Which is to say: Things certainly do happen fast, in the spring. I have so much to share from the last two weeks that I’ve broken it into two posts in the hopes of not droning on.
(See what I did there? …I’m sorry.)
The weather has gone on a bender again — you weren’t really ready for spring yet, right? — but up until two days ago it was lovely and warm whenever it wasn’t pouring down buckets and buckets of rain. About half of the time was perfect bee weather!. As you can see from the header image, the other half of the time was perfect flower-watering weather… so it all worked out. My phlox is in full bloom and the back yard smells amazing.
I’ve spent a lot of time there lately – partly for the flowers, and partly because I’ve been diligently
stalking observing the new split and hoping everything was going well. Day 12 post-split brought me a little momentary panic, when the bees in the queenless hive apparently decided to take the sort of front porch break usually reserved for late August, perhaps reclining in the shade to enjoy the breeze with a tall glass of lemonade or a mint julep in hand.
This alarmed me not because the bees didn’t deserve a break — they’ve been working hard! — but bees don’t take breaks. This type of loitering is “oh-no-help-we-don’t-have-a-queen” behavior. (Well… good observation, girls. You’re not wrong.) I had heard of this happening in an unexpectedly queenless hive — a warning sign that action must be taken, lest Dire Circumstances(tm) follow — but not as an intermediary step during a successful split. I texted my mentor expecting the worst, but he reassured me that this was, indeed, normal. And he was right (gosh, it’s like he’s done this before!): Two days later, the bees resumed their normal coming and going from the hive entrance.
If I was worried about the bees’ behavior during this period, I can only imagine what they must have thought of mine. Every time it was cool enough that they weren’t flying much, I was prowling around the hive, pressing my ear to the back wall and listening intently for the piping of my eagerly-anticipated new queen. I knew my chances of catching her at it were pretty slim: She’d have to actually be vocalizing while I was there, and despite everything I’ve been told, it seemed incredible to really believe that a single bee could make a noise loud enough to hear through the three-quarter inch walls of a pine box.
And then, on Day 14, I crouched down behind the box, and leaned in, and —
I heard her! Piping doesn’t sound like anything else, and there was no doubt in my mind that a newly-emerged queen was prowling the frames bellowing the world’s cutest war-cry (with the possible exception of this guy). I tried to get some audio, but my phone isn’t really the most sophisticated recording equipment around. The video I’ve linked above of a piping queen in an open hive is well worth listening to, but it isn’t mine.
I still feel so incredibly lucky to have heard her! I bounce around like a kid at Christmas whenever I think about it.
A few days later, I opened both hives to check on things. The bees in the queenright hive were making quick work drawing out the foundation of the second brood box I’d given them the week before, and the queen had already moved into the top box. Running smaller eight-frame boxes instead of ten-frames means things fill up quickly!
In the (formerly) queenless hive, the workers had put a lot of honey away in the available space, despite their two-day strike. I added a second brood box here, too, so the new queen will have space for laying when she was mated. I looked for her in the hive, but didn’t find her. This doesn’t really bother me since young queens are a lot harder to spot until they fully develop that long abdomen; besides, it’s very possible that she was out on her mating flight when I did my hive check. Still, in a few more days on my next check, I look forward to finding eggs!
Gosh, I hope she met some nice boys. Maybe some fine-looking fellows like this one? He caught a ride away from the hive on my hat, and I gave him a lift back into the garden. Isn’t he handsome?
Lest you think I am braver than I am: Drones are completely harmless. Because a honey bee’s stinger is a modified ovipositor, male honey bees are incapable of stinging. The same, incidentally, is true of male carpenter bees. That aggressive hovering right in your face that they’re all doing this time of year is all bluster and posturing.
Which is pretty impressive, honestly, if you think about the size differential and their total lack of ability to follow through with their threatening attitude. Male carpenter bees win the international award for best bluff around! Do not play poker with them.