The case of the disappearing queens

We just can’t seem to hold on to our queens this year. No sooner has one emerged than weeks of rain follow preventing her mating, or we inherit a new queen but she turns out to be poorly mated, or our nice new mated queen, who has been laying as efficiently as a German train, simply… vanishes. It’s getting hard to remember all their names!

Two weeks ago we inspected our new queen Neroli’s hive and she was laying brilliantly. Yesterday we looked in expecting to find more evenly laid biscuity brood; and instead found two capped queen cells. Her mother swarmed at the end of May, leaving behind orange Neroli, who by early June was mated and laying. Her hive is still too small to be swarming though, so why the queen cells? It was me that inspected Neroli’s hive, and I have a suspicion that I may have accidentally squashed her. We’ll never know for sure, but the timings point that way… if they started making the queen cells as an emergency measure after a queen-squashing two weeks ago, the new queen/s should emerge very soon, as queens take 16 days from egg to hatching. The break in egg laying will set the hive back 😦

Emma inspecting Neroli’s old hive. Love her pink gloves contrasted with the green trees.

They’re still very calm bees.

Dismayed, next we turned to Ginger’s hive. She was a New Zealand queen flown over this year; her hive was donated to us to look after about three weeks ago. Sadly we noticed a lot of drone brood being laid. There are rumours that bad weather in New Zealand this year has caused a lot of their queens to be poorly mated. Two weeks ago we spotted two charged queen cells in her hive, and marked the frame with drawing pins. During yesterday’s inspection we noticed one queen cell empty, and the other still capped but roughed up at the end, as if it might have been stung through by the emerged queen. We also spotted a very small ginger queen running around! We have yet to name her. Let’s hope she mates well.

Mmm honey…

So sweet…

The winter bees will get to taste the summer as they huddle through the dark days.

Bits of the weekend – a few photos

Clover is out. The red clover above is usually not appreciated by honey bees as the flower is too long for their tongues to reach its nectar, but it is by longer-tongued bumbles. Clover does best on a chalk soil and requires several days over 22C (71F) before it begins to yield. The honey is water white and has no flavour except sweetness; pollen load brown (info from Ted Hooper, Guide to Bees & Honey, p222).

Hens!

Ealing beekeeper Elsa Pawley kindly showed Emma and I her happy hens.

Foxgloves in Richmond Park, or Witch’s Glove, Dead Men’s Bells, Fairy’s Glove, Gloves of Our Lady, Bloody Fingers,  Virgin’s Glove, Fairy Caps, Folk’s Glove, Fairy Thimbles, Lion’s Mouth, Fairy Fingers, King Elwand, Foxbell, Floppy dock, Flowster-Docker,  all names they were also called in the past… as explained in this brilliant post ‘Wild Foxglove: The Magic and Medicine of Digitalis purpurea‘, by Pomona Belvedere. Toxic but pretty.

Blueberry French Toast. One of the most decadent of breakfasts.

If we get two new queens in both hives, Emma calculated that makes a total of seven queens between two hives so far this year. Can anyone beat that?!

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper living in Ealing, west London. I have been keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary since 2008 and created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully - future successes. Busy taking the British Beekeeping Association module exams too!
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29 Responses to The case of the disappearing queens

  1. That’s a real shame. I am also concerned about how much honey my hives are going to make this year after the swarming of seven weeks ago. Let’s hope we build strong hives for next season!!

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  2. Bruce says:

    Hi, It sounds like your weather is much like ours in Vancouver. Since February we have had temperatures 4-5 degrees celsuis below normal, tons of rain and wind and a distinct shortage of sunshine. Consequently our bees are a least a month behind schedule in brood and honey production. Hopefully summer will arrive soon and your queens will behave themselves.
    P.S. If you include the swarm I caught last week I have gone through 4 new queens in my 3 hive setup.

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  3. I once accepted a gift of a New Zealand queen. It set my beekeeping back by about 5 years! They filled 2 brood boxes and 3 supers and still had a bee-beard at the entrance. They were as gentle as flies. They produced queen cells and I harvested them to re-queen a number of my hives. Next year and following years I noticed a sharp deterioration in temper of hives in the area as the drones had done their work. All that extra honey? They needed feeding!

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    • Emily says:

      Interesting. My worry is that they’re not good at overwintering. Our dark bees have always got through the winters well. Prolific queens also mean more varroa, so perhaps there are some health benefits to smaller hives.

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  4. I need to get out and look at mine again. I can NEVER find my queens, I just look at their work, so far they are doing well. Though lately i have seen a few drones at the entrance and that is unusual for my lot. I wish ,wish you two were not across the sea. I would love someone who knows as much as you to look at my hives one day and talk to me about things. c

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  5. Oh, Emily. It is so sad about Neroli. However, going through my camera archives today I found the video that I took of the last inspection of Neroli’s hive showing her running around on the frame and being put very carefully back in the hive, so I don’t think you could have squashed her! This may be another mystery of our failing queens this year. Really hoping July to September will be good weather to help our bees build up strong for winter 😦 What bad luck, but that can only mean next year will be better! 🙂

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    • Emily says:

      Phew, it would be awful if your video captured me squishing my thumb into her! Even so, I wonder if she might somehow have got rolled against the frames. Unless she suddenly came down with some mysterious regal disease. Yep, surely next year can only be better!

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      • Anything’s possible, we’ll never know for sure. I remember now my first year with Ian’s mentoring. He would always make me find and cage the queen, then put her back after the inspection to be sure she wasn’t rolled or squashed. I’ve not seen other beekeepers do this but it couldn’t hurt to try and we would become super-good at catching queens 🙂

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  6. hencorner says:

    I’m still on last year’s queen!

    But I’m hoping to make up a nuc or two soon….

    Fab to see this wonderful blog recommended in the great new bee keeping book, From A to Bee by James Dearsley – Congratulations x

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    • Emily Heath says:

      Expecting my copy of James’s book through the door any day now! To be honest all I had to do was reply to James’s post asking for blog addresses, but it was very nice of him to list it in there!

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  7. willowbatel says:

    I started with one hive this year and so far have three. The bees made over a dozen queen cells, and swarmed despite being without a queen for two weeks. I got two new queens, and after last weeks swarm i should have another within a week or two. So. 1 hive split once and then swarming, and the first split swarming for a total of 4 queens, though the 4th split (and my original queen) got away from me.

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    • Emily Heath says:

      You know what it’s like too then – nerve wracking! Would be fine if we had sunny skies for the new queens to mate in, as it is they’re going to have to dodge the rain drops.

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      • willowbatel says:

        Yes! We had a week of rain when the queens should have been out mating. Even though both queens are laying properly I’m still concerned about whether they mated with enough drones. And naturally the queen that stayed behind to head the parent colony took longer than usual to start laying.

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  8. milapostol says:

    I’m sorry to hear about all the queen troubles. I’ve been hearing about queen weirdness on this side of the world too.

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    • Emily Heath says:

      Thanks Mil, seems like it’s been a weird season for a lot of people, weather extremes all over the place. By the way I just tried to leave a comment on your latest blog post but got a ‘404 page not found’ error message when I tried to do so.

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  9. Anna says:

    It’s incredible, isn’t it? I’ve read on the bee forums that quite a few beekeepers are experiencing frequent supercedures. For Connie’s hives, she’s had five queens so far. I hope you have success with these queens.

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    • Emily Heath says:

      Five queens – oof! The bee inspectors here are reporting queens failing more often. They mention viruses associated with varroa as a possible reason, and perhaps the drones are not what they used to be either.

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  10. Mei says:

    in our case we keep catching the swarms of the old queen (from last year!) – so far she has swarmed twice and the new queen she left behind – well she’s swarmed too, and this within a few weeks of starting to lay brood between May and June. We think that although they’re yellow bees, originally of Italian stock, somewhere along the line they’ve mated with a few Carniolan drones.

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    • Emily Heath says:

      Great to have another London beekeeper commenting! I’ve started following your blog. Looks like we went to the same Bee Health Day workshop at Roots & Shoots recently. Queens are being very troublesome this year, interesting that yours was lucky enough to find some Carniolan drones.

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  11. Hi Emily,
    I can now announce that I am a Proud Dad of two hives. It was hit and miss for seven weeks, but all looks good now.

    Lots of ups and downs with this beekeeping. I wrote a page about why I got into beekeeping and it’s still very much valid. I like the complexity and the challenges and the getting back to nature.

    Keep us updated with progress.

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  12. Sorry to hear about the queens, but if the last time I met up with some East Anglian beekeepers (afew weeks ago) is anything to go by, things are pretty rough up and down the country. I am hoping to find out what my queen situation is like on the weekend.

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