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July 17, 2014

Regicide and the swelling summer

by blakehiltunen

As the summer reaches its peak my colonies of honeybees continue their diligent work, building new comb, rearing new brood, and storing surplus honey for their upcoming winter.  The warm New Hampshire days encourage them to not only continue consuming the sugar syrup in their hives but also to forage for pollen and nectar in the clover and wild flowers blooming around the hives.

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There was a set back in the last two weeks.  Two of the three colonies had lost their precious queen.  Having the initial inclination to allow these colonies to rear their own new queen I allowed them to start develop queen cells.  However, after speaking with Master Beekeeper Erin MacGregor-Forbes, I was encouraged to introduce a northern raised queen before the colony could finish creating their own.  With this advice I visited Chris Rogers in Windham, ME (backwoodsbeefarm.com) and purchased two queens raised in Vermont.  It is suggested that hives in the north east have a northern raised queen as she is more likely to be able to handle the drastic temperature changes than the southern raised queens that come with the original package of bees.

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The queen comes in a small wooden box with a screen over it.  The white square at the end is made of sugar and serves both as a food source for the queen and her attendants as well as a wall to prevent her from being exposed to the colony too quickly.  When the new queen is introduced to the colony she must stay inside her cage for a couple/few days to allow her scent to become familiar.  If she is introduced too quickly, the colony will kill her.  Before introducing these new queens the cells that were being built needed to be destroyed.  This is done so the colony has a higher likelihood of accepting the new queen.  Queen cells are built on the bottom of the frames as they are irregular in shape, needing to be longer to accommodate her larger size.  Removing these cells is quite intense as they have soft white larvae enclosed inside that burst and ooze white liquid when scraped from the frame.  Killing infant queens is messy.

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Of the fifteen or so queen cells that were destroyed in the removal process, I was able to save four from being ruined.  I froze these four to allow for dissection.  Opening these enclosed cells shows the metamorphosis the bees are undergoing from a larva to a mature honeybee.

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The northern queens are now out of their boxes and laying new generations of larvae with genes suited for our geographical location.  The colony will build comb where ever there is space and needs to be inspected every couple days to prevent them from using energy building comb in undesired locations (like this one on the inside of the cover).

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