This is a short note to those new beeks out there who are just getting started in beekeeping, or those who hope to do so soon. Two days ago I was placing hive top feeders on some hives. This requires removing the inner cover and setting the feeder on top of the hive in its place. Apparently I’ve become a little casual about checking the inner cover for the queen because you simply never find them there. True, the under side of the inner cover sits just above the top bars of the frames where the bees are working and there are always some bees on the inner cover, but I have never found the queen there.
On the last hive I had pulled off the inner cover and replace it with the feeder. I poured the feed in and then got distracted going back to check on another hive. When I returned about 5 minutes later I noticed a loud roar coming from the last hive. I went back and listened to some of the other hives and they were quiet as can bee. Then it dawned on me that the last hive I was working on must be queenless. It only takes a few minutes for a hive to realize they are without a queen and when they are the entire place gets into a major uproar. No, the bees weren’t anymore aggressive – quite mild mannered in fact, but the noise was unmistakable. I picked up the inner cover that was standing up against the front of the hive and on the underside was a huge mass of bees. My first thought was to move a few bees aside to find the queen but then stopped myself for fear of harming the queen. I have no doubt the queen was on the inner cover when I first removed it from the hive and the bees were quickly mounding up over her to protect her,
After dropping the ball of bees back into the hive I replaced the feeder and left the bees alone for about a half an hour. When I returned I found the hive nearly as quiet as the other hives. Clearly the queen had been outside the hive and I was lucky to have found her.
The lesson here is to pay attention to your hives with more than just your eyes. When your ears tell you something is different about one hive you had better check it out. A queenless hive will most certainly roar in a way that you rarely hear otherwise. So for the new folks out there, tuck this thought into the back of your mind and don’t forget it. It just might save you from losing a queen.