Sunday, June 12, 2016

Popcorn Queens

My kitchen has a wall of windows that look out into the backyard, so that's where I like to work. This morning, I woke up early to finish up a last minute project that is due tomorrow morning. As a result, even though I can't quite see the hives from my seat at the table, I am able to monitor their flights to and from the beeyard.

About 10 am, I looked up and saw some crazy busy flying, which prompted me to run out the kitchen door. Buttercup, whose swarm cells were due to start emerging today, was frenetic. Could it be a swarm starting?

Usually, bees swarm just before the the swarm cells get capped. Since Buttercup didn't have much honey stored in the hive, and she's been queenless for two weeks, so I wasn't expecting a swarm. But there were remarkably few bees inside. Had she already swarmed? Did I miss it? Rewatching the video, I think that the activity I saw was bees that had been left behind re-entering the hive.

Anyway, I went through the combs to 1) see if any queens had emerged and 2) save unopened queen cells for Hippolyte and Austeja. This turned out to be a crazy, frustrating activity. I would set bars with queen cells aside to continue looking for cells/queens, but as I looked, the queen cells I'd set aside would open. It was like watching popcorn pop. Needless to say, my plans for requeening Hippolyte and Austeja were derailed.

Virgin queens are much harder to spot than mated ones. Of course, I was too stupid to think of catching them until I'd found the third one. Then I had to go back through and re-find them. The second time I went through, I could only find 1 of them. (So in total, I caught 3.)

BTW, here are some photos if you'd like some practice spotting virgins. No tricks! There really is one in every pic.

At least two queens are inside Buttercup now. They'll just have to duke it out between them.

Peach, I suspect, is queenless. She was split May 19 and should've had an emerged queen by Jun 4. Instead, I saw 1 open queen cell and at least 3 intact queen cells. It's too early for eggs, but those unopened queen cells just don't look good to me. I also haven't noticed a queen in there. That's not to say she's not there. I could've missed her, but I am becoming somewhat passable at spotting queens, so my confidence level of having a queen isn't high.

Anyway, I put one queen in a cage, cracked a couple of Peach's bars apart and laid the queen on the nuc for awhile to see how the bees would react. They seemed interested, not aggressive. Then I put the caged queen inside Peach for awhile while I made up another nuc with the third queen. Still lots of interest and no aggression, so I direct released her into the hive because I wanted her to be able to go on a mating flight. At that point, there was a roar. It could have been them spreading the news, or maybe they just balled her. I don't know. As extra insurance in case I just messed up royally, I put a bar with the last two queen cells from Buttercup into Peach as well.

As I mentioned, I also made up a new nuc. My family suggested lots of princess names including:

  • Princess Rosalina (from the Mario games)
  • Princess Zelda (Legend of Zelda games)
  • Lumpy Space Princess (our favorite Adventure Time princess)
  • Princess Charlotte (in honor of the newest Windsor)
However, in the end, I chose Princess Celestia (from My Little Pony) because she's the princess of the day and raises the sun each morning in the land of Equestria. (How is it that I know these things??? Oh yeah, I've been a mom for the past 14 years.) That made it a fitting name for bees, I think. However, the next nuc will be Princess Charlotte to please my girl who lobbied hard for that name.

The rest of the afternoon was spent making an insulated roof for Celestia. I was so happy with it, but when I went to put it on, it most decidedly did not fit. Ironically, during the building process, I thought I'd cut a couple of pieces too long, so I shortened them an inch. If I'd left them, the roof probably might have been perfect. Ugh. I'm so sad in my heart. 

Ah well. Tomorrow is a new day.


  1. I love the idea of popcorn queens. That must be so cool to see them emerging (even if it did make you change plans)! I've never seen that. Long live queen Celestia! And I think Charlotte is a great choice for the next LIW.

    I hear you about the roof mis-measurement. I was feeling pretty tired yesterday (probably from heat exhaustion) and tried to make a new roof for my swarm hive. I started cutting - thinking I had everything all measured correctly and then when I was screwing it together, I had the realization that it was too small. (At least I was only at the framing part when I figured out my error!) At that point, I said screw it, threw the pieces in the wood pile and poured myself a beer.

    1. It *would* have been cool to see them emerging. Unfortunately, I had no idea they'd emerge so quickly. I had set the bars in an empty nuc so that I could look through Buttercup for queens. But they had emerged already by the time I got back to the bars. :-(

      Sorry about the mis-measured roof. I like the way you think though -- that's pretty much what I did, too. Ha! Under the circumstances, it seemed the most appropriate corrective action. ;-)

  2. I am decidedly not good at finding queens, even in still pictures. I basically don't look anymore, as long as there is brood I'm good. Occasionally I spot one and will probably get better over time. My vote is for Princess Zelda! A fine game, and I'm sure would make a fine queen. As long as no one came to rescue her I'm sure she'd stay in the hive.

    Good luck with your queens! I had a hive swarm it was a good 4 weeks before I saw any hint of brood. With all our cold weather my guess is she just took her time getting mated.

    1. I don't always look for queens, either, but there are times when the skill is extremely handy. For instance, when making a shook swarm or split (this year, I've already made up 6), if you want to shake nurse bees into another hive you don't want to shake the queen in, if you're trying to put a hive back together after a bear attack it's nice to know if you have the queen, etc.

      You're definitely right about weather impacting mating flights. I just don't have a good feeling about Peach. I've seen this before in another hive where they made swarm cells, but the queens didn't emerge. When I opened the cells, they were empty or the queens were stunted and dead. I'm getting the same vibe this time. Even if Peach doesn't have a mated queen, she should have a queen, but the queen cells just aren't open, and they should have opened days ago.

  3. Your princess names definitely put my newest queen, Queen Alan to shame..... She doesn't seem to mind though. May they live long and lay well.

    1. Don't sell yourself short. I like the name Queen Alan. Did you name it after someone in particular? The name reminds me of Alan Cumming, and he's one of my favorite queens. ;-)

  4. I spotted the queen in the last photo. A short stubby queen. What a difference it makes once they start laying. I saw a queen emerge from a swarm cell once. Probably coolest thing I've ever seen. And she looked like a normal queen, easy to spot. Apparently they shrink after everything dries and hardens.


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