One aspect of strong floral and temperature stimulation for the hives this year is the affect it has on the queens. Until I started raising queens, I did not fully appreciate the abdominal size fluctuation that is quite common in the lives of queen bees. When they first emerge, they’re usually pretty decent looking but shrink down to go on their mating flights. Then their abdomens swell as their reproductive tissues activate.
Prior to swarming, the established queen often shrinks down prior to departure. This enables her to fly a meaningful distance. During her normal egg-laying season, she weighs too much to do much more than control her descent to the ground if she falls off a frame. After settling in at the new hive location, she goes back on an egg-laying diet that causes her abdomen to enlarge again. They can also shrink down substantially in the late fall/winter as they cease serious egg-laying. I remember the first time I went through a fall yard where brood-rearing had ceased and the queens had slimmed down…I first thought there had been a mass queen failure and the yard was lost. Then I spotted a little queen and realized everything was just symptomatic of poor forage and an absence of brood rearing due to the season and environment.
Caged queens also shrink down pretty substantially–that’s why they’re usually able to fly away if you pop open a cork instead of using a safer candy release.
This year, however, a great number of queens in the production hives are gorgeously nourished and bordering on gargantuan. Here is a lady that appears to be 50-75% Carniolan who was busily laying many eggs in the combs of a flourishing hive:
In the following pic her attendants are attentively grooming her. She almost appears to be doing double-duty by checking out a cell with her head while poised to deposit an egg as well
Time will tell whether or not the beloved queens continue to maximize their potential. There are hives that contain a respectable surplus already, but most of them are on the brink of making a real crop. A bunch of supers have a few center combs that are whitened with fresh wax and holding a little honey. It will only take a couple of quality weeks to make a lot of headway. We got some rain recently that reinvigorated the Dutch clover and made soybeans much happier. I’m somewhat nervous about a cool-down of several degrees and a few approaching dates with a possibility of substantial rain. Such is life when beekeeping in the Midwest!