I got both of my colonies right around Memorial Day weekend, and since then, I’ve mostly been feeding them sugar water and watching them grow. Since I’m opposed to chemically treating for the parasitic varroa mite that will inevitable plague every hive in the United States, I instead choose to break the breeding cycle of the mites. I do this by a method called On-the-Spot Queen Rearing, which is essentially removing the queen from the hive. Within a short time, the bees will detect the absence of her pheromone and begin to prepare already laid larva (they must be no older than 5 1/2 days) to develop into a new queen.
Queen bees develop into much larger bees than the workers or drones, so they require a bigger cell. Because of this, these emergency queen cells (aaahhhh! the queen is gone!) are often created near the bottom of the frames where they can easily overhang. This can limit the number of queen cells that they bees can make, so I find 36-hour larva (they are eggs for three days before developing into larva) in cells that have a lot of milky-white royal jelly. I then break the bottom third of those cells and create space beneath them by pressing down on and smashing the honeycomb beneath them.
This is called notching. The worker bees now have appropriate-aged larva in a convenient location that they can build a queen cell around and develop into a new queen if they choose. The great thing about this process is that the bees will never choose a falty larva to develop into a queen. If the bees encapsulate a larva, you know she’ll develop into a lovely queen!
As for the old queen… I’d been preparing for this moment for an entire year. Last year when I removed my queen, I put her in a smaller hive (called a nuc) with a few frames of bees. I just couldn’t bear to kill her! Within six weeks, the hive was failing. I imagine that the varroa mites had overrun the colony and were causing the worker bees to be emerge from the cells with physical deformities (the mites attach themselves to the larva and feed on their blood while the bee develops).
So I decided that killing the queen was the most humane option. Before notching, I pulled out every frame of the hive. Queen bees don’t like sunlight, so they typically run from you by moving from frame to frame. After removing the last frame, I saw her on the side of the hive box. I gently picked her up by her wings. She didn’t really try to run from me. I put her on the concrete and stomped on her with my boot.
…and then I snot-sobbed for a while. She was a beautiful queen that laid an amazing brood pattern, often spanning the entire length of the frame, and killing her was just so gut-wrenchingly sad for me. I can only hope that her daughter is as wonderful as she was.