Friday, September 4, 2015

My Gut Says...

Updated: Added link

Don't worry, this is not a post about worrisome bowel noises, so breathe and relax.

Sorry about the twofer today, but I have to vent. In my last post, I mentioned wanting to check Austeja in the next week or so to make sure she doesn't produce a late season swarm. Out of curiosity, I opened the observation window just to see what was going on. The first thing that caught my eye -- right smack in front of me -- was a bar with TWO capped queen cells one cell that a queen had emerged from. A few bars closer to the entrance was ANOTHER capped queen cell!

I tried taking photos, but it was impossible to get a decent photo with the glass reflecting everything. The one ok pic I got had bees all over the queen cells, so they were indistinguishable anyway.

What's going on? Swarm or supersedure?

This year and last both gave me experience with swarm prep. My first year, the bees superseded, so I kind of know what that looks like, too.

Two things trouble me. 1) The nest has been backfilling with honey which means they don't have a lot of room. Then again, that's what they're supposed to do this time of year. 2) Also, the colony doesn't look as full as it normally does. Of course, that could be my imagination. It could also be the fact that I'm not used to seeing it midday when the foragers are out. Usually, my peeks are done earlier in the morning or toward evening (i.e., the cooler parts of the day when I'm in my garden). If it really is emptier than usual, that would indicate a swarm -- maybe even the bees that I meant to pick up from that near cutout opportunity!

Despite these bothersome details, though, my gut is saying supersedure. My gut could be horribly, horribly wrong, especially since I've seen only one side of the comb. There could be oodles of queen cells on the other side for all I know, but I don't think so. Here are the facts that have me leaning toward supersedure:

  • Usually, prior to swarming, the bees make (to borrow a phrase from my kids) a jillion billion queen cups. I didn't see any.
  • In the past, when my bees have gotten swarmy, they've made literal dozens of queen cells. There isn't enough space to fit that many queen cells on just one side, so they cover both sides of the comb. I didn't see that many today.
  • With swarms, my bees will have dozens of queen cells in various stages. In other words, some will be close to being capped; others will have larvae in different stages; some will have eggs. In this case, all the queen cells seem to be about the same age. You can tell because the tips of newly capped queen cells are sort of white and soft. As the queen gets closer to emerging, the tip of the cells gets darker, browner, and more papery.
  • The open queen cell may or may not even be recent. I never removed the queen cells after making splits this spring, and this open cell doesn't look very fresh. Usually, they wax is kind of raggedy where the queen chewed herself out. The opening looks a little smooth. 
  • The reigning monarch (if this is a supersedure) has held her title for over a year now, and she's made several splits. That means she's laid a lot of eggs and may be running out.

What to do now...

I suppose I could verify the situation by checking for eggs. A supersedure will have them. A swarm won't. Honestly, though, I probably won't do a blessed thing. Probably. Sometimes my curiosity is just too great. However, if I'm wrong, then they swarmed a couple of days before they capped those queen cells, so there's naught that will help now. If I'm right about it being a supersedure, there's still not a blessed thing I can do. 

Actually, in either case, it would be nice to have a newly mated queen going into winter. A frequent cause of winter dead-outs is poorly mated and/or aging queens who run out of eggs over the winter. A new queen would definitely be fertile enough to get through winter. A supersedure would be even more awesome because there would be two queens in the hive for awhile, i.e., there would be no brood break during this autumn flow.

My only real concern is making sure the hive has a mated queen before autumn begins. Over the past 3 years, my hives have made 10 queens. Only one of them has ever not returned from her nuptial flight, but all the professional beeks will tell you that 50% of their queens never come home from mating. If this is a supersedure, it's not so bad since the hive will have eggs. If this is a swarm... I might have to consider other options like combining or getting a queen.

Nuts, I've changed my mind. Looks like my plans for tomorrow have just changed to include a hive check. Maybe I'll even suit up and look in my grumpy hives, too. If I have to muck around in one out-of-sorts hive, I might as well deal with them all at the same time.


  1. Yikes! Just when you think things are going swimmingly, the bees give you a nasty surprise. I hope this is a supercedure and that the queen is mated and build up quickly. I think it's going to be another cold winter in the Northeast, due to El Nino. But don't quote me on that. ;-)

    I look forward to your post-inspection post!

  2. Thanks, but nope. Definitely a swarm. :-(

    You and the Farmer's Almanac are saying the same thing for winter. Hopefully, the worst of it waits until January! :-)


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