June 4, 2014

So I guess I'm a beekeeper: Emergency queen replacement

Yesterday, I called one of the apiaries I'd submitted an order for a queen bee on Monday. I hadn't heard back one way or the other, so thought I'd do one call to beg and plead for one of their queens. (Since nobody seems to have any ready yet.)

And the phone call went something like... Him: "Wait, Jennifer? From Wisconsin? I packed that up and sent that out myself yesterday. My brother Phil does all the tracking numbers. If it isn't in your junk mail, he must not have emailed you yours. Figures. Oh, and you overpaid on shipping, because you just needed a letter not a box, so I threw in another queen!" Me: Silent, because I'm simultaneously feeling excited I've actually found a new queen (a task I was beginning to feel was impossible), questioning how I'm going to get all the way to Coleman on a Tuesday to install her, and terrified I'm going to have to make a choice on which queen to kill because I only need one. Him: (He must have sensed my fear) "If you don't need her, then I suppose you can just find her a home. But I'll make sure Phil gets you the tracking number. It should be there today." 10 minutes later, I got a text from Phil with my tracking #, and my queen had left Marinette and was out for delivery. An hour later, I got a text from Grandma that my queens arrived and were angrily buzzing in their cages on her kitchen counter.

So there you have it. I wrapped up my meetings, texted Grandma to let her know I was on my way, downloaded a new audiobook, took a half-day off work, sent an email to my bee class asking if anyone needed a queen, and headed north. (Thankfully, the instructor at the UW Extension's apiary said she would take her, and then a classmate emailed saying she needed a replacement queen, so I have 2 good home options.)

So the beehive specifics - I got there, opened up the hive, and cut out the emergency queen cells so there would be no competition and no need to bother with anything other than accepting the new queen. I'd heard about a hive having a "queenless roar", but didn't understand what that meant until I started to cut out the queen cells. With each cell I removed, the hive got louder and louder until it was absolutely deafening. (I did see that there were growing larvae in the queen cells, so they would have actually raised a queen on their own. Beatrix I must have laid a few dozen eggs before her untimely demise. But I'm glad I decided to go with a new queen anyhow, because it takes about 3 weeks to get a new queen to emerge, and then I would be dependent on the few drones I have withing my new hives to fertilize her. Then once all that happens, it can take up to two weeks for her to start laying. Also, there is much debate over whether an egg not originally destined to be a queen (and therefore not fed royal jelly from day 1) is a strong enough queen to maintain a hive for the long-term. Being new at this, and it already being June, I firmly believe faster and stronger is the better choice for my new hive as long as I didn't have to kill Beatrix I.) So I placed Beatrix II (A beautiful Carniolan queen) in between frames 5 - 6, just like when I first installed the queens, shut the hive up, and said a little prayer this would work out. I'd debated putting a frame of capped brood from Amelia's hive into Beatrix II's hive, but decided to make things as simple as possible. And I always have that option at a later date if the hive doesn't grow fast enough. We're heading back Saturday for a family party, and hopefully Beatrix II will be released and accepted by her now strong hive by then.

Of course, I also had to open up my Amelia hive while I was there because I was super curious to see it. Baby bees have emerged, and most of the open larvae I'd seen on Saturday were now capped. I even watched Amelia walk around and lay some eggs. Everything seems to be fantastic. They're starting to store honey, even. They have 5 1/2 frames completely full, so I'm expecting to add a new brood box either this weekend or next. (You add a new box when they're about 3/4 full, or in this case 7 frames.)

So there you have it. A duel of an Italian queen (Amelia) vs a Carniolan queen (Beatrix II) is underway. Go, sweet girls, go.

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