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Son Of A Beeswax!

Non Birding Bill and I headed out to check the status of the Kitty hive. Last time, we had placed a new queen in a cage inside the queenless hive. The cage opening was covered with hard candy. The workers were supposed to chew their way inside and by the time they got to her, the whole hive would be under the spell of the new queen’s pheromone.

When we took out the frame with the queen cage, several bees were gathered around the queen, a good sign. They didn’t appear to be attacking the cage, but VERY interested as to what was inside. I decided to remove the cage from the wax to see if the queen was still inside.

You can see on the side of the box is a piece of tape with a hole chewed through it. Behind the tape is the cage’s opening. The opening is jammed with hard candy. The hole in the tape and the tunnel in the candy tells us that the workers have been trying to get the queen out–and have almost made it all the way through.

If you look at the workers on the side of the cage, you can see their proboscis is out to feed the queen nectar through the screen–they look like they are ready to serve under her rule. We did one more test. I had NBB smoke the cage to remove all the workers and we waited to see how long it would take for the workers to come to her again. Not long! They came to the cage before I had a chance to turn on my camera. Watch them come to the queen:

I think it’s safe to say that they are assimilated to her. We put her in on Tuesday and here it is, Saturday afternoon and they are all over her cage, and have almost chewed their way through the hard candy. I decided to go ahead and open up the queen cage like we did when we first installed the bees in April. I’m an old pro at that now. I gave NBB the camera and had him make a video of this momentous occasion:

Did you catch what happened there? In case you missed it, that big bee flying away above my hand in the last few seconds of the video is our queen, flying away. HOLY CRAP! That wasn’t supposed to happen! As soon as the camera was off, she flew to the right, I almost had her in my hand. She landed on one of the brood boxes. I went to get her and then she flew behind NBB and I lost track of her. It was not unlike the moment in A Christmas Story when Ralphie lost all the screws when he and his dad were changing the tire and he said in slow motion, “Oooooooooooh Fffffffuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuudge.”

Only, I didn’t say “fudge.” Imagine the worst profanity you can think of and that’s pretty much what I said at that moment. What else could possibly go wrong with the Kitty hive? I briefly thought back to just a scant two months ago when Olga was the problem child.

Then, I immediately switched gears to problem solving mode, and thought back to the beekeeping class I took. The instructors warned us that this could happen when we would be hiving our new packages and releasing the queen. They said the thing to do is just stand where you are when the queen left and wait for fifteen minutes. The queen who just flew off is full of eggs and ready to lay and therefore, kinda heavy. She can’t fly far and as she leaves she will realize that this isn’t really what she wants, she’s not going to find what she’s looking for on this flight and back track. She’ll look for familiar objects from where she she started–what could be more noticeable than two giants dressed all in white?

We stood and waited. I noticed when she flew that she was obviously larger than the workers and flew like a drone–slow and heavy. I went behind NBB to see if I could find her clinging to any nearby bushes, but didn’t see her. NBB and I still waited. A large bee flew by my head, I watched it land at the entrance–drat, it was only a drone. The noon time sun combined with my tension of wondering if the queen would come back started to form sweat along my forehead and back. I kept remembering what the instructors told us, that the queen would come back, even if we didn’t see her. After fifteen minutes, go ahead and close up the hive, she was probably in there. Although, those instructions were for installing a package in April when there were no leaves on the trees, no flowers, and much cooler weather. This was a warm, sunny day, with clover all around, and trees chock full of leaves–perfect for a queen to hide. Would the same strategy work?

Another large bee bounced off my hood, I watched it fly low to the ground, and then to the entrance. Another #$%& drone.

I started to form another strategy in head. The queen dealer wasn’t far, maybe I could pick up another queen and start all over? Boy, that would be embarrassing to explain that I lost another queen. Although, I prudently hadn’t killed the queen cell with an egg that we found last week, maybe I could just go with that plan? Suddenly, a large bee came from behind NBB, it was heavy and slow, and very tan. It landed right on the frame where the queen cage had been. Could it be? Was it really? YES! Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes yes! The queen came back! Of course, we videoed her triumphant return:

I’m sure we only waited for less than five minutes, but I have to say that it felt like we were waiting for an hour! In case you are having trouble viewing her in the video, I did get photos:

She’s right in the middle of the photo, surrounded by attendants. Note how her abdomen extends well past her wings. She’s also much lighter in color than the original Queen Kitty. We have noticed that our workers in both hives have been changing colors. This hive started with lighter bees and now has darker bees, I’m sure it has to do with what types of drones the queen was mated with. The queen dealer told me that he had mated this queen with a variety of males, including a couple of carniolan drones which should bring me some colorful workers. Since carniolans are black, I wonder if the original Queen Kitty was carniolan?

Anyway, help us, Queen Kitty II, you’re our only hope. The workers will show her around, she’ll get rid of any queen cells in progress, and commence to layin’ some eggs. Man, oh man, what nail biter that hive visit was.

In other news, the Olga hive continues to be a model of good bee behavior. We got in our new Ross Rounds comb honey super and are going to try that since we are having so many problems with the original comb honey kit. I’m happy to report that not only did the Ross Rounds kit come with instructions (unlike the other kit) but it was already assembled. Since I didn’t want to waste time, we didn’t paint it, but added it right to the Olga hive. You can tell the Ross super from the rest because it’s not painted. Here’s hoping we get some good old honey out of that.

15 comments to Son Of A Beeswax!

  • Anonymous

    you have got me on the edge of my seat! Bees the final adventure! LOL!

  • linda

    I love your videos of the bees. I’m amazed at how you raise the bees.

  • lisa

    I just wanted to delurk and say how much I’m enjoying your blog. I also wanted to thank you for helping me lose a childhood fear.

    I was stung by a bee when I was a child and have lived in dread of them for many years. I’ve been reading your blog since about the time you started working with the hives at Mr. Neil’s, and I now find them fascinating and a lot less frightening.

    Anyway, keep up the good work with the bees. You’re doing great!

  • Sassy

    I have to be(e) honest– I love your bird entries too, but the bee entries really are addictive! I can’t wait to see what happens every time you check the hives!!! Here’s hoping Queen Kitty II keeps on the straight and narrow and your Ross Rounds get those bees a-makin’ honey ASAP.

  • bluesaffron

    Thank you for the Bee update and the education on Beaks and Talons in the previous blog.

    Good thing you were paying attention in Bee Class those months ago.

    The Christmas Story reference is perfect…it was easy to fill in the blank air space when the camera was turned off.

    Nerves of steel and patience won out though. Good for you!!

  • Heidicrafts

    Such drama. How long until bees play a role in one of Mr. Neil’s works? Or one of NBB’s plays? How does the dating scene compare to a bee hive? Hmm.

  • Yoga Gal

    You are an amazing woman and quite a talented writer! Watch out Mr. Gaiman! Keep us posted on the further adventures of Empress Kitty the II and her kindgom! Smiles and blessing! Namaste.

  • spacedlaw

    Birdchick Blog: the blog packed with action on every page !
    Great stuff, as usual.
    “Carniolan drones” sounds like something out of Starwars too (next thing you’ll know, your queen will have a funky hairdo).

  • archi ann

    WOW – can’t say it any better than the previous posts – had me on the edge of my seat for sure!

    you haven’t had a contest in a while – how about a contest to name the bee soap opera :-) i have no ideas but would love to hear what your most creative friends come up with!!!
    archi’s mum

  • Jennifer

    I come for the bees, I stay for the birds.

  • Norman Boyd

    I REALLY don’t know how you can be so relaxed about doing this work! Even with your downers with the bees, you are still in control! Mr. Neil must be paying you millions!

    THANKS EVER SO MUCH for one of the MOST interesting blogs on the web.

    I feel like changing from voting for Mr. Neil to yourself Madam…shhh! don’t tell him I said so!
    Norman :-)

  • birdchick

    Me? Paid? Would you pay a beekeeper for the mistakes I’ve made this summer?

    LOL, I’m not a paid beekeeper. In one of the early entries, I told how the bee plan came together. Last year Mr. Neil and I discovered a mutual love of beekeeping. I have wanted to keep bees for the last five or six years, but live in an apartment in the city (with no balcony or any place to conceal a hive). Mr. Neil has always wanted bees to pollinate his fruit bearing trees and bushes but is not home enough to tend a hive–so like peanut butter and jelly we came together and formed a plan. He buys the equipment, and I work the hives. We’ll share the honey.

    I’m so glad that readers are enjoying the hive stories. Thank you so much for all your very kind comments. I was worried that it may bore some people but I honestly enjoy sharing my trials as a first time beekeeper. I don’t know what I’ll do this winter when I have to secure them in their insulation and not visit. I’ll guess Cinnamon will get more time in the blog.

    And rest assured, the bee suits go a loooooooong way to make you feel more comfortable around the bees.

    archi ann, we haven’t had a contest because I don’t have any prizes to give away…

  • dguzman

    Oh my gosh, I was afraid I was going to hear millions of tiny voices crying out in pain! Thank goodness you flashed back to bee class and remembered to wait for Queen Kitty to return!

    Wow, my word verification is “piggerqu” — WTF?

    Sweet work, Bird-and-beechick.

  • Anonymous

    You don’t need a contest to name the new queen. Forever the queen of the Kitty hive must be named Queen Kitty II, III, IV, etc. At the rate the hive is going, it would otherwise be way too hard to remember the new queen’s name. This way she can always be Kitty.

  • archi ann

    who needs prizes?!! the fun of coming up with the name for the bee keeping soap opera should be reward enough!!!

    but hey, if you must have a prize i’m sure i could donate something from http://www.stupid.com as a prize :-) … based on your raccoon/cat post here’s one idea:

    http://www.stupid.com/stat/CCLF.html