Long Live The Queen (well ok, she died anyway)

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Last weekend was busy, but quite rewarding.  Friday began with a three hour trip to pick up nine packages of bees.  I think the gods of sugar (honeys competition) were out to get us.  On the way over the mountains a semi truck had turned over on a sharp curve and blocked both lanes.  We waited in line nearly an hour to get around it.  The driver of the truck was air-lifed out but word had it he was alright.  Then once down from the mountains an accident on the freeway in the on-coming lanes had traffic blocked for at least a couple miles, it was the very route we had intended to return home on.  Lastly, as we approached within half a mile of Glory Bee, where we would pick up our bees, traffic was once again stopped because a pickup truck had been struck by a train.  Fortunately our drive home was a safe and uneventful one.  Drive safe folks, stay off those phones and watch out for the other guy.

We picked up our bees and one queen and came home in a buzz, the trunk full of at least 60,000 bees.  I said to my wife, “you didn’t think when you married me that getting up at 5AM to go buy boxes of insects was part of the deal did you?”  She smiled and took it in stride like she always does.  No way I could do all these things without her.

We returned home and added packages to the two new hives set up at a friends home.  It went smoothly and the bees seemed ready to settle into their new home.  Today I will be checking those hives to see that the queens have been released from their cages.

Then at our own house we immediately went to the hive with the weak queen so we could remove her.  Once again my wife saved the day as I was becoming a bit frustrated that the queen was no where to be found when she saw her.  We removed the queen with some other bees and brood and put them in a hive of their own.  I would like to see the change wake up this queen so she gets her butt in gear but am not really hopeful of that.  We left the hive she came from queenless while we installed the packages in three more new hives.  Leaving a hive queenless for a while helps them to accept the new queen as it only takes a few minutes for them realize the queen is gone.  More on this in a moment.

Then my wife went in to pack for our trip to Colton where we would install packages in four more new hives while I proceeded to install three packages in three new hives.  This took about half an hour or so and then I was ready to put the new queen into the hive I had removed the queen from.  I found what happened next very interesting and it demonstrates how focused the worker bees are on the queens pheromone.  After returning to the house to get the cage with the queen I set it on a bench in the shade near the hives.  When you hive new packages of bees there are a lot of them flying around in the air.  These bees have been taken from their hives, placed in a wire mess box with a new queen and are basically homeless.  They do all eventually dial in on their queens pheromone and get into a new hive but some of them were really taken with the new queen I had just set down on the bench.  In less than 10 to 15 seconds a bee had landed on the cage, soon to be joined by many others.  Workers bees are lost without their queen as her scent directs all activity in the hive.  I hived the new queen in her little cage without incident and after adding some feed to the feeders on the new hives, left to get ready for our trip north.

Fortunately the trip to Colton was uneventful and we were warmly welcomed into the home of our friends after a long day of busy bee activity and numerous road miles.  The following morning I built and then set up the hive stands in preparation for the begining beekeeping class that would be held at 1PM.  It was a small class but the people were engaged and asking good questions.  That always makes it rewarding for the presenter – me.  🙂  After my short presentation we moved to the hives and I demonstrated how to install a package of bees into a new hive.  Three more hives remained and most of the people attending got some hands on experience installing packages into new hives.  You can talk all you want but there is nothing better than hands on experience and I know they all benefitted from it.

In the end, we returned home on Sunday, having established nine new hives this weekend in addition to teaching a class and providing one of my existing hives with a new queen.  As is often the case with new equipment and new bees there can bee a few bumps in the road and we have experienced a couple of them.  The last package of bees we installed had a dead queen.  This is the first thing you check when installing a new package and I had never seen one before but she was quite dead.  Knowing that the queen would still retain some pheromones  to attract the bees I installed her in the hive anyway.  Knowing there were three healthy queens right next door I was concerned the bees in this last hive would go looking for a new home without the scent of a queen in their own hive.

Last night our friends – new to beekeeping – installed the new queen that the company provided as a replacement for the one that died.  That’s pretty cool for me.  They hadn’t been around bees like this until the class, but jumped right in and installed the new queen.  They also found that a feeder on the first of their new hives is not keeping the bees out of the feed and a number of them have drowned.  We will deal with that today by emptying the feeder and then fixing the problem which is likely the screen inside the feeder not fitting tight enough to keep the bees out of the liquid feed.

Today the adventure with the new bees continues as I get to visit all five of the new hives I established here at home to make sure the queen has been released from her cage.  I’m also very interested to see if the new queen has been accepted into the hive where I replaced the old queen.  It usually works but is not a guarantee.  The hive must have time to adjust to the scent of this new queen and to facilitate that a candy plug is put in the end of the cage the queen is in.  By the time the bees can chew through the candy to release the queen, her scent has filled the hive and she is normally accepted into the fold.  If this does not happen the bees will kill her.  So tonight after work I will see if I can find out the answer to this question, plus check in on the other new hives.

Tomorrow I will give an update on what I have found and an update on the Colton hives and how they are doing.

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