I checked on my bees over Memorial Day weekend, the first time since the swarm a couple weeks earlier. There were so many bees and I was delighted to see that every frame in the top deep was getting filled with honey, much of it capped with wax--must be time to add a super so the bees could gather honey for US!
But then I started checking the frames in the bottom deep, the brood chamber. There were some bees, and a little bit of honey and pollen stored, but no brood! No eggs, no larvae, and no sign of a queen. Every frame was desolate, with empty brood cells. The hive must not have successfully raised a queen after the swarm.
When I called my beekeeping supplier to order a queen they said my bees would probably not accept her -they would kill her. What I should do instead is obtain one frame of brood from another beekeeper and put it in my hive. Then my bees would raise a new emergency queen, which they do by feeding the bee larva royal jelly. My friend Joe kindly offered me a brood frame, so on Sunday I drove to Lanesboro, about an hour away, to get it.
Joe has six hives, but two weren't doing very well. Last year he lost a couple of hives to colony collapse disorder - the hives seemed to be thriving but suddenly all the bees disappeared. Bees everywhere in the world are having trouble - Joe believes spraying of alfalfa crops by a nearby dairy farm may have been a factor in his bee problem, so he moved his hives to a new location this year.
It was fun to help Joe work his hives. He started beekeeping with his grandfather when he was just a boy, so it is in his bones. (In contrast, I have been learning mostly from a book- "The Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping.") Joe knows exactly what he is looking for and he checked all of his hives in less time than it would have taken me to go through my one hive. Joe told me it takes 11 day for a queen cell to hatch out a queen, so he check his hives every 10 days to prevent swarming. Queen cells are elongated and larger, and we just flicked them off to destroy them.
Joe let me choose a frame with lots of egg and larval cells and he nested it into one of his deeps to protect it on its journey to my house. We stuffed the hive entrance openings with grass so the bees couldn't get out and put the box in the back of my car.
I couldn't help but frequently check the hive in the rear-view mirror as I drove, and soon I began to notice a few bees had found their way out. As I drove on, more and more bees emerged until there were over a hundred bees on the back car window (putting a vibe in my Vibe!) I am not afraid of bees, but I did worry that if one stung me I might swerve dangerously, so I blasted the air conditioner on cold in the front seat and it seemed to persuade the bees to stay in the back on the warm window. I managed to get home with no stings.
I hopped into my bee suit, took the bee box out of my car and replaced a frame in the center of my brood box with the new brood. As I was checking all my brood frames, I noticed one frame had a few eggs and larvae-- maybe I do have a queen after all! I didn't find a queen, though, and Joe has since told me that sometimes a queenless hive can have "infertile" workers who produce a very limited supply of eggs from which a new queen can be raised. Bees are so amazing!
As for all the bees in my car, I left the doors and windows open all day and that evening when I went out close it up before the rain, all but one or two bees were gone. Poor homeless, doomed bees. Or maybe not, maybe they are enjoying their first freedom, liberated from the drudgery of the hive.