Queen recovery hive

Since we captured that feral freebee swarm back in April 2007, we’ve taken a pretty relaxed approach to urban beekeeping by letting the bees, well just “bee.”  However, we are constantly checking the health of the bees and hives.  Just recently,  we noticed that one of the hives was different.  Yes, the hive was alive and healthy, but something was ‘off’.

Sometimes, different is better but this one queen was acting strangely and from past experience, you could tell something was not exactly right.  As an experienced beekeeper, you are looking for queens that have ‘the it factor.’  Well, this one didn’t have ‘it.’   Quite hard to explain ‘it’ in writing.   Honey bee queens set the tone for the rest of the colony.   A ‘well mannered’ queen is calm and has a great brood pattern and and this one was quite  the opposite.    So she needed to be dethroned.

So the hard (sad) decision was made to re-queen;   Beekeeper D killed one old queen.  It was a tough thing to do.

In addition, we were planning to split one of the hives  and introduce a new queen to our urban honey bee collection.

I have been looking for some natural survivor queens and after weeks of research, I found a couple of  queens that hadn’t been chemically raised and/or artificially inseminated.  The new queens  arrived alive and well and we were off to introduce them.  Beekeeper D has done this many times since he started keeping bees 35 years ago. The only difference was the  price for new queens had increased.

To make a long story short, we later followed up and  checked in to see how New Queen #1 (the re-queened hive) and the New Queen #2 (the split) were progressing.  #2 had settled right in with her  bees and was looking nice and pretty.  However, hard to explain in writing, but something was much different  with the re-queened hive and #1.   Maybe she needed more time?  We’ll patiently give her some more time to get acclimated.

After leaving the bees, well, be(!) we came back later checked back again to see how it was going.  The #2 queen hive was hopping with bees and honey and now needed more space!  Sweet!

Time to check in on Queen #1 to she how she is doing…  well, we couldn’t find her!!!!!!!  Where did she go?  A lot of questions…. so we went through the frames again looking and looking…. still no luck.  Yikes, what had happened to queen #1?????

We didn’t give up hope and were still looking, hoping to find her, now checking the sides, bottom of the hive box…..  then I suddenly noticed two  bees fighting on the floor of the hive…..

What’s going on with you two?

This one aggressive bee was fighting some other bee  in a WWF smackdown headlock, a thrilla in manilla fight, a rumble in the jungle moment…..

Hey, wow, look  it  is Queen #1 in a life and death battle with some other bee — you can’t do that to our queen!!

Beekeeper D quickly goes to the queen’s rescue with his trusty hive tool, and tries to kill the rogue bee… but how can you when the two are rumbling around the bottom? Very carefully, with one quick swipe of his hive tool, Beekeeper D rescued queen #1 and the rogue met her fate. Yeah!

You can imagine our surprise when we discovered the rogue bee was actually another queen bee!!   Where in the world did she some from?? (Like I said before, we  had removed and killed one old queen before introducing the new one.)   Possibly some wild queen moved in? Or was there 2 queens in the hive originally?  I guess we’ll never know….

Sis told me that we should have taken some exciting “play by play” pics.  Of course, it’s impossible to take pics when totally focused on saving your ‘baby.’

Just yesterday, we went into the (now nicknamed ‘Red Cross hospital’) hive to check out the recovering queen #1…..

Can you spot the Queen?

There she is!

Good news – she’s (still) alive and well and laying!

Don’t you just love  happy endings?  I certainly  do.


  1. Anais says:

    Great story Justin. Also AWESOME to have Jordanne and now Justin on the LHITC blogging team! 😉

  2. mousedude says:

    That other queen was probably generated by the workers. When they realized they had no queen they created one by feeding a larvae (or several larvae, picked at random) royal jelly. In the presence of a queen the pheromones inhibit this behavior, but once the queen disappears the hive is perfectly capable of requeening itself as long as there are still some eggs or young larvae. the other queen probably hatched shortly after you re-queened the hive.

  3. James Moore says:

    I love the hospital! Do the nurse bees have little nurse hats?

  4. Phoenix says:

    interesting to learn from and read about from experienced beekeepers

  5. mitch says:

    We have just done the same thing here, re-queened 2 hives..fingers crossed all is going well.
    This year has been kinder with the weather, as the last 2 summers in the UK were very wet and pretty grim for the bees & us!
    Bees are fascinating to keep; I have also been planting up a meadow and nectar ‘bar’ with the bees and wildlife in mind, will be interested to see how that progresses and see if the bees like my choice of plants!

  6. Tracy says:

    Yeah, I was going to say what mousedude just said. If there was any space of time at all between with Farmer D killed the old queen, and you putting in the new queen, the workers would have started the process of begatting a new queen themselves. So this begs the question, if it was two queens fighting, how do you know that Farmer D killed the rogue (native) one and not the one you bought?

  7. Tracy says:

    Or…. they didn’t like your new “foreign” queen. You said she wasn’t doing real well. If the workers don’t like their queen they will overthrow in a revolution and create their own.

    So you know all this about bees, Justin – already! Which do YOU think it was?

  8. Dave says:

    if you see eggs in the brood chamber, you don’t have to interrupt the bees looking for the queen.
    if the beekeeper can’t tell a queen from another bee such as when the queen was being fought, you should probably learn more about beekeeping before publishing stories about it on the web.

  9. JeannaMO says:

    I left a message on Facebook, but I just love reading this posts and the comments from other beekeepers.

    We have a have that the queen died and robbers took all the honey and had a masacre in the hive. Found lots of dead bee bodies in the front of the hive and yellow powder bee wax cappings all over the place.

    We took frames of brood/honey from a very big healthy hive, and inserted them in this dying hive. I noticed last night that some of the brood is now little larvae. How long will it take for the queens to be fed (if that is what they do – hopefully they will). Will this look any different when they start making some of the larvae into queens?


  10. JeannaMO says:

    We have a hive (typo) (sorry!)

  11. Mel says:

    I think Justin and Jules know their bees well and know about bees as well including how hives raise their own queens when a queen is dead. I think Jules knows well about requeening if you’ve raised bees that long. And I think he knows well about how bees raise queens too!

    @Tracy Justin said they killed the old queen and popped the new one in so there wasn’t (or at least, apparent to me) any space of time.

  12. Jordanne says:

    Hey guys, just remember that Justin did try to convey that he didn’t have the time to tell every little detail: i.e., “To make a long story short.” When the guys shared the story with us… I’d have to say, it was thrilling.

    And anyone who has jumped in to save something can feel the urgency the guys would have felt!

    We’re just glad Justin is taking the time to share on the web when he’s such a busy man!

    So, you all have to realize that we try to share what we can when we have the time and it’s very hard to convey EVERYTHING.

    For those of you confused — These two bees are locked in a battle to the death and the rogue queen was locked around the other in a c-shape, trying to sting the abdomen of our new queen (which we KNEW — a beekeeper KNOWS his queens from sight). Each queen is different — from color and size to shape.

    So, it was difficult to tell exactly what is happening — watch two dogs in a death fight and then tell me what breed and color they are… all I can say, is the guys knew THEIR queen was being killed and there were just seconds to save her.

    It’s also possible for worker bees to kill and drag out a queen they reject.

    I do know the guys said the rogue bee was not a very good looking queen – small and rangy and looked surprisingly like a worker bee.

    As you can see in the picture, the queen we had is long, fat and golden.

    Also, there had been no queen cells in the hive at any time when the guys put in our new queen. Nor were there any EMPTY queen cells when the guys later examined the hive fully.

    So, again… please remember, details are very hard to explain and Justin is a busy man and doesn’t have the time to write it all out.

  13. Tracy says:

    Thanks Jordanne! I knew that Justin already knew all these answers (because he knows a LOT more about bees than I do) so I was thinking he was just teasing us to make us think and see what all kind of responses he would get to his post. It was a great story to read! He wrote it so well. Makes you feel the excitement of the moment!

  14. Jordanne says:

    @ Dave RE: Eggs in the brood chamber

    There are a lot more factors to beekeeping than such simple statements.

    For instance, there is such a thing as laying worker bees which develop in the absence (or failure) of a proper queen, whose scent prevent the developing of the workers’ ovaries.

    (Read more about it… there’s a lot more to be said about this phenomenon that I won’t have the time to write about here. — Just my disclaimer for not having the time to write every little fact and info here.) Wiki has some brief details for those curious: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laying_worker_bee

    Back in the 1970s, Dad learned from old-time beekeepers. Not books and not GOOGLE-“knowledge”. Those old timers knew what they were talking about and passed onto him the information of how to inspect a hive.

  15. Jordanne says:

    @Tracy — no problem! There was just a cynical comment that was totally uncalled for in our mailbox today so I jumped in to explain things. Your questions are totally valid! 🙂 Good to see some interaction on this site.

    Did my post answer some of your queries anyway? The fact was that there was no evidence of a queen having been hatched in the hive so it was this wild and crazy smack-down between two queens… one of which we don’t have any conclusive evidence of where she came from.

    Some wild renegade warrior-queen leading a coup and hive takeover? Ooooh…. my writer’s mind is having fun with this one!

    Still… it’s something people rarely get to see so it’s thrilling in that way — insect nature at its most wild.

    [And all this reminds me I need to get the “reply to comment thread” code put in so we can have in direct answers to comments. :-)]

  16. Spice says:

    Wow, never knew about all this. My education via lhitc continues

  17. Susan says:

    Wow, that’s the most exciting thing I’ve read in a long time! I was on the edge of my seat waiting to read how it would turn out. Forget going to the movies, just get a beehive for some heart-stopping action scenes!

    Since Beekeeper D saved a queen’s life, shouldn’t he be knighted?? =)

    Just curious but how do you kill a queen bee? Don’t the workers try to protect her if you remove her from the hive?

  18. mamabird says:

    I for one love to read what Justin has been doing. It’s not very often we get to read anything from him. I understand he is very busy. That’s what makes his post special. That he would take the time to write here on your family’s website.

    By the way, LOVE the bee story myself. It made me laugh lol.

  19. Dave says:

    very true that simple statements and beekeeping are not congruent. a laying worker won’t have a solid laying pattern like a good queen will, but it is true that if the queen is no good, she won’t have a nice solid pattern either.
    i don’t buy into the idea that someone who has been keeping bees a long time knows more than a younger keeper. practice only makes consistent..

  20. Ric Smith says:

    Awesome story you guys. I love the way you live and wish I could do the same some day. Please don’t take any negative comments to heart and let that affect what you’re doing. You all are doing a great job letting us know what it truely takes to live as “eco-friendly” as possible. Plus, you guys just seem like really good people. Genuinely good people.

  21. Nancy says:

    Loved this post! It was fun to hear from Justin! I want to thank you all for sharing so much with us. I know it can’t be easy to do. You are a huge encouragement and I really appreciate it.

  22. Simplistic Thoughts says:

    Great article. I happened to come across a news video about your house and found my way to your website. You’re setting a great example for us all. Way to go. Look forward to learning more. I live on a tropical island (Miyakojima, Japan) so some types of plants are difficult to grow, but we are learning fast!

  23. Connie says:

    I am brand new to this site and ironically, one of the “projects” I have been thinking about quite a bit, is putting a small hive on my property. I have a bee keeper friend who is all for this and will set up the hive and teach me how to care for them and eventually harvest the honey. In Hawaii, we have been struggling with the terrible veroa (sp) mite for the past few years, which has greatly reduced our healthy honey bee population, so the keepers get so excited when anyone is open to helping the cause!
    Your blog and your posts are incredible. Enjoyable to read and probably more balanced then most of the farming informational products that I have been reading.
    The fact that you are a non-profit and do this for the love of farming and the environment is admirable! Please keep up the great and selfless work…please don’t let negative comments discourage you…Thank you so much…always forward!

  24. Justin says:

    Hi all,
    Thanks for all of the great comments – plus it looks like my post opened a bee’s nest of controversy…

    I’ll have to get those cute Red Cross nurse bees some hats! 😉

    It’s a long story, but I told myself do not forget to mention the ‘minor details.’ Well, my mistake!

    There were no queen cells in that hive of any kind.

    The original queen was from a swarm we had caught a few months ago.

    There were possibly 2 queens in the original swarm/hive, or maybe a rogue queen moved in shortly after the we removed one queen and before the worker bees released the new queen from its cage.

    You can kill a queen by bee-heading her 🙁 Yes, the worker bees will try to rescue her.

    I sure hope the Red Cross Queen realizes that Beekeeper D saved her bee-hind. 😉 She better turn out to be a great long-lived queen since she owes us a bunch of honey!

  25. BEE LINE! | Little Homestead in the City says:

    […] the recent introduction of the new queen (check out Justin’s bee post here) the guys have started a family tree with all the bee lines. It’s fun to decipher the bee […]

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