My assignment was to find one of my honeybee queens and (sigh) kill her.
One of my two honeybee hives had been struggling. The verdict from more experienced beekeepers was that my queen bee - she's the only one in the hive of 40,000 plus honeybees that lays - is not laying her 1,200 eggs or so a day so she needs to be replaced.
Normally a queen bee will live 4-5 years, as opposed to a worker bee's 6 weeks of life producing 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey. In nature, honeybees will determine when the queen bee needs to be replaced and grow their own new queen.The two queens will fight it out; sometimes the old queen will split from the colony and take worker bees to a new colony, or the new bee queen will kill the old queen and take over.
My bee mentor had patiently helped me when I found out bees toss out and outright kill the drones, or male bees, in fall. Since they don't do anything in the hive but mate with the queen, the laggards are booted out as the hive prepares for winter.
You would think it would be relatively easy to find the largest honeybee in the hive.
The challenge is there are 39,999 plus other, also moving honeybees, 20 frames to check, and worker bees helping to hide the queen. tried to set up the checked frames in a box to the left of the main hive; then I had honeybees all over the area.
At one point, I felt a bee inside my face net. After quickly hiking back to the house, telling myself "stay calm," I removed the hat with the netting, released the bee, and found two spots where the screen was torn. For the record, I was not stung, although they would have had every right to do so. Wouldn't you be upset if someone bigger came along and tore up your home??
Rows of staples closed up holes in the net before I headed back to the mess I had left around the hive.
By the time I arrived back on the scene, my smoker had almost started a fire from the bale of straw where I left it as I moved quickly up the hill. Bees are now none too happy to have their hive taken apart; I started to periodically apply a whiff of smoke around me to keep myself calm.
I took the opportunity to clean propolis build-up on the hive. Bees make this amazing glue-like substance from tree sap to seal hive holes but it can make quietly moving hive floors around difficult, and noisy. It's like trying to sneak into a house stomping boots on hardwood floors, hoping no one will notice.
Once I had the hive back together, in the right order, I hope - bees were hanging out on the front of the hive "bearding," clumping up together. It's possible they don't have a queen bee. It's more probable I missed spotting her. I'm hoping the bees realize they need a new queen and are growing their own.