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Beehive: Hoping a fleeing new queen finds her way home

Brett Kent

I am going to discuss what is current in the honeybee's season in our local area. I am also going to share an experience, which happened to me this week while doing a hive inspection.

First, I thought I would start out with some bee facts. As people approach me and want to talk about honeybees, they are continually amazed at what the bees are capable of. So here we go.

n Honeybees travel up to two miles from the hive to forage for nectar and pollen.

n Honeybee's life span is about 6 weeks in the summer time.

n The average honeybee makes 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.

n The queen bee may live up to 5 years.

n The queen bee may fly up to five miles from the hive while making it mating flight.

n The queen bee may lay 1500 eggs a day.

n Worker bees are all female bees.

n The male bees' only purpose is to mate with the queen.

n The queen bee has the ability to decide whether to lay a fertilized egg, which will be a worker bee, or an unfertilized egg, which will bee a drone, (male bee). The queen decides this by measuring the cell opening with her second pair of legs.

n Honeybees beat their wings 200 times per second.

Ok, there are 10 bee facts, to get us started. Maybe, I will add a few bee facts in the next column too. Now for what's going on in the honeybees season in our local area. The dandelion crop has run it's course and the bees are usually left with a two-week period of depleted nectar resources. In other words, a lack of blooming flowers. Well, that time has past and the honey flow has started. The bees are packing the honey into the supers now. With the rain on Sunday, the flowers should continue to bloom and things are looking very good for the bees, at this point.

Now, I want to share an experience I had while doing a hive inspection last week. As beekeepers, we have to do weekly hive inspections to make sure each hive is doing well. While doing these hive inspections, we look for signs that ensure the queen is healthy and laying eggs.

Also, conversely, if the hive is too robust, there will be signs that the hive intends to swarm, as they become too crowded. Anyway, I was doing a hive inspection and I was noticing that the queen had not laid any eggs, and there was no new larva.

As I looked through each frame, of each box, I noticed that the bees were back filling the brood chamber with honey. This is a significant problem, because it leaves no space for the queen to lay her eggs. I did the hive inspection, and was unable to locate the queen.

I closed the hive up and decided to check it in a couple of days. I returned to the hive, and did another complete inspection. I found the queen on the last frame of the last hive box. The queen looked very nervous and she had a little white thing dragging behind her on her abdomen.

The bees were following her and grabbing at this white thing. I thought to myself, I would pinch her, as she was not laying any eggs. I would add a new queen the following day. Before I could decide on a course of action, the queen just up and flew away. I could not believe it. I have never had this happen to me. I began to think, well nothing lost, I was going to pinch her anyway. I closed the hive up and returned home, planning to introduce a new queen the following day.

Before long, the situation really was getting the best of me. I had to know why that queen flew away, was she sick, were the bees trying to kill her, what in the heck was going on? I called my buddy Gerald, the commercial bee farmer.

I explained what had happened and that the queen had this white thing hanging off her and that she just up and flew away. Gerald laughed and told me that this is not that uncommon. Gerald said that I was right, when I was thinking the queen was not doing well. The only thing was the bees were way ahead of me. The bees in the hive realized the queen was sick and they had made a new queen.

The queen that I saw was the new queen, and she had just mated and returned to the hive. The white thing hanging off her was from one of the drones that had mated with her. The white thing will be absorbed and she will be ready to go in a few days. Gerald said they refer to this as flagging. Well OK, but she flew away. Will she return? Thanks goodness I didn't pinch her.

Oh my goodness, sometimes I just get in the bees way. Gerald laughed again, and told me that just closing the hive up and leaving it alone for ten days, would be the best solution. She will probably return. Oh man, now I am waiting. This bee stuff, it's killing me. lol

Lastly, I wanted to let you folks know that I am in the process of setting up my observation hive. This is a beehive, which has glass sides so you folks can see what is going on in there without getting to interact with the bees. If you want to see it, you can come to the farmers market on Main Street on Saturday June 16. Come see us there, Brenda and I will be talking about bees.