queen cells

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Jenn came home from work yesterday to find one of our hives (likely Queen Latifah’s) had swarmed to the fence across the yard. Latifah’s hive tried to swarm multiple times last year and we were able to prevent it by scraping out the queen cells and once splitting the hive. A combination of bad weekend weather and travel has kept us from inspecting our hives since late January, so unfortunately we didn’t stop this one!

Swarms generally happen when the bees feel that they are running out of space in their current hive. The queen lays several eggs in queen cups (big combs) and then flies off with half of the worker bees to start a new hive somewhere else. To raise a new queen, worker bees feed only royal jelly to the eggs in the queen cups.The first princess hatches from her throne and then goes “battle royale” and kills all the other princesses still in their cells. She then goes on a mating flight and, if she survives, begins laying. 

The old queen flies off with the swarm, which is the issue we have here. Queen Latifah is somewhere in that cluster of bees in the picture while scout bees look for a suitable home for her to setup a new hive. The swarm is SUPER calm. This is because the bees have no hive, honey, or brood to protect. All they’re doing is keeping the queen fed and warm while looking for a new home. 

This morning Cale went out and brushed the bees off the fence into a Nuc box (small hive with 5 frames in it). The bees really were calm, falling in clumps into the box. Obviously quite a few bees flew off when this happened but most of them just fell down and kept in the cluster. The bees that were flying around were mostly just circling. For those who have never been in a swarm of bees, the sound and feeling is intense. There’s a low hum and you can actually feel the wind coming off the wings of 10k bees. One surprising thing is the smell, a mix of pheromones and pollen. It’s almost a sweet aroma in the air and would be relaxing if it weren’t for the low hum of thousands of airborn stinging insects. 

The bees are currently in the Nuc box in the back yard. Hopefully Cale was able to get the queen into the box. If not the bees will return to their spot on the fence and continue looking for a suitable home. One problem is since the bees have already made this leap to swarm, odds are they’ll continue doing it until 1) we replace the queen, or 2) they find a suitable home likely a couple miles away from the current hive. We’ll check back into the box tonight and see if they have accepted the Nuc box as their hive.

Hey, new beekeepers! If you are in the US Birmingham area and are looking for bees, I am starting a beesness called Hive Dynamics that involves giving colonies that I extract to new beekeepers for a super low price! I get calls for extractions and removals from all over now, so I’ll probably have plenty of bees soon.


Want bees?
It will work like this:

First, all you must do is give me your contact information, and I will tell you your place in the “bee queue”. Then, once I am called for an extraction, I will call the next person in the queue to let them know. Once the bees are in my possession, or about to be, I will call you so that we can schedule a place to meet so that I can give you your bees! You don’t have to pay a cent before you get the bees, because there is no guarantee that I will get them myself. I will be sure to tell you whether or not I know for sure that there is a queen, and any other suggestions relating to the colony and it’s wellbeing. If there is comb you will get it, and any queen cups or cells that I find will be given to you too. I will only be able to hold the bees for about one day before putting them in a temporary hive, so if you want the colony price without the hive box, it will need to happen quickly. Bees don’t like being kept in buckets.

I’m thinking of charging 70$ per colony, but I’m not sure if that is too much considering the uncertainty. If you have any sort of ideas as to how I could make this process better or smoother in any way, please don’t hesitate to tell me. I’m here to get more bees in to more homes, and want to do it as efficiently as possible. The hive boxes that they will be transported in after a day will simply be 5-sided wooden boxes with a hatch lid and a hole in it. Nothing fancy, but just a place for them to settle down in. Pre-waxed frames or top bars may be added for ease of access and transfer. They will add approximately 35$ to the total price. This price may vary as time goes on so don’t hold me to it. Xp

Please spread the word too! I can’t really advertise much, so word of mouth is basically all I have. I will hopefully have a website soon, so that will be nice too.

New Bee Package details (as promised a couple of weeks ago - sorry - remodeling project crisis happened!)

This video moves around kind of a lot but it shows two queen cells my packaged bees made immediately after their queen was released during the first week after “installation”.  Packaged bees come without any frames or comb - you get bees and a queen - they have to make their own hive. 

Per instructions, you install the three pounds of bees with only five frames (instead of the usual 8-10 frames) to start out - giving the bees a chance to begin focused comb-building so the queen has a place to lay eggs and the workers can begin storing nectar and pollen to make honey. 

Another way to start out with bees is with a nuc – short for nucleus or hive nucleus. In a nuc - you get a small box with five frames of comb that the bees have already pulled and been working. In the comb, there will be some food stores and some brood (eggs, larvae, capped bees developing). This gives the bees a better chance of survival, and reduces the chance the bees will swarm or leave, initially. When you install a nuc, you transfer the started frames into a big box, add empty frames (or frames with foundation only), and the bees and queen are all ready to go to town : raising they brood they’ve already made and expanding into the big hive.

However, from what I’ve been reading/learning about queen rearing/breeding - this is how queens are most often massed produced for selling – in five frame nuc boxes. Bees make queens when the hive is full and thriving and needs to split in order to survive. Restricted inside a functioning nuc box - with an active laying queen… the bees quickly assume they are running out of room and begin making new queens from the larvae the old queen is laying. 

I think - when you buy a package of bees - you get bees that come from generations of bees that have been bred and used in this queen breeding process — bees that are used to constantly having a full hive and constantly making new queens. 

My theory is that this is why my bees immediately started trying to make a new queen even though they had a freshly bred, young, laying, healthy queen already. They were just doing the same job that bees in their family line were used to being manipulated into — they didn’t really have a natural reason to start a new queen (they weren’t out of space yet - just beginning to get the five frames full). So they were sort of trained or primed to be queen rearers/makers immediately whenever they were in that small space.

Bottom line - I pinched those queen cells right off on day 7 - the first time I saw them (that was 3 weeks ago now). 

When I pinched them off - I added more empty frames - giving the bees and their new queen a full size hive to work in. I am never sure about interfering with the bees – which is partly why I am so keen on this “treatment-free” beekeeping stuff. But in this case, I am pretty sure I did the right thing by pinching off those extra unnecessary queen cells. Three weeks down the line - the hive is filling up and thriving, the queen and her brood and bees seem to be very healthy. 

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Looks like Llorynth is getting ready for something. I don’t know what, but they are getting ready for it.
Seems that queen Deirdre is either ill or well aged and they are generating replacements. The brood is very spotty and I’m not quite sure what to do.
I only put in the queen cell frame in the strong hive yesterday so it will be at least another week before I have queens for them…

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Honey bees build complexes of hexagonal wax cells in their nests to contain their larvae and stores of honey. Why do these insects prefer hexagons to, for instance, square cells (which are more straightforward to build)?

There are two possible explanations. One is that hexagon tiles the plane with minimal surface area. This claim (for obvious reasons called the “honeycomb conjecture”) was proved only in 1999 by Thomas Hales, and implies the hexagonal structure uses the least material to create a lattice of cells within a given volume.

Another explanation is that the hexagonal shape simply results from the process of individual bees putting cells together, somewhat analogous to the boundary shapes created in a field of soap bubbles. In support of this theory, it is observed that queen cells, which are constructed singly, are irregular, with no apparent attempt at efficiency.

Warrior Queens

Cool queen cell structures!


Once a queen hatches from her cell, she immediately begins calling to other queens in an audible rally to fight. If she is the first to hatch safely, she begins hunting down the unhatched queens and killing them. The workers then discard of their bodies and begin deconstructing their cells. This is what their cells look like once all this is complete.

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I’ve been obsessed with bees and did a solid year of research on bees. I looked at mythos, folklore, biology, politics, misogyny, anti-beekeeping, poetry, literature, global trade, and anything that was remotely related to bees.

And now, I’m actually interacting with the real bees. Sometimes when I think of the ravages of capitalism, the raw mythological evil of Monsanto, and the hungry ghosts across the globe I feel so small. I don’t know how to stop these machines. I can, however, work on continuously divesting from these machines in baby steps. Hopefully I’ll have my first bee nucleus by the end of May. I won’t be using a Langstroff Hive like the adorable garden hive featured my my afternoon visiting and learning. I’m probably going to use a Warré box which is bee-centered rather than beekeeper-centered.

Industrialized honey is a disaster for many reasons and the laboratory artificial insemination process of the queen bee almost gave me nightmares. Pesticides are killing bees & butterflies, our pollinators, and they’re poisoning our farm workers and their children. The water wells in agricultural lands are being declared officially unsafe for consumption where crops are grown. We’ve turned the idea of organic agriculture from a human, earth, and animal rights mandate for industry into a signifier for wealth. The fight for organic agriculture standards IS a battle for human rights. I think shaming an individual for not being able to afford organic food is wrong, demanding that organic standards be used in industrial farming for farm worker safety is imperative.

Excited to have honey and beeswax to share with my community time bank in a year’s time if I manage to keep my hive going.

Cool facts: swarming bees may look the scariest but are least likely to sting. Every sting is a fatality for a bee and a swarm cannot afford to decrease the population nor do they have a hive or babies to protect. Learning to catch a swarm is a great way to start a new hive.

Before a swarm, a queen starts a swarm cell inside the hive for the DNA of each drone she successfully mated with and those queens will duke it out for the role of the next matriarch. It’s common to see 10+ cells from her royal gangbang when she took the throne. Swarm time is determined when a queen has filled a hive to capacity with many daughters and a full honey supply. She’ll leave half of her hive behind to continue under a new matriarch and leaves with her flight to forge a new successful hive. It’s a brilliant way to keep disseminating strong genetics for each habitat.

Also: reading essays from dudebros throughout history INSISTING that there must be a king bee running the hive and not a pathetic female makes for the best hilarious feminist theory ever.

A Beekeeper’s Nightmare

aka things I have thought/said while looking at my hive

  • Wow these bees are angry I’m glad I’m wearing my apocalypse suit
  • There isn’t any brood in this frame.  Why is there no brood in this frame
  • Is that a queen cell.  That better not be a queen cell
  • You know as much as I love you, you somehow found a way into my suit and are now climbing up my chest and you need to die I’m sorry but it’s necessary
  • You know I really don’t need to buy one of those things that gets the bees out of the honey box before I harvest the honey I have a paintbrush I can just brush them off it’ll be fine
  • I’M SORRY MY CHILDREN BUT I’VE BEEN TRYING TO PUT THE TOP BACK ON THE HIVE FOR FIVE MINUTES NOW AND YOU’RE NOT GETTING OUT OF THE WAY SO YOU HAVE TO BE CRUSHED HOPEFULLY I DIDN’T JUST CRUSH THE QUEEN
  • Wow I hope I don’t burn down my neighborhood it hasn’t rained here in a while but I have to light the smoker
  • If I see one more yellow jacket fly into my hive I’m going to track them down and murder them all
  • Wow my bees sure are busy today haha wow really busy…they’d better not be swarming
  • THERE ARE ANTS IN MY HIVE I’D BETTER remember to do something about it later
  • Well it looks like I waited too long to take care of the ants and now I am stuck outside on the sidewalk in my apocalypse suit scooping my swarmed hive back into the box don’t mind me the friendly neighborhood beekeeper
  • This is a massacre zone.  There are dead bees everywhere.  Piles of them.  If I ever get the chance, I’m driving yellow jackets to extinction
  • Look at this desolation I don’t have bees what am I going to do with no bees
  • These bees are Italian.  They’re cool.
  • Haha I’m just dumping a new hive of bees into this box I don’t need my full apocalypse suit I can just put on the jacket and some sweatpants they won’t be that mad oH WAIT NO THEY’RE MAD
  • Newsflash: bees can sting you through fabric that is not specifically designed to keep bees from stinging you
  • I have taken off all of my bee suit materials but I can still hear a bee buzzing and it follows me around and I can’t see a bee which means that there is a bee on me somewhere where is it I can’t feel it OW ok there it is