In The Apiary : Early May : Queen Cells

Some say that our Queen is so much in the public eye that she is, in effect, a prisoner of her own subjects. Hold that thought.

The situation with a Queen Bee is remarkably similar. Constantly attended by her retinue as she makes her progress around the hive, she is gently persuaded to lay the appropriate worker bee or drone egg in the cells selected by her adoring populace.

It’s a pretty straightforward proposition: everyone has their role to play, everyone knows their place, like a 1970s BBC sitcom.

But what happens when things go wrong? Let’s look at one particular way in which the serenity of a beehive can be usurped: one of my Queens (Scarlett of Shard Hive) has produced some off-tempered bees. Think Syria. This makes them hard to work with and the final straw came when they started to “ping” my elder son when he was making a mobile call on our top terrace. Now, Queen Scarlett is the youngest and, by popular acclaim, the favourite Bermondsey Street Queen in our on-line poll.  Not surprising, really, since she has obvious charms: an alluring crescent curve to her abdomen and the carefree splash of red on her thorax is, well, red.

Scarlett New Queen Of Shard Hive
Exiled Queen Scarlett of “K”

But I have had to depose Queen Scarlett, banish her from Shard Hive and sent her into exile to a Kieler mating nuc bleakly called  “K”.

Here, she can raise a small family and not be a nuisance. With Scarlett out of the way, I can get to work. I inserted a frame of newly-laid eggs from Abbey Hive, where mild-mannered Queen Primrose is 2014’s prime breeding stock, into a 5-frame nuc and placed it where Shard Hive used to be. This means that the flying bees from Shard Hive have now taken up residence in the new nucleus hive and will raise a new Queen from Primrose’s genes, not Scarlett’s.

In the meantime, the bustling population of Shard Hive (that Scarlett sure knew how to fill a frame of brood!) have recognized that they are now queenless and have selected 5 eggs as prospective new Queens, fed them with rich royal jelly and built the tell-tale, drooping Queen Cell to accommodate the larger larval body of a new Queen Bee.

Charged Queen Cell - Shard
A White Larva Inside The Intact Queen Cell

They started that process on 23rd April (St. George’s Day), so by the time I intervened on the morning of 27th April, this is what they looked like from the outside. There cells are very different from the Queen Cups discussed here in April. These silos are loaded with white, thick Royal Jelly and a plump, pearly larva, gleaming like a torque necklace. Here’s a peek:

Charged Queen Cell 4 - Shard
An Opened Queen Cell

So I have carefully shaken the (slightly disconsolate, I have to admit) Shard Hive bees off each of the 11 frames to ensure that I found and removed all 5 Queen Cells charged with Scarlett’s gene-pool. Since bees can only make Queen Cells with eggs/larvae which are no more than 3 days old, no more Queen Cells will be constructed in Shard Hive.

In two days’ time, once the bees have adjusted to their queenless state, I will carefully introduce Queen Carmen to Shard Hive. Carmen is a new addition to my breeding stock and I look forward to her Buckfast-cross regalia: industrious, but gentle. Shut in a white plastic cage as big as your palm and then placed on the face of a brood comb, Queen Carmen should be acclaimed as the successor to Scarlett by the restive bees of Shard Hive. And, almost immediately, their testy temperament should subside, calmed by Queen Carmen’s serene pheromones.

And I will breathe a sigh of relief.