Honeybees make new queen bees by taking a normal bee larva and feeding it exclusively on royal jelly. All baby bees get this nutrient rich food for the first few days of their life, but baby queens get fed nothing else. There are, as I understand it, 3 circumstances under which bees will start to raise new queen bees. One is when a healthy hive that is bursting at the seams is ready to split in two. The bees raise new queens in “swarm cells” that are typically on the bottom of the frames. Once these hatch, the original queen takes off with about half of the hive‘s population, leaving the new virgin queens to duke it out for control of the hive. Sometimes the hive will swarm more than once, with each queen taking some of the population with her. This is good for honeybee reproduction, but not so good for the beekeeper who needs a larger bee population to fill the hive with surplus honey. A second scenario is when the queen bee suddenly and unexpectedly dies. In this case the bees will take 3 day old larva that was previously going to be a worker bee, and promotes her to queen by enlarging the cell she is in and feeding royal jelly. Supersedure, the third circumstance, is the process by which honeybees replace a queen that is old, failing, or for some reason not to the bee’s liking. They know they are going to replace her in advance, and will raise replacement queens in purposefully made queen cups, much like the swarm cells. Only, as I understand it, supercedure cells tend to be farther up in the frame than swarm cells.
This spring has been unusually cold and wet, not very good for the bees. I installed my Sweet Melissa hive when it was still too cool, although sunny, and then it promptly rained for about the next month. I couldn’t get in to do a thorough inspection.
After the second video in my last post, it was almost a month before i could get in to do a complete inspection. In that time they built up lots of comb, packed it with honey, and the queen laid several frames of brood. Then, queen cups and queen cells appeared and no new eggs were being laid. Something happened to my queen, but what? Here are the pictures I took a few days after I first discovered the queen missing, thought I saw 20 swarm cells, and promptly panicked:
A few days after this was taken, my brother came to try and harvest some of my “20 swarm cells” to save his queenless hive. But he informed me that many of what I thought were queen cells were not in fact queen cells. Some were drone cells located near the bottom of the frame that appear deeper than the other drone cells (this can be seen in the above photos). In any case, my bees did not swarm. We were unable to save Andy’s hive that had lost its queen and now had a laying worker. Unfortunately we were not able to save his hive, but it turned out to be a good thing that he left it in my yard. At a time when local feral honeybees had yet to have drones emerge, I just gained a hive full of drones. This would come in handy when one of these queen cells hatched and was ready to go on a mating flight.