Wednesday, August 19, 2009

They mystery of the non-laying queen who is laying again! ARGH!

Leave it to me to baffle the expert!

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was completely baffled by my two month old queen who all of a sudden stopped laying eggs. When I say stopped, I mean completely stopped. As I said before, I went in the hive for two days (this past Friday and Saturday) -- and I found no eggs or larvae anywhere. It was like no queen existed even though I found her on my second visit and she looked perfectly fine. I figured it may be something internal -- or maybe, just maybe -- she needed some Prozac. Even though the hive was queenright, something definitely wasn't right.

So to make a long story short, I requested the state apiary inspector to come check my hive and see if anything out of the ordinary was going on -- and today he made the trip to meet my girls and to "counsel" my queen if necessary.

Don Hopkins is the state's chief apiary inspector for the state of North Carolina. Luckily for me, he made it to my house today. He lives and works out of nearby Alamance County, so he didn't have to travel too far to get here. Three words about Don Hopkins: SUPER NICE GUY! I was very impressed with him and his vast knowledge of beekeeping and bee disorders, and as soon as he got out of his truck and shook my hand, I knew I was in excellent hands. And I was even more impressed that he fired up his own smoker and wore a screened beekeeper's helmet hat -- but no veil, no gloves...that was it. Me? I was suited up to the max! But Don's gentleness was obvious because he didn't get nary a headbutt or sting, and used a total of four puffs of smoke for the entire inspection. It was amazing! I would have gotten some pictures but the batteries in my camera gave out and I was out of luck. Oh well, next time.

Don said that overall things looked fine. The girls were extremely well behaved during the whole investigation. They were bringing in lots of pollen, that was obvious by the numerous filled cells all throughout the hive, and they hit a gold mine somewhere...that was evident by the well filled sacs on the legs of several workers who made it back while we were inspecting. They're making comb on the empty frames in both deep boxes and that's because I'm still feeding them sugar syrup. And they've made quite a bit of honey in both the top and bottom brood boxes. So overall, the colony is doing just what it is supposed to and everything looked okay inside. Very few dead bees were on the ground in front of the hive too, Don said those may have been those that died from defending the hive or died when I was in the hive over the weekend.

Now...on to the perplexing problem with the queen who went on strike this past week! I guess you could call it the $25,000 question. When I found her on Saturday, she was in the bottom brood box -- scurrying along like crazy and looking fine. Today, she was in the top box and on a frame that was partially drawn with comb that was about the width of my hand. She was still moving around over the frame at a pretty good pace.

And guess what? Her majesty had laid eggs in all of the cells! No pun intended, but I had egg on my face because she filled all the that comb with all these tiny white eggs -- which honestly caused me some embarassment. But I felt better when Don said it was obvious that she had stopped laying, in his years of experience he could see that she wasn't up to snuff with doing her royal duty. But the question is...why? What made her stop? And what made her return to laying eggs in the last 24-hours. By the way, we found no eggs in the bottom brood box, just what she laid in the top box in the last day. A perplexing situation indeed.

We put out heads together, me being the extreme novice and Don being the seasoned expert -- and we didn't come up with a definitive answer. We both had more questions than answers. Could it have been when I moved the frames from one hive box to another and something upset her balance? Could it have been when I sprayed vinegar around the hive to kill the weeds? Could it have been the powdered sugar dusting to control varroa mites? Could it be the heat and humidity? Could some of the foragers have brought something into the hive? Could it be parasites? Could it be this and could it be that? As I said, we had more questions than answers. Yes, friends...leave it to me to stump the expert.

By the time an hour passed, we had theories -- but nothing we could put our fingers on as the exact cause. We closed up shop and decided to wait her out and see what she does.

As of now, she has one week. On Don's advice, I'll check back in a week and if she is back to normal, then we'll proceed with everyday life at the hive like nothing ever happened. But if she is being spotty or shuts down again, it looks like it may be time for a new queen. I am keeping my fingers crossed that she will move on down in the original brood box and go back to being her old self...even though she's not old...she's ruled this colony for just over two months. But if not, then I'll make the trip to Busy Bee Apiaries in Carrboro to get a new monarch to rule over this hive. Cross your fingers for her. She needs it...and fast.

Until then, I'm checking the colony for varroa mites too. I put some corrugated plastic that's covered in Vaseline under the screened bottom board, and I'll check back in three days to do a mite count. From there I should have an idea of how to treat the girls this fall if they even need a mite treatment.

So that's the story. I'm still perplexed by this situation. And if I can stump the state's apiary inspector, then it is a dilly of a dilemma! But hopefully all is well behind the four walls of the hive and I'll open it up next week and find brood everywhere. One can hope. Right?

By the way, my two hive stand, made from heavy steel and being fabricated right here in town should be ready on Friday. I'll be able to put another hive in my yard next spring, next to the one I have now, and I think its going to be really nice. More on that later.

Until next time, just BEE yourself!


  1. Mark, if you Google "apiculture at nc state" there is a wealth of info there. Dr. Tarpy's research is amazing. I haven't had a chance to go through all the sites, but you might find some answers there.

  2. Wonderful that you can have an inspector come by just by asking. Seems here it's optional for the state, and any inspection services must be paid for by the beekeeper. Glad the queen seems to be working again too. My hives have really started up again after a week of rain- think the fall bloom has started.



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