The weather has been kind enough and queens have started to come into lay. Usually it’s in the smaller colonies and mini-nucs that the queens start to lay in first. One colony appeared to be queenless – and checked by a test-frame to confirm*. Another has, I suspect after a quick look, a drone laying queen. Never an easy one to find, I will need to spend time looking for her.
And some new grafts have been distributed; the queens should emerge in a day or two.
*You can check for queenlessness by inserting a test-frame from another colony. The test-frame needs to have eggs/young larvae from which the colony could make a queen. If there is no queen present, the bees will start to draw emergency queencells. More information on how to check is here
Mating is never 100% reliable which is why having just one colony can result in disaster. Having a second one allows the beekeeper to pop in a test-frame so the colony can make another queen or unite the queenless colony to the queenright one and then split them later on in the season. Note that unless there are disease issues, you can put in a test-frame and always remove it and put it back if, for example, you have only a small second colony that can’t really afford to lose the test-frame.
Spring is now well underway and I have a bunch of queencells and virgin queens on the go. We now need some decent (warm) weather.
Once queens emerge from their queencells, they need 5 or 6 days to mature before they are ready to mate. They mate on the wing with multiple drones so they have a wide genetic mix of offspring. Mating only occurs when the weather is warm enough – say around 18 degrees or warmer which is something we don’t see much of early in the year. Once mated the sperm has to migrate to the spermatheca (a holding vessel) which takes a couple of days or so. the spermatheca can store and nourish enough sperm for several years. It is only after that will the queen start to lay. In a mini-nuc she will lay after 2 or 3 days. In a larger colony it takes longer. My guess is that it takes more time for her pheromone to spread around a large colony before she is fed and prepared for a life of egg-laying.
Queens mate in drone congregation areas. I have no idea where they might be near my apiaries, however the bees seem to find them and apparently they can be found in the same location year after year.
I have, on occasions, had to discard queens that have failed to mate as after around 4 weeks she is unable to mate and will eventually become a drone-layer. Let’s hope Mother Nature is kind and we see some warm weather soon.