I decided to check the other hives too as they'ed also just been treated. All looked fine in Hive2, lots of capped eggs and I spotted their green marked Queen wandering about -she seems rather brazen wandering about in plain view. Hive1 was a different story though. They were edgy and I couldn't see any eggs brood or queen there either, so I figured they were Queenless too. Bad day for the bees. If it was earlier in the season I'd've transferred a couple of frames with eggs from Hive2 into 1 and 3 for the bees to raise new Queens but so late in the season it'd take a lot of luck for them to get mated, plus there'd be all that waiting for her to develop, emerge, mate and start laying so I decided to bite the bullet and buy a couple of Queens.
It's really not the season for buying Queens and all the places I looked had sold their 2014 Queens already and were talking about next years' batch. However in my searching (can't imagine how beekeepers managed in the days before the Internet) I found a page on Norfolk Honey's website which mentioned possibly having some old Queen bees available so I decided to contact them. It turns out the chap at Norfolk Bees runs a Google group connecting people wanting to buy bees to people who want to sell bees, so he popped an advert up for me and it wasn't long before I had a reply from Northumberland Bees who were able to supply open mated Buckfast Queens and Black Queens. As I've previously mentioned Black bees are pretty xenophobic which makes them a little difficult to requeen especially if the new Queen is a different race of Honey Bee so I ordered a Black Queen for Hive3 and a Buckfast Queen for Hive1. At some point Hive3 will raise their own Queens who'll be open mated and become mongrelised but for now to increase chances of acceptance it was going to need to be a Black Queen. I placed the order on the Thursday and the Queens arrived on the Saturday by recorded delivery.
|Pair of Queens, all caged up with attendants and fondant.|
They were accompanied with about 10 workers each in yellow cages both of which were plugged with fondant. They were labelled in the cages themselves and on paper caps attached over the fondant part of the cage. The underside of the cages slides out for you to stock the cages or release the bees. The 10 or so workers in the cage are there to look after the Queen during transit, I'm sure it's no picnic for her travelling across the country in the postal system but at least she's got some attendants to feed and clean her. I put a drop of very weak sugar syrup onto each cage for the bees to feed on as I'd assume they were quite dehydrated after their journey. Before putting the cages into the hives the first job is to get the attendants out of the cages because the bees in the hive would probably fight with them and damage the Queen.
|Queen in a bag.|
With a rubber glove in my right hand I held the cage in a plastic food bag which I kept closed around my wrist with my left hand and slowly opened the cage till a worker came out. Once a worker was out I closed the cage, pulled it out of the bag and released the worker. It was slow going and had to be done for each worker. What happened about halfway through each cage was the Queen came out so keeping her in the bag I was able to remove the cage and shake free the remaining workers. Hopefully they'll manage to join one of the existing colonies in my garden. Then I just had to pop the cage back into the bag and get the Queen into it and close it again.
|Lonely Queen Bucky|
The cage then had to go into the hive. It should've gone in fondant end down between two frames with a toothpick or wire through the tab at the other end. However in the heat of the moment I forgot that and pressed the cages into the comb fondant side up.
Heat of the moment? Really? Yep. Lots of heat. a veritable inferno. In the week it took me to acquire new Queens the aggression of the bees in Hive 3 and 1 had been on the increase. When I was ready to install the cages I wore two pairs of trousers, a fleece under a beekeeping jacket with a veil which in turn was under a beekeeping schmock with another larger veil and on my hands I put thick gardening gloves over my rubber gloves and masking tape over the cuffs and up my forearms.
As soon as I opened Hive3 the bees were bouncing off me and planting stings in my gloves and clothing. Having 8 bees attached to your gloves by their stings whilst trying to fly away feels really unpleasant I was working fast but did keep wiping them off me and smoking myself to mask any pheromones, although there were so many stings stuck in my gear it was probably a wasted effort. Despite my being armoured up and wearing gardening gloves one bee still managed to plant a sting in my finger. I got the new Queen into Hive3, closed them up and opened Hive1 to pop their Queen in. Pulling out a frame in the middle I was a little surprised to find a young unmarked Queen already there. Didn't expect that. She wasn't laying yet though so I decided to pull her out and pop in the new Queen anyway I could be more certain she'd mated well whereas the newbie may have been too late for a good mating. I got the Queen clip and removed her then closed up Hive1, deciding to leave them Queenless for a couple of hours before adding the new royalty.
Thinking on my feet I decided to start up a new colony using this Queen. Hive2 was so populous that I'd left the super on just for the sake of accommodation and they had a lot of brood about to hatch too which could cause congestion in the hive so I removed a couple of frames of brood and popped them with some frames of honey into a six frame nuc and closed the hive up and the nuc, blocking the nuc entrance with some sponge and opening the mesh floor about a centimetre to allow ventilation -the nuc has vents in the roof too. All the while I was still being attacked by bees from Hive3. I tried walking away but they followed me down the garden. I puffed smoke on myself but they didn't really care. In the end to get them to leave me alone so I could go into the house without a little cloud accompanying me I got a hosepipe, set it to spray, pointed it directly upwards and stood under it. Bees aren't keen on rain. a couple of minutes later, very damp but free of followers I was able to go into the house.
After transferring the young Queen into a spare cage I put my layers and tape back on and wen to put the Queens into Hive1 and the Nuc. Although Hive1 was still on a war footing things were a lot calmer with aggro from Hive3. I inserted the cages and gave the Nuc a small feeder of syrup to occupy the workers.
I opened the nuc entrance three days later and this weekend I checked the hives to see if the Queens had been accepted. Things look good. In Hive1 I could see eggs and very young larvae and removed the empty cage.
In the nuc I saw the Queen herself and again removed the cage. Not certain if she's laying yet but I had seen drones still in the other hives so if she's not yet mated then there may still be time. Hive3 were less aggressive but nonetheless still aggressive so I decided to just leave the plastic cage in there till Spring rather than disrupt the bees further by digging it out. As I was trying to work my way towards it I did spot some very young brood though so I think she's okay in there and laying.