The White Queen

The white queen was the first queen in the apiary to produce big colonies of bees. Two years old this year (2014) I feel that I know her very well.

Her daughters (worker bees) use the whole brood box and then expand into subsequent boxes as more space is needed and given. Her daughters are of good temperament, clean and healthy and good at gathering nectar. The only downside is that she likes to swarm at least twice a year.

This year she built up her colony after winter into brood box and a half with one honey super before the colony decided to swarm. By doing weekly inspections I was able to spot this and prevent it by removing the white queen on three frames into a nucleus on 16th May 2014.

The nucleus was taken to a different site not too far away but the edge of my one acre of land and there the colony grew once again to brood and a half with one honey super until on 20th July I spotted some queen cells one of which was already capped.

By this stage I would estimate that there were more than 50,000 bees in the hive after 55 days from the creation of the colony on 16th May. This is two cycles of worker brood (42 days) plus 13 days. The second cycle of brood would be about to become foragers (usually about two weeks after emerging from the cell)

The ideal time to swarm but leaving a good amount of bees to look after the remaining colony of bees.

Not so good for me and for honey production though, so having found the queen cells I wanted to find the white queen. The brood box was so full of bees even though it was mid afternoon on 20th July 2014 with many bees out foraging, I had to carefully look for her on each frame.

I was pretty sure that she had not already gone with a swarm because there were so many bees in the hive, it was simply a case of finding her!

Usually when I inspect the white queen colony I will find her moving sedately about on a frame, often though she has worked her way to the edge of the brood box and I find her on an outer frame. With this in mind I started at one end of the brood box working my way along the frames looking for her but without success. I had to find her or half the colony would depart and the white queen would be gone forever.

I worked my way back through the frames looking specifically for the white queen. I came to the last frame and still no sight of her, there were so many bees with many hanging off the frames. On this last frame I had the idea of gently brushing off the hanging bees onto the tops of the other frames and as I did this there she was scuttling across the top of the frames and then down onto the side of a frame. I put the last frame back and pulled out the one she had scuttled down and there she was moving quite quickly across the face of the frame.

I hadn’t come prepared to capture a queen so I got out the queen trap for marking queens and gently placed it over her. I put the frame down on top of the others and went to get a queen clip, a specially designed tool for capturing a queen. I found the clip and went back to the hive and pulled off the queen trap, the white queen made another run for it, I had never seen her so fast and so slim she even flew a short distance across the frame, she had been slimmed down in preparation for flying with the swarm, I had to be quick. I held the open clip in front of her and she obligingly hopped in. I had her.

With the white queen in the clip I put the hive back together putting the clip into the top super to keep her safe while I though about how to make up a nucleus. I had a colony that I had collected from a hut in Devon in a nuc box but it was almost ready for a full size hive. I made up the hive and transferred this colony into the new hive leaving me with a nuc box for the white queen. I could now make up a three frame nucleus for the white queen to start again.

In the nuc box I heard a low pitched vibrating sound and wondered if this was the queen making this noise. I have heard of virgin queens piping in their cells and also queens warbling, but I wasn’t really sure if this noise had been the white queen.

The remaining colony were by now looking for their queen with many bees outside the entrance wondering if she had slipped out. By the next morning they were back to normal resigned to staying in the hive and making a new queen. There will be a period now where the numbers of larvae will reduce because there is no queen so the bees will concentrate on collecting nectar. I estimate from the queen cells in the hive that a new queen will be mated and start laying by the first week of August depending on the weather.

Why keep the white queen if she was already two years old? Well this queen has created two hives with six honey supers between them in this year alone. The original hive now has her daughter as their queen and looks like being as good a queen as the white queen. That hive is so big that I have yet to find the new queen to mark her, but as long as there are no signs of swarming I am in no rush to find her. I want to keep the white queen for breeding queens hopefully with as good a temperament, colony growth and health as well as excellent honey production at the expense of being quite prone to swarming.

If she had gone with a swarm it is unlikely that they would survive the winter swarming this late in the year. If we have an early frost as they are building up their new comb in their new hive it can have devastating effects. Wild or feral colonies rarely last long in these days of the varroa mite which systematically kills off the hive over time.

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