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Bees on quaaludes


After Holly put on a show for the 3rd day running yesterday, I (stupidly) did an inspection today.

I wish I hadn’t.

Figuring that Ivy is a bit naughty, and Holly had got it out of her a system, I started inspecting  Holly – for some normality.

I didn’t get very far.

The only way to describe the state of Holly is “utter chaos”. If it can go wrong inside the hive, it has, and it still is. It’s beyond rational words.

I moved to Ivy, figuring that the worst was behind me.

Holly: “I’ve been a bit naughty”
Ivy: “Hold my beer”

Holly is a rank amateur in colony insanity by comparison to Ivy. The Ivy comb looks like it’s been drawn out by bees who’ve taken a lot too many quaaludes, and created a hive inspired by Dali.

To say I snapped the Ivy hive shut isn’t stretching it too far. Last bee left, please turn out the lights.


A bee-keeping day of two halves.

First the daily hive party – where the girls stretched their wings (4th day in a row). We’ve more or less got to the point of “If you want to go, go.”

Then we did an inspection. Although a demanding job, it yielded one of our most enjoyable bee-keeping experiences that left us enraptured.


Queen bee emerging from queen cell

Bees on ludes

Before getting into the bee stuff, if you haven’t done so, you really should watch “The Wolf of Wall Street” – it’s a doozy of a film. For those not familiar, quaaludes (or ludes for short) were one of the drugs of choice for Jordan Belfort and his posse of stock-brokers. They initially brought on sleep, but then had a wide range of mentally and physically debilitating symptoms!

For brevity, I’ll just say that Monday was the new normal in terms of the bees waiting for the day to warm up, leaving the hive to fly around a bit, settle on the hive front, and then march back into the hive as though it was the front door of J.D. Wetherspoon’s at opening time, or a Waterloo and City Line tube boarding at rush hour (take your pick).

Tuesday day-time was remarkably like Monday (in terms of the bees), so we can fast-forward past that part of my life.

With the brains of the operation (Jen) home from work, we exchanged bemused guesses at exactly what shit was going down in bee crazy-town, suited up, and lit the smoker – to the point at which the hives were only vaguely visible as outlines through the fog.

The two Ivy supers weighed enough that I struggled to manhandle them off the top of the hive, which was a good sign. It took Ivy only half a frame to offer up the first of her queen cells, and thereafter it was a conga of sealed queen cells, unsealed queen cells, and play-cups. The 7th frame was where real madness had been going on, with comb in huge swirling patterns, and QCs at every turn. With evidence of unsealed brood, somebody had been laying, but we found no queen, and the girls were certainly very unsettled by something.

Many of the QCs showed sign of imminent queen emergence (marked by a darker ring around the top of the cell), and so we concluded that we had “caught” the hive by hours at most. We removed all bar one of the QCs, and shook the frames to be confident of our clearance.

Despite our lengthy inspection, the Ivy girls were remarkably tranquil and easy-going. Lifting the supers back into place, we quickly inspected the top one, and found it choc-full of sealed honey, the second super was equally brimming. 

Holly could not have been more different. First-up, the supers were much lighter than Ivy, but more importantly, much lighter than they had been. Have they been robbed out, eaten all their stores, or done something else?

All 11 brood frames were absolutely rammed with stores – almost to the cell, with no sign of any brood at any stage. There was absolutely no space for any form of brood, and quite why they’d filled the brood box with stores when they have ample space in the super is something that we will learn on next inspection.

As we neared the end of the main part of the inspection, I spotted a queen near some queen cells. Almost immediately, we heard the quacking and tooting that signifies the doomed end of the un-hatched queens. It was as clear as day, and absolutely enchanting.

We systematically and carefully removed all of the queen cells and play cups, and exchanged 3 frames of store congested brood frames with undrawn foundation. As much as Ivy were settled, Holly were most certainly not. Any visibility that remained through the fog of the smoker was obliterated by the cloud of airborne and determined bees.

Queen maternity unit

Getting back the house we looked at our haul of queen cells – one of which was now a fully fledged and very lively queen! We popped her in a tupperware, and no sooner had we done that, than we had a second hatched queen. And a third. And a fourth! We had a production line.

What seems evident to us is that we inspected our hive in the middle of them hatching, and had we been an hour later, we’d likely have found multiple empty QCs, and an Uber-queen.

We called someone who collects queens, and by the time he’d arrived, we were up to 8 hatched queens and more on the way. Watching one emerge into the world was absorbing – and I videoed the minutes leading up to the moment she was free. What was truly incredible was that without hesitation, each hatched queen would make straight for the queen cell that was closest to hatching – to kill her adversary. There was nothing random or unplanned about her actions.

Simon took a bumper haul of queens and queen-cells away, and we washed up lots of tupperware!

We’re hoping for a bit of settled time. Next stop is to find out what’s going on in Holly’s supers.

Link to video of queen emerging.