Hive Inspection Number 2 – Queen Cells in Leri!

Just over a week had passed since our first hive inspection and after our walk at Ynyshir, the sun came out, the wind eased a little so we had a perfect window of opportunity to make our second hive inspection.

Inspection Preparation

Inspection Preparation

We were hoping to find that the bees had built out comb on a few more frames and that we’d have to add a super to the hives to give them more storage room. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case. The first hive, ‘Clettwr’ was in pretty much the same state as the week before. Plenty of bees, lots of honey stores, plenty of eggs and all stages of larvae were present. There were a couple of bees with slightly deformed wings which can be a sign of varroa infestation so we’ll do a varroa drop count soon. Other than this, we saw the queen and all looked well but there was little change from last week. I suppose the weather hasn’t been great for them though. I’m also puzzled as to where all the pollen that we see them taking into the hive has gone. There seems to be very little stored in the frames.

The second hive, ‘Leri’ had us even more puzzled. Yet again, no real change from last week as far as the number of bees or the amount of stores go and we soon spotted the queen who looked happy. However, we also saw some queen cells on a number of frames. These are often a sign of imminent swarming, in which case something needs to be done. However, we couldn’t really see why they would be thinking of swarming and our gut feeling (for what it is worth coming from a couple of newbies with no experience) was that this wasn’t the case.

A couple of the queen cells definitely had larvae in them and a couple of them looked as though they were already sealed. This wasn’t good news and it seemed as though things were happening quicker than they should be. They definitely weren’t there last week though and it takes 8 days for a queen cell to be sealed after the egg is layed in it. I guess there was just enough time for the bees to have created a queen cell, the queen to have layed an egg in it, for the larva to hatch and developed enough for them to seal the cell, but only just and it would have been pushing it. It hadn’t even been a full 8 days – not quite anyway.

If swarming is going to happen then it will occur at around the same time as the first queen cell is sealed. If what we were looking at was indeed a sesled queen cell then swarming could happen at any minute – literally!. Did we need to intervene? What should we do? It was time to assess the situation and decide whether we need to intervene.

The queen was present so they hadn’t swarmed so that was one thing.

There are also three types of queen cell, Swarm Cells, Supersedure Cells and Emergency Cells

Swarm Cells

Swarm Cells are the ones that indicate that the bees are about to swarm, they hang vertically from the bottom of frames. Swarming is usually brought on by a lack of room in the hive which certainly wasn’t the case here, but can also be prompted by lack of suitable forage in the area and other reasons that probably only the bees know.It is generally accepted that you don’t want your bees to swarm (in an uncontrolled fashion) if you want to prevent losing bees, losing your potential honey crop and ending up with a queenless colony.

Supersedure Cells

Like swarm cells, these are entirely vertical but are usually located on the face of the comb. The reason bees create these is to replace the existing queen who they have decided is not up to the job. She may be old, she may be damaged and probably a host of other things of which again only the bees know.

Emergency Cells

Emergency Cells are produced in response to the sudden loss of the queen. The are formed from normal horizontal cells in the frame – a cell containing an egg and are modified to allow the development of a queen. The cell is therefore part horizontal and part vertical with a right-angle bend in the middle.

So, what did we have?


Queen Cells

Queen Cells

These weren’t emergency cells as the queen was still present and they look vertical. They were also at the bottom of the frames, although some of them weren’t completely at the bottom. Many people just destroy queen cells as soon as they see them, but that wasn’t our approach. We don’t want the bees to swarm, but if these are supersedure cells then we should just let them get on with it and replace the queen. Afterall, the bees know best, and maybe there is a problem with the queen.

So, we’ve left them as they are at the moment, but will be seeking some more expert advice ASAP – Only two weeks into our beekeeping careers and already we have a situation! I’ll keep you updated on the outcome.

3 Responses

  1. Avatar forComment Author Alan says:

    We did think about taking the easy route and assuming that it was a supersedure so that we could do nothing but after a chat with some other local beekeepers here we’ve come up with another plan.

    As soon as there is a break in the weather (it’s currently pouring with rain, blowing a gale and only about 8°C), we are going to move the frames with the queen cells on into a nuc box along with some empty frames.

    If they are swarm cells then we will hopefully therefore prevent them from swarming as we will have removed the queen cells and in effect given them even more room in the hive. We’ll also have a second nuc which will in a few weeks have a new queen in it. We can either create a new colony from this or combine them with a weak colony later in the year.

    If they are supersedure cells (due to a failing queen in the colony) then presumably the colony in the hive will then create more supersedure cells to replace the queen, in which case we’ll then just let them get on with it. And, once again we’ll also have the nuc with a new queen that can be used as an insurance policy.

    It’s not quite what we were expecting within our first couple of weeks of beekeeping but it’s all part of the learning experience.

  2. Avatar forComment Author Iain says:

    My wife and I are also novice beekeepers, started with a nuc in June from a local Derbyshire beekeeper whose beginners course we had both been on. So local bees, from a good, well known and hugely experienced beekeeper. We had eggs, larvae and sealed brood on 3 frames, 2 frames of stores and a marked queen, in June.
    We now have supersedure queen cells, no eggs or larvae and only sealed brood. We cannot find our marked queen. Our mentor thinks there was something wrong with the queen, and looking at posts on the bbka forum, this is not an unusual occurence this year. There seem to be 2 explantions – one is that it was a poor mating season in the spring, the other is that stress from keeping the bees in for transporation leads to high levels of Nosema infection, both leading the colony to replace the queen.
    Like you, we have left the 4 cells, put the roof on, and hope the bees know a lot more about how to manage themselves than we do. We shall inspect with our mentor at the end of the month, to see if we are queenright again and possibly to mark the queen if we have one and we can find her. Hope all goes well for you – at least you have 2 hives, we have only 1, so might have to start again next season!

  3. Avatar forComment Author Alan says:

    Hi Iain,
    Thanks for your comments and good luck with your bees… We’ve actually had quite a lot happen since this post (check the beekeeping category here to see any updates:

    However, in summary, after the first swarm from this hive, we’ve since had another 3 swarms I think, two of which we caught and re-housed. We also performed an artificial swarm on a hive as well so at one point had four colonies in the garden.

    We usually inspect the hives once a week, but were away one week and had to miss out on an inspection, during which time we had another swarm leave from a small colony in a nuc box which essentially spelt the end for this colony.

    We have however raised three new queens and they all were mated and laying. So, at the moment we have three colonies all with laying queens and are starting to try to get them ready for the winter by feeding them so that they can build up some stores – we aren’t in the best of places as far as suitable forage goes.

    We’re not really experienced enough to offer advice, but if I were you I would have destroyed a couple of the queen cells, leaving just one or two in the hive. More than that and you run the risk of cast swarms once the new queens emerge. It sounds to me as though your bees have swarmed, rather than there being a problem with the queen. I guess transportation could lead to problems, but it depends how long they were kept in for. Ours were only transported for half an hour or so and then put straight into a hive at night so I doubt that would lead to any issues with Nosema infection.

    It also sounds as though it’s getting quite late in the year for you. If you don’t have a queenright colony at the moment it’ll take a couple of weeks for the queen to hatch and mate and then another 2-3 weeks before she’s laying and new bees are emerging. During this time there could be very few flying bees and therefore no new stores coming into the hive. It might therefore be a good idea to start feeding them (if you aren’t already doing so). The bees will not only need food to keep them going at the moment, but should be building up suitable stores to get them through the winter.

    I hope it all goes well and we have a couple of weeks of bee-friendly weather.
    Let us know how it goes.


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Alan Cole

Alan is a Freelance Website Designer, Sports & Exercise Science Lab Technician and full time Dad & husband with far too many hobbies: Triathlete, Swimming, Cycling, Running, MTBing, Surfing, Windsurfing, SUPing, Gardening, Photography.... The list goes on.

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