Queen Debacle: Episode 2

By: Dan

Working on bees is definitely testing my patience. Buzzing around your head incessantly, attacking your ankles and causing undue hardship. Worst of all, taking care of an organism where they create only one that is the lifeline of the entire colony; that’s stressful. The bee Queen has been my Achilles heel since the very first time I dropped her last year. Just like the England’s Queen she demands respect and potentially a large closet for all her hats. Today was no exception to the issues that plague my bee handling skills.

So let us start on what lead up to this potentially disastrous predicament.

We, at the time, had 2 strong and full hives (one has been limping along since spring and needed to be requeened). We decided that we should add brood from our strong hive and requeen the failing colony.  First step is to purchase a queen. Aly acquired an Italian queen from Propolis etc in Guelph a few days prior. The queen comes in a cage with a few of her bees or what I like to call her entourage [Aly: “Dan, they are called her attendants – the queen’s court. You need to watch more Tudors or Reign.”]. They’re there to protect her and keep her clean. She can neither feed nor groom herself. She can’t even leave the hive to relieve herself. And so her doting attendants (the queen’s court) take care of her basic needs while she tirelessly goes from cell to cell doing what she does best . . . laying eggs.

The next day it was my responsibility to place the queen (still in her cage) into the new hive.

To prepare the hive for the new queen, one must place bees and frames into the new hive box. Here are some awesome diagrams made in MS Word to explain:

queening a hiveTo do so I took 2 brood frames and 2 honey frames from the strong double brood hive and placed them into the nuc (small hive) box. When doing this you need to check for the Queen from the strong box so you don’t accidentally put her into the new box [Aly: “Or squish her”]. After doing so you place the Queen, still in her cage, length wise between two frames. [Aly: “And not upside down, right?”]

Another awesome diagram made in MS Word:

Queening a hive

The orange square is the queen cage. Here is a photograph for the colour-visual learners:queen-installation-6It’s important to leave the queen protected in the cage, because it allows time for the worker bees to become familiar with the queen’s scent. Do note that if the bees do not eat through the fondant between 1-3 days that you need to physically remove the queen from the cage.

queen-cage1This is when all the problems started for me. My job for today was to let the queen out into the hive. Easily done if you just open the cage and let her crawl into the hive, but when you add in a more delicate procedure, such as painting a dot on her back, then things get a little tricky.

I decided to open the cage a few feet away from the hive so I could handle her without having a bunch of bees around her. I took off my gloves, as this gives better dexterity and opened the cage. I placed it flat and waited for her to emerge. A few times I tried to grab her lightly but she scurried back in the cage. The 4th time around I would give her enough space to crawl out completely and that should allow me to grab her safely. This would have been the ideal situation but she had other plans.

She immediately flew away and I tried guiding her with my hands back to the hive, but she was gone. Immediate anxiety and stress set in. Thirty ($30) dollars down the drain [Aly: $30 + HST] and yet another Queen mishap by Dan Baker. I stood there looking at the queen less hive and wondered, “What am I to do?”  Shortly after my brain stopped working I heard a particular buzzing sound behind me. I looked back and saw a slow flying bee that had a long abdomen. It was the Queen!!!!

After many attempts to grab her she landed in a tree nearby, for a short breather I presume. She soon began her circling flight around the hive and landed in close proximity to the hive. Eureka! This was my opportunity to grab her and put her into the hive. I grabbed her softly and decided that instead of just putting her into the hive, that I should try painting her again. The poor judgement created a situation that could have been easily remedied if I would of just put the queen straight in the hive. She flew away again.

Well hind sight is 20/20, but it seems hind sight doesn’t go back as far as a year. [Aly: and you are supposed to wear your glasses full time as you see double vision].

Going to check up on the hive later to see if she found her way back home and I hope she did, otherwise ordering an overnight queen is $80.

– Dan



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