The Queen is Dead

It's so sad when the queen bee is dead.

I have two "mutt" European honeybee hives; one is named for my mother, the other for my grandmother. Last summer, something happened to the queen in my mother Gertrude's hive.

It wasn't obvious at first. Although the queen bee is the largest bee in the hive, worker bees will cover her up to protect her so she's not easy to find. She is the only bee that lays eggs so after a while, the lack of egg-laying becomes apparent. After waiting a few weeks to see if the bees would grow a new queen, I gave up and bought another one. It was late in the season; hives won't make it through winter without a queen, and I was running out of time waiting for them to develop their own.

The new queen cost $17 and, for some unknown reason, died before I got her home. Picking up a second queen, I gingerly drove her home and straight to the hive. New queens are packed in a little white, pistol-like container with holes and at least one worker bee attendant. The container is sealed with a marshmallow-like substance bees will eat to release the queen. I'm told it's important to give bees time to get acclimated to their new queen so I snuck the little tube between two of the top hive frames and closed it. It should take bees about 48 hrs to make it through the marshmallow stopper, enough time for them to get familiar with her. I didn't peek by re-opening the hive. Although some beekeepers regularly open hives to check them, I try to minimize how often I disturb them. How would you like someone regularly lifting the roof of your house to see how you were doing?

I did watch the hive entrance. Before weather turned cold in December, a good number of bees were eating out of the top hive feeder so it looked like the queen had settled in quite nicely. Bees don't hibernate. They cluster in the center of the hive keeping it at 90F.

To help them stay warm, I winterized the hives by surrounding them with white styrofoam. I thought they looked like two little castles but neighborhood pickers mistook them for refrigerators and offered to haul them away.