The Queen Bee: At the Heart of Every Hive
Spring is a very busy time in the world of bees, especially if you happen to be a queen. With the warmer weather, our queens are working hard to repopulate their hives, ready to enjoy the bountiful summer flowers. A healthy, happy queen makes for a healthy and happy hive. That’s why we always take special care of our queens, especially at this time of the year.
The queen bee is one of the first things we check on in the spring, as soon as it’s warm enough to inspect the hives properly. The queen is slightly different to other bees and quite easy to identify. Caramel in colour, she has a longer abdomen and shorter wings. You’re highly unlikely to spot her in your garden though — she lives in the hive and does not leave to forage for food.
Although she’s more like a mother than a ruler, the queen bee really is treated like a queen. She is surrounded by special attendants who groom her and dispose of any waste products.
If we find that a queen bee is not healthy and laying well, our beekeepers will need to intervene, by replacing the failing queen with a healthy one. If left alone, the nurse bees will eventually replace the sick queen themselves.
It takes the worker bees around 16 days to raise a new queen. During this time the hive is completely disrupted. Without the queen’s pheromones, the bees literally get themselves all in a buzz instead of carrying out their usual tasks. That’s why it’s a good idea to step in, introducing a healthy young queen who is ready to take over. This is also the case if we have to split a hive due to overpopulation.
At Mountain Valley Honey, we raise our own queen bees in purpose-built apiaries. Because breeding queen bees is a specialist task, many beekeepers buy their queen bees from elsewhere.
Murray’s dad, Merv, used to raise queens for us. Merv always had a fascination with queen bees — it goes right back to the early days and his first hives. These days he is retired. It’s not hard to understand Merv’s admiration for queen bees — they are remarkable little creatures.
Now we get our queen cells from Murray’s sister Cath at River Terrace Apiaries who is a skilled queen breeder. We then put these into nuc hives (small hive units) at our queen-raising apiaries for the queens to hatch and mate before being moved to a full-sized hive.
We always say it’s the little things that count. When it comes to our queen bees, nothing could be more true. These precious little creatures are at the heart of everything we do.