Today, Lorraine, Mr. Neil and I all headed out to open our hives (Kitty and Olga) and see if the bees had drawn out comb and if the queens started laying eggs. Lorraine has been keeping a dutiful watch on the nectar situation and the Olga hive has not been eating much of the nectar or the pollen patty. In fact, that hive is very quiet and not nearly as active as the Kitty hive. Last night we discussed the possibility that Queen Olga may be failing (infertile) or had been inadvertently killed during installation. We braced ourselves for the possibility of re queening.
We decided to inspect the Kitty hive first. After all, she has been performing by the book and wouldn't it be best to inspect the hive that will give us confidence before dealing with the problem hive? Bees were busily flying in and out of the Kitty hive and a happy humming came from inside. Opening the roof revealed bees covering the nectar pail and the pollen patty. Mr. Neil puffed some smoke to calm our girls while I exposed the frames on the inside. As expected, they were congregated on the center frames. The moment of truth arrived, time to find drawn out comb, eggs, and hopefully Queen Kitty.
Lorraine held up a frame COVERED in worker bees. How in the world could we find a queen in that swirling mass of bees? They were tending the comb, building it, filing it with nectar. They had made some funky comb that stuck out--my fault for not spacing the frames a bit better, but all looked right with this frame. A few more frames in, we did find some eggs.
And then lo and behold, we found Queen Kitty! Are you able to see Queen Kitty? She is in the lower right hand corner, is all black and her abdomen sticks out well past the end of her wings--Kitty got back! The hive I helped out with last year had a queen who was pretty much the same color as the workers, but she was larger. It was hard to find her among the workers and drones. With her big, black, beautiful abdomen, Kitty sticks out and is easy to find.
We then headed over to check on the Olga hive. There was not much activity of foragers heading out, although we did notice one of the Kitty bees being denied entrance to the Olga hive. We can tell a difference between the two--Kitty bees are a pretty reddish-tan and the Olga bees are much darker. We opened the top and there was an absence of the loud humming like there was at the Kitty hive. This did not bode well. If the queen was infertile, we would find drone cells--drones (male bees) come from unfertilized eggs. They are in larger cells and really don't do much for the colony. They do not help build comb, all they do is eat honey and bide their time until they can fly out and find some other queen to fertilize. If the queen was dead, then we would find no eggs.
The workers are supposed to start building the comb on the center frames. There we no bees on the center frames, they all congregated to one side and there looked to be quite a few bees inside. We pulled out a frame and found it chock full of workers drawing out comb. That was a good sign, but could we find eggs?
I blew on the frame, some bees cleared and will you look at that, we found eggs! Look at the some of the empty cells in the above photo. You should see what looks like super tiny grains of rice--those are bee eggs (there are four visible)! Whoot! That was a good sign there was a queen alive. We still needed to look for Queen Olga, because if a queen is dead, sometimes workers will lay infertile eggs.
We took out another frame and there she was, a very active and healthy Queen Olga (right in the middle of the above photo--you can just see her black abdomen). What a relief--the Olga bees are doing just fine--albeit making comb in an unusual place--one one side of the hive and not in the center. They had also cleaned out all the dead workers on the floor from last week too--all good. Apparently, these bees are not going to go by the book (I guess they didn't read it). I wonder where they have been getting nectar? They still haven't been eating much that we have provided and they show absolutely no interest in the pollen patty. Mr. Neil got a copy of a book of bees by Sue Hubbell and she does not use the pollen patties and her bees are just fine. She's in a different part of the country than we are, but I think the Olga bees like her way of beekeeping and want to do this on their own, without too much of our help. We moved the frames with comb and eggs towards the center and closed Olga back up.
Before I left to go home, Lorraine pointed out a honeybee on a dandelion near the house. The bee was busy gathering lots of pollen and nectar. She was lighter in color which makes her a Kitty bee. Now we need to let our girls get down to work, tending the nursery and drawing out comb. The next few weeks will be tough, no new bees will come in until the eggs hatch--21 days after being laid. We'll have a decrease of workers until the larvae hatch and the current workers need to focus on construction.
We'll check on them next week.
UPDATE: Here's an entry from Mr. Neil about our bee adventure--and you can see him white. We call it the Negative Neil.