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Last week we inspected both the Saliva Hive (primary swarm), and our smaller nuc hive (afterswarm), and noted that the difference in progress between the two hives was due to the presence of a mated Queen in the primary swarm, and a virgin Queen in the afterswarm colony.

The afterswarm is housed in this 10-frame (5 frames per hive body) medium nuc hive box

Yesterday, 17 days after we captured the afterswarm, we decided to inspect this colony again.  The purpose for this inspection was purely to see if there was any evidence that the Queen in this colony is fertile.  Our last inspection revealed lots of comb, with nectar, and a little pollen, but no evidence of eggs or larvae.

The survival of this afterswarm colony hinges entirely on the Queen being well mated

Our primary concern was that if the Queen proved not to be fertile we’d need to react soon, by either re-queening the hive with a purchased, mated Queen, or transferring a frame with eggs from the Salvia Hive in the hopes the bees would raise an emergency Queen of their own.  Without a fertile Queen, no replacement worker bees will be produced.

Just a few bees visible in the new upper hive body, but this is expected

As we lifted the lid and the inner cover, we noted a few bees in the upper hive body, and they are just starting to draw out two of the new frames with comb.  The majority of the bees were still lurking down in the lower hive body.

Until this colony produces offspring their population will slowly decrease

We removed the upper hive body and set it aside, to see what was going on down below.  Even though we were sure we’d pushed the frames tightly together after the last inspection, there was a small gap, and we found a little bit of brace comb between two frames.  The wax was new and soft, and so the frames were easily separated, and the brace comb removed.

A small section of bridge, or brace comb, was present between two frames

We pulled the number 2 frame first as the bees don’t tend to work the outside frames as much, and it was obvious that the bees have been storing more nectar, and more pollen over the last week.  The top of the frame had a little capped honey…

Capped honey and nectar

with pollen and nectar stored below.

This frame contains capped honey (top), lots of colorful pollen (center), and nectar (bottom)

This is encouraging, as the bees will need these stores to feed brood.

A closer view of the pollen packed into the cells

If the frame had evidence of eggs or larvae we’d expect to see them below the band of pollen, but those cells only contained nectar.  Disappointed, we moved on to the next frame.

Scanning the frame from top to bottom, again, capped honey, pollen, and…wait a minute…

If you look closely, at the bottom of the cells, you can see tiny bee eggs that resemble miniature grains of rice (click image to enlarge)

YES!  EGGS!  ***Insert happy dance here***

Down in the bottom of some of the cells there were tiny little bee eggs.  They resemble minature grains of rice, standing on end, in the center of each cell, and there were a lot of eggs.

We turned the frame over, and found more eggs!  What a relief, pass the cigars (chocolate ones of course)!

A truly bee-autiful sight! These eggs look like they may be about 2 days old

Eggs aren’t always easy to spot, especially in new honeycomb as the wax is white.  Wearing a veil makes them even more difficult to see.  Fortunately the bees helped us out in some of the cells, as pollen was stored on the other side of the frame, improving contrast and visibility.

As we scanned the remaining frames we determined there were eggs laid on both sides of two of the frames.  No larvae were present, so it was clear the Queen had only recently begun to lay eggs.  She can lay between 1000-2000 eggs a day.  If we’d checked on Friday, there’s a good chance we wouldn’t have seen anything, as most of the eggs seemed to be 1 and 2 day-old eggs.  When they are first laid they stand vertically in the cell, and then slowly tip over until they lay almost flat on the floor of the cell by day 3, at which point they enter the larval stage.

Over the coming days we'll expect to see a lot more pollen being brought into this hive

The pattern of eggs on the frames looked excellent, with very few empty cells between the eggs, and a good pattern of nectar and pollen surrounding the cells with the eggs.  Each cell contained only a single egg.  So for now we presume it is indeed the Queen who is laying, and not a worker.  Sometimes in failing hives worker bees can lay infertile eggs (which would develop only into drones), and often a laying worker will lay multiple eggs in a single cell.

So the news from the afterswarm colony is looking much more promising than last week.  Until the eggs develop into larva, and are subsequently capped, we won’t know for certain that the Queen is laying fertilized eggs.

This picture from the Salvia Hive from last week shows flat capped worker brood (yellow arrow), versus dome capped drone brood (red arrow). We hope to see lots of worker brood caps at the next inspection

At the next inspection if we see evidence of worker brood, in flat capped cells, we will know the Queen is fertile.  If we only see domed shaped caps, evidence of drone brood, it would suggest she is an unmated/poorly mated Queen, and may need to be replaced.

The bees rebuilt a small piece of burr comb on one frame, which we removed

We didn’t inspect the Salvia Hive this week, but we did remove their supplemental feed.  This hive is amazingly robust for being only a month since the swarm was hived.  Plenty of nectar and pollen is coming into the hive, and consumption of supplemental feed was down significantly.

The entrance feeder was a little stuck in the entrance, and while trying to remove it we did inadvertently stand in the bee-line (the main bee highway from the field to the entrance) just briefly.  Suddenly we were surrounded by a cloud of bees.  Clearly we had interfered with air-traffic control, and inbound field worker flights were stacking up in a holding pattern.  Realizing what had happened, we stepped aside.  Cleared for landing, a surge of bees made a phenomenal rush for the door as you can see below.  This is why you should never stand in the bee-line…so sorry girls!  We then moved back to the side of the hive to wrestle the feeder out of the entrance.

We've never seen so many pollen-laden bees try to enter the hive at once! Sorry girls! (click image to see the dash for the door)

As the Saliva Hive hums along, and the eggs in the afterswarm Nuc develop, this week we’ll be setting out two new hives on the hive stand, ready for our original two packages of bees that we ordered in January to arrive.  The packages are scheduled to arrive on Thursday, so this will be a very bee-sy week.  In the meantime as it looks like the afterswarm hive will be building population soon, we have yet another hive to paint, so we’ll have a larger hive to house them in as this colony grows.  Hopefully then we can get back in the garden.  It’s really been all about the bees around here lately!