Friday, May 13, 2016

drama queen

A few days after I installed my new bee package and it was time to check in on the queen and make sure she had been released from her cage.  This is typically a quick check in, you open the hive up and get to the frame you left the queen cage attached to, pull it out, find that the candy plug is gone and the queen is not in the cage.  Sometimes I am a bit of a Nervous Nelly and I will poke around quickly to see if I can spy the queen, to allay my late night visions of her body lying dead in the bottom of the hive.  And then you are done.  Easy peasy.  Right?  That's how it has always worked for me, except for that one time the cage was lying in the bottom of the hive.  But the queen had been released and all was well that day.  And I learned I needed to press the cage a bit more firmly into the wax next time.

The hive was looking active and happy, with lots of bees flying in and out. 

And the bottom inspection board, clean three days before, was covered in debris.  Which was a good thing, I was thinking.  Likely cappings from honey they had eaten.  And general housekeeping detritus.

I scraped that all clean.

A peak under the cover and the feeder was being used, but was not empty.

And under that, the upper box was full of bees.  All good.

I opened the lower box, where I had placed the queen cell and pulled out the frame it was pressed into.

The cage itself was covered in quickly moving bees, moving all over the cage itself.  I watched for a bit, to try to assess the difference in bee movement between frantic, purposeful, interested, and I am going to murder you when I get my hands on you.  

If it was the latter, and the queen was still in the cage, there was the possibility that those worker bees hadn't had enough time to accept this queen as theirs and would kill her upon meeting.  This would be bad.

When I looked more carefully, I could see that there was a small hole in the candy, and the smaller worker bees were able to pass in and out but the larger queen could not.  She, the first queen I have had for this to happen, was still in there.

I am not a quick beekeeper.  I do a lot of standing still and scratching my head and thinking things through.  I often do one thing, close up the hive, and decide I did it wrong and need to pull it apart and do something different.  Maybe this is why I have taken up beekeeping.  With three kids around with sometimes urgent-feeling needs, I do not get an opportunity to do this sort of problem solving very often.  And change my mind without anyone -- well, anyone besides angry bees thwacking against my veil -- to protest.  I guess it's not really all that different, bees and kids.  But I have a veil out there.

I decided, given that there was a small hole and worker bees were visibly passing in and out, that if they were going to kill the queen they would have already done so.  But she was alive in there.  

So, I decided to make the hole a bit larger and allow her out more quickly, though I also likely could have let them do their own thing at this point.  

But I was thinking, in that moment, that if I got her out I could remove the cage and leave the hive box all tidy and move in ready for them.

As I thought for a moment about what to do about the queen cage, holding it in my hand, I looked down and realized the queen was gone.  No longer in the cage.  She had escaped while I pondered.  She left behind her nurse bees that had cared for her throughout her trip from the South.  Try as I might, I could not, gently, get those bees to leave the cage.  I decided I would put the cage up higher in the hive, so they could escape eventually as well, but where I could just quickly remove the cage in a few days when I was feeding with syrup.

I began to close up the hive.  And stopped.  And thought.  And then wondered if maybe those obviously good caretaker nurse bees needed to be closer to where their queen was, in the bottom box, so they could find each other more easily if the queen was still in need with possible inhospitable hosts.  And so, I took the boxes apart again, found the queen moving about a frame, and put the cage with her nurse bees right near her.  

You see how I operate?  And this queen and I are figuring it all out together.  I'll just go back for that cage a bit later.  When cliques and groups and families have figured out how to blend. 

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