Tuesday, August 18, 2009
BREAKING NEWS: MY QUEEN GOES ON STRIKE!
So it looks like my queen is on strike. Yes, that's right, on strike. While the rest of her children are working like...well, bees...it looks like she has shut down production.
On Friday, I decided to swap out hive-top feeders. I have two feeders, and I wanted to put a clean one on top of the hive since I had dead fire ants in the old one and they were glued by the sugar syrup to the bottom. And while I was in there, I decided to see how things are going in the hive, an inspection since installing the second deep brood box a week ago. So I fired up the smoker and went to work.
The girls were already drawing comb in the second brood box, and what they had made so far was filled with clear nectar. So after picking out a few frames, I took the top box off and got down into the lower brood box and started from the end. The end frame, or the wall frame, was new -- I swapped that one and another from the new top deep hive which had no drawn comb. I did that so the girls would have something already drawn to work with in the top box and maybe work a little faster upstairs.
In the bottom deep body, as I went frame by frame, I found honey near the tops of the frames, some nectar in other cells, pollen, and something that perplexed me. I found clean cells, lots of open and clean cells, but no eggs. I looked and looked, went through the frames carefully, but still saw no eggs. I had no clue what was going on, but I looked carefully and was even wearing my reading glasses, but still no little white eggs. And no queen either, she was nowhere to be found. I was interested in finding her, but the more I manipulated the frames, the testier the girls got, so I closed up and said I would try to figure something out.
I had a hard time sleeping on Friday night. I just knew something was amiss, and that the queen was possibly dead -- but just what was wrong, I didn't know. So I decided to go back into the hive and see if I could check for eggs again and look for the queen to see if she was there. I must have missed some things.
So Saturday afternoon, I fired up the smoker again and took the top deep completely off because I had decided to just concentrate on the lower box. So I started with the wall frame, no eggs. Second frame, comb with nectar and some honey, no eggs. Third, fourth and fifth frames, I found comb, some honey and nectar -- but no eggs at all.
But as I pulled the sixth frame out and was looking at all of the clean cells, BINGO, I saw her, the queen! The little green dot on her majesty's back was showing as she scurried across the frame, then under it, and then on the back side of it. I watched her carefully. She looked fine. Wings were fine, she was moving fast so her legs must be okay too. She had no visible signs of injury, at least from the outside. So I figured that it must be something internal. Did she become infertile for some reason? Did the foragers bring something like a poison into the hive to cause her to shut down? Or is it...dare I say it...something going on in her head? I guess the possibilities are endless and I'm no bee expert.
After posting the delimma on the Bee Source forums, I got all sorts of theories from beekeepers as to the situation. No one really had a definitive answer, but several said that I need a new queen as soon as possible. And I agreed, if she's shutting down in mid-August, the colony will die out before winter, and I'll have to restart the whole process in the spring. After babying this colony along since June, that's the last thing I want to happen. I just hope that they won't swarm anytime soon. I know that the queen shuts down before they swarm, but for the life of me, I don't know why they would swarm now. But what I hope and what they do are two different things.
I called Jack Tapp, the owner of Busy Bee Apiaries in Carrboro (and a super nice guy) and I asked him if I needed a new queen. After describing what was happening, he told me to hold off on requeening -- and to call the state's apiary inspection service to have an inspector drop by. Jack told me the inspector would do a thorough inspection, possibly diagnose any problems, and check for varroa mites too while he was there.
So then I made the call and spoke to Donald Hopkins, the inspection supervisor for North Carolina Apiary Services -- a division of the state's agriculture and consumer division -- and he's coming up on Wednesday to inspect my hive. He was really nice on the phone and said he will be glad to check it all out. That will be a huge help to me since I don't have the luxury of a "mentor" in my beekeeping, its just me and my books and what I learn from the Internet and advice from others. I'm thankful he can make the trip here to see what is going on in this hive.
Other than her majesty going on strike, everything else looked great. Unfortunately, a few girls got in the way of me putting frames back in place and...I guess you could say...flew off to that great hive in the sky. As careful as I try to be, sometimes there are casualties where the girls got in the way. Before I closed up the hive, mortician bees were already taking the bodies and throwing them out of the front of the hive. They do like to keep a clean and tidy house.
I'll keep you posted on what happens with the inspection. Wish us all luck! And thanks to everyone that's emailed me or posted on my blog. You ROCK!
BEE good everybody!