It’s always an eventful day when Hilary Kearney, the Girl Next Door beekeeper comes to visit. Yesterday was no exception.
A few weeks ago, her boyfriend Tim had stopped by to check on the bees and noticed that one of the hives had lost its queen. Now this can happen for a few different reasons -- maybe she died, maybe they swarmed. There was no way to know in this case. But Tim spent some time transferring some of the brood from the "queenright" hive to the queenless hive in hopes that this hive would make a new queen.
How might they do that, you ask? I wondered that as well, so I researched a bit by reading both Hilary’s blog and several other resources. This is what I learned:
1) Once the bees recognize that a new queen is needed, several of the fertilized eggs are chosen to become a potential queen and their cells are extended downward by worker bees in order to make them bigger.
2) These potential queens are fed a special concoction of royal jelly (all bee larvae are fed royal jelly for the first three days but potential queens continue on this diet).
3) After they’ve been fed a bunch of the royal jelly and about nine days after laying, the potential queens are sealed in their cell with layer of wax
4) About a week after that, the first queen will emerge (let’s call her Cercei), and using her special, non-barbed stinger, she will slay her queen sisters before they can emerge from their cells by piercing through their wax cells.
5) If, by chance, another queen emerges at the same time, they will duel to the death.
6) Queen Cercei will then begin the mating process, take several mating flights with several male drones (if you think about it, these could be her brothers), who die after they mate.
7) Soon after mating, the queen will start laying eggs -- up to 1500 per day
With all of this drama going on down in the hives, you can imagine how anxious I was to find out how things were progressing. WAS there a new queen? Was there a royal murder? Was there all kinds of bee sex going on in my backyard? Were babies being produced? Would the queendom survive?
So when Hilary stopped by yesterday to check on the hives, I could barely stand the suspense.
After about an hour, she delivered her report. She had good news...but she also had bad news.
There was indeed a queen in the hive, so the queen-making process had worked. But Hilary was also noticing that the hive was a bit “too agro.” She wanted to replace the more aggressive Queen Cercei with a gentler queen -- which would, over time, lead to a gentler hive.
So this then leads to a whole NEW process of queen-making:
Step 1: Murder the old queen
Step 2: Install a new queen in a candy cage.
Well, the cage isn’t totally made of candy -- the queen is placed into the hive in a cage with a plug made of candy, which, I’m assuming the worker bees nibble on for a few days and get all kinds of positive feels about this queen as they slowly release her from the cage.
After the decision had been made to overthrow the queen, I thought the excitement was over for the day, but about a half hour later, as Hilary was reassembling the hives, she ended up with some extra honeycomb, and I ended up with a little candy myself -- and all kinds of good feels. I’d never had honeycomb before so I was excited to give it a try, and it didn’t disappoint. You know those wax bottles you used to get as a kid? Honeycomb is like that but 5 million times better.
Stay tuned for the next episode when we find out if the hive accepted this new queen and her candy or if she was overthrown...
For more info, Hilary Kearney has written more about Queen Bees (and more) on her blog.
UPDATE: After a week and 2 days, the new queen has been released and is laying eggs. The queendom continues on!
Aren't bees the most fascinating little creatures?
Hello! My name is Pam Reynolds Baker and I am a mom/wife, English teacher, writer, and lavender farmer who lives in Dundee Oregon .