The Queen (Bee) of North Natomas

Monday, July 27, 2009

Whew! Almost stepped in that one -- big time.

We all know who the true QUEEN of North Natomas is, right? That would be the wife that is Venus -- the gardening inspiration of my life -- the love of my life -- the ruler of the household.

But the Queen Bee? That's something else entirely. And boy, do we have one heck of a Queen Bee.

My thanks once again to Howard Mann, our North Highlands-based mentor of all things honeybees. We turned to Howard in a fit of desperation about a month ago when our queenless Hello Kitty Honeybee Hive showed signs of extreme distress and colony failure. Once again, it's Howard who has provided the best digital photos you will ever find on this blog.

To put it short and sweet: they're amazing.

There's our lovely lady -- to your left -- the Queen of the Hello Kitty Beehive. Clearly marked by a dot of green paint -- she was going about her business -- indifferent from the beekeepers fawning over her (she'd make the perfect cat). Howard, Venus and I had gone back into the Hello Kitty hive a short three weeks after placing a new queen inside the hive, in hopes of saving it from an almost sure fate of destruction.

This was the crucial three week "test." Did the queen survive? What was the queen doing? What would the hive look like? Would we get stung? Actually, that last question wasn't really going through my mind, but needless to say, we had a lot of questions.

The saying goes that "Hindsight is 20-20." That's a true statement if I ever heard one. When I was presented with the choice of picking one queen from the two they had on stock at Sacramento Beekeeping Supplies -- I just wish I had been at a Vegas craps table instead, rolling the dice one final time with a million dollar bet on the table. Why? Because my only problem at this point would be deciding where to put all those new millions I would have won.

I just didn't pick a "new queen." I picked the Seattle Slew of new Queens -- the Joe Montana of Queens -- the MICHAEL JORDAN of new Queens. This little lady just isn't good. She's a ROCK STAR -- and I have the pictures to prove it.

There are pictures like this one. We found the queen on the first frame that we lifted out of the Hello Kitty Hive. If you count from left to right, the queen was located on the 7th frame (there are ten frames in the Hello Kitty Hive). I didn't know why she was there at the time, until we lifted the sixth frame out of the hive.

That frame is located to your immediate right. Any experienced beekeeper will tell you that "this is a beautiful sight." Do you know what those flat-capped, tan colored combs are? They spell the words L-I-F-E. Each one of those flat capped combs represents a new female worker bee in the pre-emergent stage. In another week or two, those females will chew their way through those combs and start doing what female workers do: either care for more brood or gather pollen for honey.

But it didn't stop there. As Howard, Venus and I moved from the sixth frame to the fifth, fourth, third, second and first -- we saw exactly the same signs -- and on both sides of the frame as well. Each one contained what you see to your immediate left: flat-capped, tan colored brood. Not only that -- but these frames were HEAVY, and had to be literally pried out of the Hello Kitty hive.

Why were they so heavy? Are female bees born with a "weight problem?" No -- not hardly. I didn't realize why the frames were so heavy until Howard pointed out the obvious. Across the top of each frame? Running down the sides of each frame? A golden supply of what bees do best: produce honey. And it was literally spilling out of each frame that I lifted out of the hive.

Our bees had been busy. The QUEEN HAD GOTTEN BUSY! How that little lady managed to fill up six entire frames, front and back, with new brood in the space of just three weeks is still quite the mystery. She must have started laying eggs the moment she crawled into her new home and she's probably still at it.

Meanwhile, the new female brood that I inserted into the hive with the new queen had also been hard at work, packing each frame with as much pollen and honey as possible. There was more than enough there to feed the colony through the winter, and since it's not even August yet, pollen season is far from over.

After seeing the new numbers -- and brood that was about to emerge -- I was immediately tempted to put a "Queen Excluder" over the top of the hive and start adding honey supers. Perhaps we could collect a little honey after all before the summer was out.

But, Howard counseled against it. He also counseled against the addition of a second hive body, although it was clear that the new queen probably could have filled it up in the space of a month. He counseled patience instead. So, for now, we'll leave the hive and our new Queen alone. We'll pass on the chance to collect honey, and concentrate on building up hive strength for the long winter ahead.

Although the vast majority of new colonies fail during the first year -- if any new colony is going to survive the first winter challenge -- this will be the one. Our new Queen means business. Although there are no guarantees in life when it comes to beekeeping -- life is looking good for the Hello Kitty Hive.


Fred Hoffman said...

And what pollen & nectar sources do you have for your OctoBee family for the fall and winter?

Carri Stokes said...

Way cool Bill! Really neat to see how much has changed since the last time we saw your bees!

Bill Bird said...


Does that offer to paint a second hive and honey supers still count? I'll need them very early next spring.

Bill Bird said...


That's a good question. There is some of that stuff planted in the yard (Rosemary), but not enough to sustain a hive through the winter.

Daffodil Planter said...

Well, if she's in the regal offspring race I guess you'd have to call her Queen Victoria. So glad that she is happy in the hive!