Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Knitter Grafts a Queen Cell

What has beekeeping got to do with knitting?  Well lots actually.

I have cute bee knitting patterns and even wool.  I just don't have time to knit.  I'm too busy beekeeping.  But I digress.

When I did the split of Hive #4 one frame that went into the split had the old queen and I knew there were two capped queen cells there as well.

While making the split at the yard my plan was to crush the cells after I did the split.  But the bees got agitated in the split hive and I realized if I took the lid off they'd fly back to their old hive.  So I left it to do the next day.  I relocated the split hive to my back yard--it'll stay there for a couple weeks so the bees will orient to a new location.  Then I'll take it back to the yard (4 kms from my home).

My goal this day was to open Hive #1 for a second closer look.  The bees had been very agitated on the last inspection which was unlike them.  I suspected the hive was queenless. 

On Hive #1's previous inspection the boxes were very full of honey.  There were some capped brood--sporadic-- and I didn't see any larvae.  No queen cells were evident and neither was a queen.

On this second inspection - it was the same.  No capped brood that I could see, nor larvae.  And the bees were mad.  My friend Henry says they'll sound different if they're queenless.  They did:  Agitated.

There were a couple queen cups this time but I didn't see anything in them.  Maybe the bees didn't have an egg they could use?

I got stung too.  This hive has never stung me in three years.  I didn't have absolute proof yet but this hive was looking queenless.  And I knew where there was a queen.  At home in the hive I'd split the day before.

I closed up, raced home.

My solution was to take a queen cell, one of the ones I was going to crush when I did the split.  I used a sharp knife to carefully cut the cell away from the bottom of the frame.  I held it carefully.

I could actually feel the queen wiggling and moving inside the cell.  She wanted out!

An excellent book, The Biology of the Honey Bee by Mark Winston has a great chart showing each day's development in the life of a worker, drone and queen.  Based on that illustration this queen would be hatching any time in the next two days.

This is where knitting comes into the story.  I was trying to figure out how to graft this queen cell into a frame and do it without harming the queen.  I brought a range of potential aids to help me do this--even duct tape. 

In the end I opted to use a small double pointed knitting needle.  I carefully pierced it through the thick part at the top of the cell, leaving the cell dangling down from the needle.  Then I hung it across the top bars so the cell pointed downward between two frames.

As soon as the cell entered the hive the bees gravitated to it.  They could smell a queen.  I only kept the hive open a moment to watch while they climbed onto it.  Their behaviour didn't look aggressive but I didn't stay longer to watch--the hive had been opened twice that day already.  I gave them an extra super and closed up.

It'll be up to the bees to decide what to do.  If they have a queen, she can dispose of the cell or the workers can.  If they truly were queenless then this cell could provide them just what they need.  Time will tell.

All we need now is for the sun to come out.
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