We have not disturbed Annabelle with inspections since her solstice swarming, preferring to fret along with infrequent peeks through the window and more frequent observations of her entrance traffic. Mainly we feared doing more harm than good and so we simply left her to the task of queening up and resuming business, all the while worrying that she would not, that all the drones we still saw indicated a laying worker or drone-laying queen, that her population would dwindle away.

But we could cling to hope as we continued to see foragers at work. Then Sunday, August 11th, at five in the afternoon, as we were working in the yard, the cry went up “Look at the bees!”

First orientation flights of children of the new queen

A great cloud of them were flying around the hive. Another swarm? Please, no. It is too late in the year. Some neighboring hive attacking? No, please. In fact, it was nothing dreadful at all but a grand, glorious orientation flight in full hum. We took a few pictures but mainly just sat nearby in wonderment, witnessing a thunderhead of new bees trying their wings and noting the location of home. This is beekeeper’s joy.

Closeup of first orientation flights

Unable to simply accept good news, we tried to determine whether these could simply be leftovers of the previous queen. To that end we used the following numbers, gathered from the web.

  • Sixteen (16) days from the laying of the egg for a new queen to emerge.
  • Five (5) more days before she is fertile, mated, and starting to lay.
  • Twenty-one (21) days from the laying of the egg for a new worker to emerge.
  • Twenty-one (21) days after emerging for a worker’s first orientation flight.
  • Forty-two (42) days after emerging for a worker’s summertime lifespan.

These numbers are only accurate to a day or so but we will treat them as strict in the following calculations.

The old queen would have continued laying until she left, although at a much reduced rate. The workers would have made it difficult for her as they chased her over the comb to get her down to her flying weight. An egg laid on her way out the door on June 23rd would have produced a new worker on July 14th, which took her first orientation flight on August 4th, and died on August 25th. So it is possible that the old queen’s children were among the bees we saw, but surely not in such numbers. The size of the flight is a great reassurance.

If the new queen were ready to emerge as soon as the old one left on June 23rd then she would have started laying on on June 30rd. We did see a queen outside the hive on June 26th, midway between those dates. Her first new worker would have emerged on July 21st and taken her first orientation flight on August 11th! Along with a great number of sisters laid the same day.

Never satisfied, we would like to see such displays every day both for reassurance and just to enjoy the magic of it all. After all if the new queen is laying at the same steady pace, as she should, then we ought to see orientation flights daily. But weather interferes with their occurrence and our schedules interfere with our observation. We have seen a few since although not as magnificent as that first one.

In other news as August draws to a close, the buckwheat, formerly so full of bees, has nearly all gone to seed and the goldenrod is beginning to bloom for the last great nectar flow of the season. Autumn is announcing her arrival and in our hearts we are not yet ready to receive her. But we have bees!