Friday, September 4, 2009

The Queen has Arrived!

"Her Majesty has arrived," said Mom on the phone.

I was at work and I had made arrangements with the supplier to have the new queen delivered to my parents' house because I knew they'd be home to receive her.

She had been put in the mail at 4:30 the day before and at 9:30 a.m., the next morning she arrived, a 2009 green marked kick-ass mated queen.

We headed out to the bee yard. We'd just been in the hive two days prior but this was really necessary. On the last inspection the hive was found to be queenless. Minimal brood was seen - all older larvae which we're presuming were the eggs laid by the last queen right before she died.

There were also six queen cells.

The plan was to pull all the frames and to crush every queen cell I could find and then to place the queen cage in the hive, hoping it will be love at first sight.

We found no less than 20 queen cells. Some were longer and more peanut shaped and some looked similar to capped drone cells but they were a bit more bullet-like. I used a small metal tool I brought with me to open these capped cells and to crush them.

I didn't enjoy this. I tried not to think about it. Instead I focused on this last desperate attempt to save the hive.

Speaking of desperate, 20 queen cells seems like a lot. I think the bees knew too that they were going to be goners soon if they didn't get a viable queen soon.
They must have taken almost every worker cell laid and turned it into a queen cell.

The bees were very calm as I took out frame after frame. I took my time to look over the frames carefully, not only in search of queen cells but also searching to see if there was a queen present.

If there was it would make things difficult. I could kill her but then I'd have to wait a couple days before I could add the new queen.
This scenario was a little worrying.

After frame after frame no queen was spotted and no eggs or uncapped brood either.

I pushed all the frames really tightly together to make room for the queen cage. I didn't want to remove a frame from the hive.
It was pretty squishy but I was able to make enough room to fit her in.

I put the cage in screen side up, remembering to remove the cork first from the candy end, leaving the cork in the other end. We tied and duct taped fishing line to the cage and taped the floppy edge of the line outside the hive.
This was just in case the cage shifted. The fishing line would prevent it from dropping to the bottom of the hive.

I don't' think it'll move though because I pushed it into the comb on the frames and then pushed the frames very tightly against it.

But the funny part was trying to work with the queen cage. I first set it down on the outside edge of the hive. There weren't many bees there, the closest being a good 4" away.
Within seconds there heads turned and they then began to march right to her. It was amazing to watch. They formed into lines like ants or geese flying and headed straight for her. Then they began to climb all over the cage.

I realized my mistake was not practising first with an empty and unscented cage to get the fit right before trying it with the real one. I didn't get a single sting though but I did have to put my fingers on the corners to shift it into place while it was absolutely covered in bees. But the bees weren't paying any attention to me. Their focus was entirely on the queen.

I have no prior experience to watching bees receive a queen but they didn't look like they were mad or in a panic to me. In fact, to my eyes they looked eager to reach her.
They were putting their mouths to the screen almost like they wanted to feed her. I didn't see any bees turning their butts down to sting so that was a good sign.

We carefully put the hive back together and put the outer cover on. We were done. This was it. It's up to them now.

Now I wonder if there might have been a laying worker in the hive that killed the other queen and I worry that it might happen again. I have to remind myself that I've done my best. It's up to them now.

I'm to leave them alone for a week. No peeking.

I went to bed satisfied. Then I woke up in the middle of the night realizing I forgot to put a nail hole through the candy. Just one more thing to wonder if it will make a difference. I'm presuming the only thing is it might take a little longer for the bees to lick her way out.

I'm naming her Queen Elizabeth. I hope she lives long and prospers.

I replied to a post on beesource from a person who was in the same scenario as me. It's not great that it happened to someone else but it's comforting to know I'm not alone. We're both in our first year as beekeepers.

A kind person replied with this: "I always tell those wishing to begin a bee business that the worst thing that can happen is to have a great year the first year--it sets an unreasonable "standard" in one's mind."
Let's just say I'm becoming 'experienced' really quickly.


Anonymous said...

This story about your new queen is so sad and so exciting at the same ime. I really hope your bees (hive?) make it. Am I saying that right?

Please keep us posted. Your pictures are really great.

Cliff W said...

That's an excellent post Barbara and one that no doubt I'll be referring to myself in the future when this eventually happens in my hive.

You sound very calm and methodical and you should be proud of yourself. Fingers crossed for Elizabeth and all her future subjects!

Kat said...

I, too, enjoyed reading all about the new queen. I am amazed by all you beekeepers! Don't ya just love nature?

Steve said...

Thanks for the post. Im doing the same thing myself this week. My hives have queens but seem to be lackluster so they are being replaced. I had to requeen twice this year already so i feel like an old hand even though this is my first year. You are not wearing gloves! You are waaay ahead of me.

Bee Magic Chronicles for Kids said...

Thanks for your comments Steve. I've been reading on the bee newsgroups and there seems to be a lot of requeening going on right now. I'm curious if you had to requeen twice on the same hive or two separate hives?

As for no gloves - I decided to copy what many of the pros do and risk it - I only got 2 stings on one occasion, both on my pinkie finger. It was a really cold and yucky day so I probably deserved it! Otherwise, I prefer being gloveless so I can feel better what I'm doing.

Steve said...

Barbara, It was two different hives. First one the queen that came with the package died during release, second one we discovered after several weeks that our nuc hive we purchased did not have a queen. It was a crash course all the way around for a new beek.