Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Queen Cups and The Urge to Leave the Hive

I came back from a lovely trip to see my folks and family and found yesterday that the bees had been real busy while I was away. They were feeling cramped and built what are known as queen cups, potential places to raise new queens. If this train of thought proceeds, half the hive can leave with the old queen and the half can stay behind in their newly roomy hive with their new queen (whichever one hatches first and aborts her sister queens). While this is a natural thing, I'd like to keep my bees around by giving them their desired space when needed, but not before. Not quite as easy as I thought!

On advice from more knowledgeable beekeepers, we went back and found the queen in both hives, determining that they hadn't swarmed yet. We then removed the queen cups. Last night, my coworker Bob and I put together frames and hive bodies and Jason and I added the third story to their hive apartment today, interspersing empty frames within their brood nest to give them a roomy feeling but keeping enough brood together so it doesn't catch a chill. The bees need it together so they can keep it warm. Ideally, if we had frames lying around already drawn with wax comb, we would have used those, so the queen could pop eggs right in, but she will have to wait for the workers to build out the cells for her. When I first saw the "swarm cells" I thought half the bees were long gone but my untrained eye can now see they are the eggless, less finished "queen cups".

Images of Queen Cells from the book
The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture
1920 Edition by A.I. and E.R. Root

One of the little queen cups we removed.

Queen cup, view from the bottom

Deceased worker bee

The 3 Bee castes:
  • Queen (1 per hive, egg laying machine attended to by workers, lives longest and stays in the hive after her mating flight or until she dies or the bees decide it is time for her to go)
  • Drone (male, taken care of by female workers, important to the genetic diversity of hives)
  • Worker (female...may have many jobs throughout her life: nursing the young, cleaning the hive, carrying out the dead, and then foraging in the field until her short life expires.)

While we don't see the queen, except for a lucky glance when looking in the hive, we get to hang out with the bug-eyed drones and workers daily. The bees are always about at Garden Dreams, the workers coming and going from the wild overgrown lots of Wilkinsburg were I imagine they are finding food. They love to follow us around when we water the seedlings and suck water out of the soil in the pots. They largely ignore the 5 gallon bucket of water I put by their hive and try to keep pristine for them, complete with floating rafts so they won't drown. They prefer the plant pots. They rest for a bit, preening their antennae after a drink, and then they are off into the distance.

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