Follow our progress running the nursery, watching wild bees, keeping honey bees and creating our own bee-haven in south Oxfordshire

How the bees play when the queen is away

When our bees were without queens earlier this year (when we carelessly let them swarm) we noticed some interesting behaviors in the hives: 1, aggression: they were not happy at all. Even the most passive of colonies was dive bombing anyone who came within 100 feet of the hives. Almost everyone using the field got stung.  They were particularly aggressive in the evening

2, disorganised behavior in the hive; they undertook the basic jobs that keep the colony alive in the short term, such as raising the brood, but we commonly found them eating the recently laid-down honey stores rather than being out collecting more.

3, weird wax formations;  we also found that the way they raised up wax became uneven and they mixed drone brood cells in with honey stores.  This picture shows how we are now left with some very strong raised wax that they do not want to use for honey stores:

Being 'between queens'

So, to recap: we had carelessly let our queen cells get too mature and our old queens swarmed off.  Luckily we still had robust numbers of bees left and queen cells in each of our (now) 4 hives. On our last check we found that queen cells had hatched in 3 out of the 4 hives but even after a further 4 days couldnt see either queens or any signs of laying.

We assume that we are waiting for the queens to perform their maiden flights. From what we have read, it can take a few days for the queens to get round to this but its not very clear how long.  One source said 1 to 5 days; another said 10 days and yet another said up to 5 weeks!   As its already been 3 weeks since any new eggs were laid. By my reckoning the colony will die out in another 3 three so anything longer than 10 days for a maiden flight sounds risky to me.

Id love to see the maiden flight but, unfortunately, I currently work some 60 miles away and  I don't think sitting in the field with my laptop, blackberry and mobile is going to happen.

To add to the fun, the last hive to hatch its queens appears to have swarmed again. We had left two queen cells (cant quite bring myself to risk only one) and we thought that risk of swarming was very low because the colony size was reduced from its previous swarm.  Well, we were unlucky as our neighbour saw them go past and we have definitely lost more bee stock.

Ah well,  we are learning the hard way.   I hope we see eggs in at least some of the hives this weekend so we know we havnt lost them all.