Breaking down...literally

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Well dear reader,

A long story but I am currently signed off work for the time being. A lot going on which has brought on work related stress of the kind I would never believed I would ever have suffered from in the past. Luckily I have a good GP who I managed to see face to face and hopefully this will guide me down a path to recovery.

Anyway, enough of my ills. What about the bees ?

Having actively kept bees for over 30 years since a young teenager, I've sort of just followed my nose with my learning style. Being told at the first branch I joined back in 1988/89 that my manipulation style was excellent and I should do the exams (when I was revising and doing exams at school) you can imagine I was not impressed and luckily my mentor was a beekeeper who kept an arms length from the beekeeping associations for personal choice (he said they did his head in) and I always had him, a 3rd or 4th generation beekeeper to fall back on for advice. (RIP Lewis Bennett).

I dip in to forums, blogs, books and articles as I see fit, and some of it sticks....

Yesterday after delivering honey to a customer, dropping in to a beekeeping pal who is into queen rearing in a big way, and a review of a farm sale lots I thought its got warm enough to stick my nose into a few hives in an outlying apiary. I've fallen back on my beekeeping to help keep me going at the moment...anyway third hive in and the biggest colony, and often a bit prickly, imagine if you will a full super of honey, a QX, and a double national brood chamber. Already I had thought these need at least one more super...

2nd frame in to the upper brood chamber I find a capped queen cell. How did I miss that 8 days ago ...? Oh well, spotting day old eggs I put it to one side and carried on. In total I found around 7 queen cells (QC) fully capped and a few being fed across the two chambers. And more day old eggs...

Ok. Thinking to myself, I can split these up a bit rather than knock the cells down as I had nuc boxes with me and a spare hive in the apiary too. So first split QC on one frame, a frame of brood and a frame of stores and a shake of bees into the spare hive, close it up and grass in the entrance to let them get used to their new surroundings for 24 hours...

Onwards - I went through the brood chambers again....double checking for more QC and marking out the best ones. Still no queen. She was marked so should have been easy to spot.

I then made up 3 more 3 frame nucs in the same way to remove from the apairy, double, triple checking each frame for the queen. Not a sight nor sound.

So I thought ok, getting more than a little upset at this point WTF am I doing here....I'm loosing my grip, my edge, where is the queen ?

I completely dismantled the hive, cleaning up the floor, and replacing with a fresh brood chamber I had with foundation and popped in some drawn empty frames and one frame of brood from the original lower chamber. One by one I shook all the bees off the remaining brood combs over a queen excluder examining each shake carefully. Just drones remained. No queen.


I was actually annoyed. She'd died, she'd departed, maybe a swarm had emitted but surely not as the hive was bursting with bees. And there were day old eggs...

Woefully I then placed a new super above the QX, then the original brood chamber with all the brood in and a super above to see if they drew out more QC over the coming days which would likely indicate a lost/failed queen.

Disconsolately I loaded up a wheel barrow with three poly nucs and my wax scrapings bucket, smoker, and pushed it up the hill to the truck.

I had the foresight not to try and balance two jerry cans of syrup I had already pulled out from under a hive stand for the nucs on top of the wheelbarrow thinking after my luck they'll only fall off....

So I walked back to the hives to pick up the jerry cans and as I made my way away from the hives I passed a sign that the recently departed wife of the owner of the orchard apiary had placed propped up against an old fork in the grass 'beware of the bees' - this was to ward away any Air BnB visitors walking around the orchard...and I spotted a very small cluster of bees on the ground behind the sign...

That's peculiar I thought. I don't recall shaking any bees into the nucs just there. I put the jerry cans down and got down on my hands and knees. Gently prodding the cluster with my still gloved hands.

Lo and behold. There was the queen in the middle of the bees !

I picked her up gently after she went on a small excursion into the long grass and carefully ran her back into the hive she came from...all the bees clustered on the entrance immediately changed the direction and angle of their fanning and many followed her inside into the empty lower chamber.

I couldn't believe my luck. I wondered if the fork had been the clustering point...clearly the queen had left the hive in a swarm and the bees had returned when she fell to earth. I had clipped her previously and she was faintly marked white...

So it goes to show nothing is ever simple of clear cut in beekeeping.

I was indeed saved by the sign 'beware of the bees'...!


You were lucky to spot her!
I had a very similar experience recently. The old queen is happily laying away in a nuc that I put her in.

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