By Charlie Mallindine

The story starts in spring 2019. It was queen rearing season and we had big plans to re-queen our most aggressive hive – Queen Bluebell.

Eventually after many failed attempts to rear a queen we succeeded, and the time arrived to give Bluebell, that angry tyrant, the chop. Now, Bluebell’s bees once climbed down into my boots to sting me on the feet so it’s safe to say I wasn’t too fond of her, but everyone deserves a second chance, so we introduced her to our laying worker hive.

She was found dead on the hive floor about a week later and we could not save the laying worker hive. 

In 2020, we were put in a similar situation, with Bluebell’s part being played by her direct descendent, Queen Snowdrop. We began the season with bad news, as our best hive from last year had had its queen suddenly die sometime in mid-winter. This gave them enough time to go full laying worker. We replaced Snowdrop with a reared queen and she suffered the same fate as her predecessor. Having caught Snowdrop with two attendants (that was all we could gather) we placed her into the worker-laying hive using an introducing cage and sealed the entrance hole with fondant. 

Three weeks passed and we entered the hive to conduct our autopsy. When we first saw inside the hive we did think that perhaps there were a handful more bees in there than the last time we checked, and surely enough, Snowdrop was living in the hive, with a retinue and all. The laying workers had been defeated, which is an impressive feat given that there tend to be hundreds of workers laying, running around thinking they are Queen. So even when outnumbered 300:1 she had fought them all and won. She is a warrior queen if there ever was one!

We added a frame filled with brood from another hive to give her numbers a boost and since then, Snowdrop has steadily repopulated and her bees have transformed a hive filled with moldy honey, dead brood and wax moth into a thriving and clean colony. One of the most amazing sights to see when we returned after just one week was comb that had been infested with moths a week earlier had been dutifully torn down by the bees, leaving the foundation ready to be rebuilt upon. Truly an amazing transformation!

Maybe Charlie’s hit on something? A more defensive queen maybe what’s needed to correct a worker-laying colony. It’s worth a try!

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