Long Live the Queen

Yesterday I drove out to east Olympia to pick up our package of bees from the Olympia bee club people. This is a tiny part of the order of bee packages they made this year. They arrived from California Friday night. Each package has three pounds of bees, a can of syrup and a queen in a cage.

Mark Savage gave a few demonstrations on how to hive the bee package, how to release the queen from her cage, how to place her in the hive, and how to install the feeder.

Then I signed out my three pound box of Italians and brought them home in my little Toyota. The bee club people brushed off all the hitch hikers, so I didn’t get stung while driving.

I was told to wait for “15 minutes of sunshine” to install the package. In Olympia, we cram in a lot when we get “15 minutes of sunshine.” It was raining on and off much of the afternoon. So we spent our time fussing with the hive until it was in its Final, Most Perfect resting place. Bees don’t like it if you move their hive around. They are very good navigators, but they depend on you to leave things in the same place. The clouds broke for a minute, so we suited up and carried the bees out.

As much as I wanted to hurry and get them in the hive, I was mesmerized by the package of bees. There they were, our girls, all in one box, for the last time ever. Once we open the box, it will never be the same. It’s one of those “no turning back now” moments.

I used my hive tool to pry the syrup can out of the package. Please feel free to admire my vegan cowgirl boots. I covered the whole with a paint sample sheet to encourage the bees to stay in the box.

I pulled the queen cage out. It was totally covered in bees like a magical ball of bees. This is testament to the power of her scent. These bees don’t even know this queen, but they love her so much. I gently brushed them away and they started flying around.

And then, there she was, Her Royal Highness. She’s going to determine everything about our hive, so I hope she’s a good queen. Levi said, in hushed tones, “She’s beautiful.”

There’s a cork in the queen cage, which is pretty easy to pull out with a screw. Just take care not to screw the screw into the queen. Then you replace the cork with a candy plug or a mini marshmallow. Mark Savage told the newbees that he recommends putting a small nail through the candy plug and roughing up the edge of it just to give the bees something good to hold onto and make it easier to chew through. They have to get through this to release their queen. This is supposed to give them enough time to get to know her before they are in physical contact, so they won’t harm her.

We nestled the queen cage in between two frames, and carefully, gently, with excruciating slowness and delicacy, rolled the box on top. I had to make some adjustments after this photo was taken. The queen cage should be directly underneath the hole in the box. The bees in the box think, “Hrmm, there is food, there is a queen, there is comb down there… what am i doing in this box!?” Then they move into the hive and start the business of running a hive. Hopefully!

Then, we put the second box over the whole contraption and closed it up. We’re supposed to leave it for 24 hours, then go back to see if the queen has been released yet, shake out the bee box and remove the syrup feeder. It is really hard to wait to check on them, but we’re distracting ourselves with all the other work we need to do on our microfarm. So cross your fingers for our little bee colony. We will report back as soon as we have more news. My hope is that Levi will come up with a phenomenal name for the queen. I’m also accepting suggestions of names for her – you know, the “too weird to name your baby” names are perfect for queen bees.

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9 Comments

Filed under bees, goals, spring

9 responses to “Long Live the Queen

  1. caitlin

    thanks for this post i am so fascinated! also i dont know if i ever expouned on the wonders of the gigapan camera, but here is an awesome pan of travelling hives in maine that are used for blueberry pollination. you can zoom in and see all the bees!

    http://gigapan.org/gigapans/25654/

  2. wow, I’m so impressed! I need you three to come here and help me set up a garden. I think I’m good without bees for now, though.

    • jess s

      I wish we had a traveling garden set-up service. That would be so fun! Your garden would be at the top of my list. We do long-distance consulting and cheerleading!

  3. Jess,

    Great pictures and an equally good explanation. I’m impressed. I’m eager to hear how they do.

    • Hopefully I can report back with lots of success and possibly a small bit of honey. If I keep them alive for a year, though, I will have a party for them.

  4. emma

    This is so amazing!!! We hope to eventually put a hive on our flat roof, and I am loving the preliminary education here.

    Also, obviously, your queen should be named Latifah. I mean, duh.

    • jess s

      I mean, this is very rudimentary education but I do really like the PGH Bee Club (burgh bees), I went to some of their meetings before I moved and still get their newsletter. I do highly recommend finding a bee club and nerding out with them. I mean, they are people who’s hobby is stinging insects. Something charming about that.

      I saw a hive in seattle that was built on a flat platform on a slanted garage roof. It was amazing! Kids couldn’t get to it, vandals couldn’t get to it, no pests could get to it. The only bad thing was that they climbed a ladder to work it, which I could see being a deteriment to me as a new beekeeper. When I’m more experienced, hopefully we can get more hives and utilize our roof space. I do worry about it being too hot, but it doesn’t get that hot here so it’s probably fine. I hope!

      Naming the queen latifah has come up several times in our conversations. It is kind of a common name for hives, though (unsurprisingly) so I hope we can come up with something. Although, so far I haven’t had any brilliant insights. A lot of people like to name them after Disney characters, too. Just another weird, special little bee quirk.

      • emma

        Yeah! I am on the burgh bees email list and intend to take their beekeeping course when we can find the time and cash money.

        Did you see that they are building a community apiary?? It’s amazing! They have a kickstarter page to raise money to plant up the lot (which is mostly grass and gravel right now):

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