Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Queen is in Residence

She's in there.... somewhere.

This reminds me so much of when I was a child. Dad would be sleeping on the couch and I'd be talking to him and he wouldn't answer. So I'd then pry open one of his eyelids and ask him, "Are you in there Daddy?"

I did pry open Hive #1 today to check the queen cage which I had inserted 6 days ago. It was empty. Whew!!! There was not even a lick of candy left in that cage. The bees had licked it clean as a whistle.
There were two bees in it though when I picked it up but I could tell they were just tourists checking it out ;)

When I first arrived around noon there wasn't a great deal of activity on Hive #1 but it was not dismal or concerning like it had been in the recent past. Hive #2 was more active by comparison.(I see why the advice given to new beekeepers is to start with two hives and not one. That way you've got something for comparison).

I got the queen from Ferguson Apiaries in Hensall, Ontario. Bill Ferguson runs a Buckfast bee operation and sells all the bee related products but he also has a queen rearing operation (see my blog from my visit there last summer). He works with our Ontario Bee Association's program to help create hygienic queens so I figured getting a queen from him would be a good choice.

Bill said to check the hive after 5 days to be sure she was released but not to 'disturb' the hive. I'm presuming that disturb would mean pulling frames to look for the queen or eggs. All the other reading and advice I've been given is to wait 7 days without disturbing. But I have read many threads in bee newsgroups where people are popping their hives after 3 days to check if she's released. It's not recommended though. I certainly didn't want to take any chances with this poor hive and I think the people peeking after 3 days are a little excited.

On day 5 we were cutting down the trees so I thought I'd wait for the next day. As soon as I removed the queen cage I just took a moment to shift the frames back to where they were before. I had squished them together to make room for the queen cage so some didn't have their proper bee space.

Then I closed up and was done. Total time was about 5 minutes. I had the smoker going and only gave a couple small puffs in the crack between hives just to let the bees know I was there. They ignored me though.

The rest of my information I gathered from the outside. The bees were coming and going very nicely--not tons of bees but those that were there were busy. As the afternoon progressed the numbers increased and I saw lots of pollen coming in attached to their back legs.

I could tell she was in there. At least I'm pretty certain.

I don't have plans to pull frames on the hive for a while if I can avoid it. I want to leave the bees alone and let them do their thing. If she doesn't survive then that's it for them and I'll have to start over next year.

As for the queen cage itself, if you've never seen one before, this one is made of wood with 3 circle cutouts. It has a screening across the top. The right hand cutout has a hole which was plugged by a white candy filling. It originally comes with a tiny piece of cork over the candy which you remove before placing in the hive.

The bees lick away at the candy and it usually takes around 3+ days for them to eat away enough to release the queen. This slow release method is a clever invention. The queen is safe in her cage, protected by the mesh screen, and fed by a few attendant bees which were put in to care for her.
The slow days of release allow her pheromones to penetrate the hive and for the bees to become used to her scent and accept her.

I always wondered what happened to the attendants but when I think about the methods used to combine hives, putting newspaper between two hives so the bees can get used to each other slowly, I think by the time the queen is released and accepted that her attendants are as well.
I'd heard from other beekeepers that bees put propolis on queen cages and they did. See the photo where they used propolis to glue her cage to the frames.

You may not be able to see it but there's a small piece of plastic on the candy end - so the bees can only lick out the candy from the hole area on the end.

The other end has a small round cork in it. That's the spot the supplier used to add the bees to the cage. The bees had been busy chewing on it too--they really wanted her out of there!!!

On Linda's blog I saw how she used fishing line and a tack to secure the queen cage to the frames so that if it shifted it wouldn't fall to the bottom. I'd read too many HELP ME emails from new beekeepers who wrote to say their queen cages had shifted or fallen. So I copied Linda's technique. The cage never shifted but it doesn't hurt to be certain.


The amount of light around the hives is quite nice, even on a clouded overcast day. The air flow is fresh as well, which really helps dry the sweat off the skin.
I feel like I've been speeding down a highway at lightening speed for a few days with so many bee related activities. Now I hope to have at least one day to read a book in the back yard... and watch the bumble bees come and go on my flowers.
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