Beekeeping – The Queen has Left the Building

Ask any experienced beekeeper about having hives and they will tell you that it’s expensive and challenging. If the conversation lasts long enough, they will also tell you it gets in your blood and can be a little bit of fun. The jury is still out on that one. Right now, I’m finding it more challenging than fun, but I guess there is reward in that.

It has been about 3 weeks or so since I said hello to the bees. At the time, the frames were getting close to the 80/20 rule requiring another super (box). I struggled in all previous inspections to find the queen in the lower hive, but I knew she was in there. According to all the books I read, and YouTube videos watched, there was a good ratio of drone brood, larvae, and capped brood. She was doing her job.  I found the same in the first hive and located the queen right off. No crown or anything but doing her job in the upper hive as well. I now know I should have marked her when I had the chance.

Last week, I convinced the hubby to help me with the inspection. I knew another set of muscles and eyeballs would come in handy. The supers are getting heavy and a one-person inspection takes longer. Especially in 95-degree heat. It’s difficult to see eggs with netting and sweat running down your nose.

We cracked open the first hive and it was busy with activity. The frames were heavy with honey. But then, as I pulled each frame out for inspection, there wasn’t any brood to speak of. Mainly honey. I searched for the queen and was not able to locate her. We went into the second hive. Same thing. Lots of honey, but sporadic spots of brood. Again, we could not locate the queen.

It was time to pull out the “I need some help card” so I called the president of the local bee association. I told him I could really use a second opinion. The best sounding words to these ears were “get the smoker going, I’m on my way”.

It was amazing to watch an experienced beekeeper inspect the frames. He moved through them one by one, showing me what to look for, and pointing out what might have been a queen cell. It was empty.  Like me, he couldn’t locate the queens in either hive and confirmed there wasn’t any baby making going on. The worst sounding words were “your bees are going to be dead in 6 weeks if you don’t requeen”. He gave me contact information for purchasing new queens…yep this beekeeping thing is expensive….but I can’t call it quits.

I’m finding one of the challenges of beekeeping is knowing what happened. Did I wait too long to add another super and she was crowded? Did they swarm? Did I squish them during inspection? Maybe I killed one and the other moved out? I know 3 weeks ago she was in there. The books say if no eggs, she’s been gone at least 3 weeks. It would have had to be right after I inspected last time. (This is the reason to take good notes when opening the hives.)

Anyway, I’ll open at least one of the hives tomorrow, the one with a little brood, and see if I can locate her one more time. Maybe she’s a young queen and she’s taking a break. Or maybe she is older, like me, and she’s tired. Maybe she didn’t like the neighborhood and just gathered her entourage and left. Whatever happened, if I’m staying with this beekeeping thing, I’ve got a problem that must be fixed.

So, if you need me today, I’ll be watching videos about introducing new queens to the kingdom. Wish me luck…oh, and if any of you fellow beekeepers have any tips, please send my way.

closeup photo of yellow sunflower in bloom

Photo by padma aleti on