Okay, the next time a hive goes queenless, I think I'm gonna leave it that way and let it go. It's just too much stress to requeen. Maybe I need some sleep to process what happened today, but the beekeeping today was not so much fun. We noticed on Sunday that there was no new eggs and larvae in the Olga hive and that was a sign that the queen had died or was failing. After consulting some beekeepers, I bought a new queen Monday morning and decided to try and requeen the colony. The queen comes in a cage with a candy door (and a few attendants). The idea is to put the cage in the colony, the new bees generally don't care for a new queen and want to attack her--the cage protects the new queen. The workers start to chew on the candy door to get to the queen and kill her. As they are chewing, the queen releases her pheromones and the workers start to think that this new queen isn't so bad after all. In about three to five days, they chew their way through the candy and in all that time, her pheromone has worked its way the colony and everyone has worked out their differences and loves the queen and hopefully, they show her around and she gets to some egg laying.
For this brilliant plan to truly come together, the old queen must be dead, or she will fight the new queen and possibly kill her and you are left with your old failing queen and soon to be dead hive. So, Fabulous Lorraine and I had to go through the whole colony, frame by frame to see if we could find the old failing Olga queen...and kill her. We were not thrilled with this task and were hoping against hope that we would not find her and not have to kill her. The colony did not sound happy as we started going through each frame, they seemed confused and their buzzing was a little off, I felt certain the queen was totally gone.
We made it all the way down to the bottom an I checked the contents of the varroa mite trap and was surprised at the amount of discarded bee pollen baskets--all colors. It never occurred to me that they baskets could be dropped and forgotten. There were mites mixed in there too--ew. The bottom box had a very small amount of unhatched brood and the Olga bees vehemently defended the hive at this point. Usually we get bonked on our hoods a couple of times in warning, this time, it was a steady pelting of bonks. Because we were out so long, our smoker stopped smoking (which is used to try and keep the bees calm and less focused on stinging us) and we periodically had to step away and relight it, all the while dodging angry and queenless bees.
Poor Cabal learned that hard way that he's not fatally allergic to bee stings. Since Mr. Neil wasn't around, Cabal's been lonely and clinging close to his pack. He came over to us while we were at the Olga hive and got stung by one angry bee (when bees sting, they release a pheromone that tells the other workers something bad is here and needs to be stung) and more soon surrounded him. Cabal did what comes natural to a dog--he started whipping his head around to eat the bees coming to attack him--which is the equivalent to humans flailing which just makes bees want to sting you all the more. I gave Lorraine the smoker and she dashed over and covered him with smoke to mask the angry stinging bee pheromone and make sure he didn't have any bees still attacking him. We think he got at least two stings, one on a back leg and one on a neck, but was otherwise okay.
For some reason, when Lorraine walked back to me at the hives, Cabal decided to follow. We're not sure if he was needing reassurance after being stung or if he was trying to warn us about the danger. As soon as he came over, the bees started attacking him again and he tried to eat them. We had to put him in the truck to protect him.
Have you ever been doing some spring cleaning and you suddenly look around after three hours of work and notice that everything is messier than when you started? That's kind of the way I felt when the above photo was taken. As the bees kept attacking and trying to sting us, Lorraine announced, "I need a moment to de-bee." She sensibly walked away to get away from the buzzing and wipe some bees off. About that time, I felt a tickle on my neck--holy crap, did a bee work its way into my suit? I decided to take a bee moment like Lorraine and confirm bees were not in my suit. Fortunately, it was just my hair brushing my neck. Whew!
After that we went back to work. Lorraine suddenly shouted, "Oh no! Is it on the inside or outside?!" I looked up and noticed that the hood of her beesuit was half unzipped and there were angry Olga bees on the screen in front of her face and a sort of collar of bees working their way to the open zipper. She scampered off and I followed, helpfully shouting, "I'll smoke you! I'll smoke you!"
We go the bees off of her, zipped her up tight and went back to finish our grueling beekeeping task.
We noticed that most of the brood was almost hatched out in the Olga hive and no new brood behind it. Since the other hives were going like gangbusters, I decided we should take a a frame of brood from one of the other hives. The MimiKo hive appeared to have the most brood and so I took a frame from them. We ended up feeling terrible about it. Because MimiKo and Bickman are new hives, they are fairly friendly right now, we can work in them pretty easily. When I took the frame out, I had to take off all the MimiKo workers, the easiest way seemed to be using a bee brush. Boy, bees don't like the bee brush very much. The sweet, docile MimiKo bees suddenly became incredibly angry--even the ones who didn't get caught in the bee brush bristles.
We went through the whole Olga hive with the frame of brood. After going through each and every frame in the hive, we did not find a life queen. We did find one small, very black, shriveled up bee which I wondered was the dead queen--Olga I was very dark.
We put in the new queen cage and the workers looked in and went straight for the candy. We slowly put the hive back together, our backs sore from lifting the heavy boxes and being bent over searching each frame for the nonexistent queen. Lorraine pointed out that if we had found the failing queen alive it would have been easier to kill her after being pelted by angry bees all afternoon.
We tried to wipe off all the bees on or suits, gathered our equipment, and loaded up the truck to drive back to the house. A couple of tenacious bees were still following us and we thought it best to keep the full bee suits on in case a bee was still in the vehicle. As I sat down, I felt a tickling on the middle of my chest. I told myself that it was just my hair and to not worry about it. Then it suddenly occurred to me that I no longer have long hair and that could not be the source of the tickling on my chest...something was crawling there. I was still sealed in my bee suit and assumed it was a tick and I pressed it a bit. The tickling got a little faster.
Lorraine had already started the vehicle and was driving through the field (chock full of dandelions) back towards the road. I shouted, "I NEED A BEE MOMENT! I NEED A BEE MOMENT!" and leaped out of the slow moving truck. Lorraine slammed on the brakes and was in hot pursuit. Trying desperately to have an out of body experience I said, "There's something crawling on my chest." We carefully unzipped my hood and took it off. Lorraine slowly unzipped the front of my bee suit--there, crawling from my chest to the inside of the suit was a bee.
Now, I always thought that when it came to the fight or flight response that I was more of a fight kinda girl. My goodness, was I wrong. I totally took flight. Without a word, I took off running, although, it was hard to run since Lorraine had hold of the arms of the suit and my legs were still in the bottom of the suit. I pushed through the suit and the rest of the zipper ripped open and I tried desperately to keep running while Lorraine pulled on the suit from behind. "I'm trying to save you!" Lorraine shouted. I said nothing but continued to try my awkward run. We got the bee suit off of my legs, along with my shoes. Lorraine, still thinking the bee was in my shirt, helpfully tried to take it off. Overcome with anxiety and and humor of the situation, we just started laughing maniacally.
It's points like this where I'm really grateful that our beekeeping operation is in a remote area and the chances that anyone actually witnessed this strange little tug of war and personal bee removal striptease are incredibly slim.
We took a moment to breathe and then realized that we were still surrounded by bees foraging on the dandelions surrounding us--and I was out of the bee suit and not wearing shoes. We eventually made it back to the house, spent and emotionally drained. Up until this point, the beekeeping had been a fun discovery of cool natural history. Today, it was just hard, messy work.
When we got back to the house, I said, "You know, someone is going to have to check the cage in about three days to make sure the queen is released."
"I like how you said 'someone' like you're not going to be here to do it," she said. We decided it would be best to get some sleep and find our love of beekeeping again before deciding who would check to see if the queen were released.
I am about to collapse from exhaustion myself as I type this. When I came home, I did crawl under a blanket for about five minutes and was a tad weepy. Non Birding Bill came into the bedroom and asked what was the matter and I started recounting the day: we squished bees, we lost the old queen, will the new queen make it, and worst of all, I broke the MimiKo Hive's trust when I took their frame of brood away and used the bee brush on some of them.
NBB started laughing. "You realize that you are upset about breaking the trust of some insects?" NBB asked.
Well, when it's put that way, it does sound kind of silly and I had to chuckle at my self pity.
You can read Lorraine's version here.