come with) and put the cage into the hive. Checked a few days later and she was not yet out of the cage. When you introduce a queen to a queenless hive it’s best to let the workers gradually eat away the candy that plugs one end of the cage. That way they can get accustomed to her pheromones before she is out of the safe confines of the small cage she travels in.

We gave them a few more days to release her and when we found that she still was not out of the cage I dug out the little bit of candy that remained so she would have a clear exit, then put the cage back in between the frames. We figured by now they should be ready to accept her, it having been nearly a week since we put her in the hive. She should come out and start laying eggs. We did a thorough inspection this past Saturday fully expecting to see some brood. There was no brood. No sign of our $20 Kona queen either.

Possibly, the laying worker that had started producing drones in this hive was given preference over the introduced queen. (If a colony is queenless too long, often a worker will start to lay eggs.) Or maybe they just prefer to grow their own. Who knows what goes on in the hive mind? We decided to give them a frame of eggs and let them try again. But while inspecting F. Fellini we found numerous queen cells. Like 10 or 15. Serious crowding going on there, even though we gave them a third deep hive body a couple weeks ago. So we carefully removed four of them and stuck them onto frames in the Monk hive. If it works, we’ll save some time. It takes 16 days for a queen to develop from an egg. These queen cells were capped (3 of them, anyway) which should shave at least a week off the wait.

We scraped the rest of the queen cells off the bottoms of the frames in Fellini. Found the same conditions in S. Leone, lots of queen cells. This hive had also received a third deep for expansion. But the bees were drawing the comb out all wrong, as if they were living in a tree. We removed the extra hive body from both Fellini and Leone and gave each two honey supers. That should keep them occupied. May yet need to take some frames of brood away from them, and start another colony.

We have seven hives going now for 2008. In the last Bee Journal I said that three of the four we went into winter with were alive, but one of those died some time between the January feeding and the spring thaw. So we came out with two, T. Monk (fka #4) and Miles Davis (fka #1). Then our Italian friend (the one who got us into beekeeping) called to tell us he had to move his bees from the farm he has summered at for several years. He had three hives for us, all strong. These are now called Federico Fellini, Sergio Leone, and Giacomo Puccini.

That makes five. The other two are new packages that we ordered at the last minute, in a minor panic, when we discovered that #5 had died this spring. This was before we knew we were getting three hives from our friend. Janice has taken charge of the two package hives, and they are Thelma and Louise.

Fellini and Leone are cooking. If we can just keep them from swarming they should produce a lot of honey for us. All the rest are still building up, and Monk has no queen (yet).

Ross Thompson

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