Disaster! Queen cells!

Saturday. Last Sunday I went to the Eastern CT Bee Association's April meeting, and Adam Fuller (president of the ECBA and our instructor at last winter's bee school) gave a presentation about queen cells and what to do about them. Apparently, when there are way too many bees, the colony gets the urge to swarm, which involves half of the hive leaving with a newly hatched queen. When a hive is not swarming, there is only one queen. When they start getting ready to swarm, the worker bees start converting worker bee brood cells into queen bee brood cells. Adam showed us slides of what these queen cells look like. Regular brood cells just look like dark orange/brown cells, usually hundreds of them mostly within the center of a hive frame. A queen cell is huge, and bulges out from the frame and hangs downward, looking a little like a peanut still in its shell.

Adam went into a long discussion about how you can take this frame out and one of those frames out and put them in this box and produce a "nuc" and it was all kind of over my head. So I just hoped I wouldn't have to deal with it. Apparently, the best thing to do is to thwart their urge to swarm by reversing the top box with the bottom box. The existing queen tends to move upwards when she lays eggs. So by the time spring comes, she has reached the top of the hive and starts to feel "brood congestion", even if the lower box is now empty of brood. So if you swap the top and bottom boxes, she feels "Ah! there's more room now!" and the hive no longer feels the need to swarm.

My notes from Bee School suggest you do this at the end of April, so I wasn't feeling that much pressure. So it wasn't until a whole week later (the following Saturday - today) that I got around to taking on the huge task of reversing the boxes.

Oh, what a nightmare. It took me THREE HOURS just to do one hive! I was not able to lift the top box off, so I had to take out each frame one by one. I had brought an empty hive box to put each frame in which made it a little easier.

The first thing I noticed were the queen cells! There seemed to be queen cells on every frame! Really?! And, there were so many bees! There were so many, each frame was completely covered, and some had more than one layer of bees on them! I felt so disappointed and upset. What was I going to do about this?? I wished I had listened more closely to Adam's talk about queen cells. I wished I had done the reversal weeks before. But I wasn't able to even get the frames out weeks before because it was too cold! Not knowing what else to do, I just went on taking frames out until I had emptied the top box and was able to lift it off. Then I had to do the same to the bottom box.

There were so many frames out and hive parts all over the place, and it was all taking me so long that the bees started getting more and more annoyed with me. Part of the reason it was taking me so long is that I had to remove the feeder from the top box (that was now going to be the bottom box) and put it in the bottom box (which was now going to be the top box). So that meant removing two frames from the bottom (now top) box and putting them in the top (now bottom) box. If you are confused, so was I. I may have spent about 45 minutes trying to get the two frames to go in, and they JUST WOULD NOT GO! "Very odd", I thought. "They fit last year". What on earth was I going to do? Just leave one frame out? What would I do with it?? I almost gave up, but then I had the idea that it might fit the (now top) box that the feeder was in. Perhaps I needed only have taken one frame out, not two. Sure enough, it did fit, though I had to really squeeze it in! (Later, when I got back to the house, I counted the number of frames in one of the extra hive boxes I have in the garage, and sure enough, there were only 8. Of course! It is an 8 frame hive! And there I was trying to fit 9 frames into one hive box! What was I thinking! No wonder it wouldn't fit! Argh!)

So now that all the bees were thoroughly fed up with me, I managed to get hive level, mouse nest disposed of, mouse guard off, hive boxes in the right places (reversed), extra brood cells that were projecting above and below the frames scraped off, sugar syrup poured into the feeder, lids placed back on, and I was finally done - but with just one hive. I still had the other to do tomorrow - Ahhh!  I staggered back to the house, dehydrated, starving, smelling of smoke, and in a high state of anxiety to tell Norman the bad news about the queen cells. The family had been wondering what had become of me.

Unfortunately I have no photos since my camera informed me I needed to charge the battery as soon as I got to the bees.