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Day 4: Checking and Removing the Queen Cages

15th May 2007

Day 4: Checking and Removing the Queen Cages

posted in Our Hives |

And now we start to head into some of the exciting hive maintenance!

Today’s task: open each hive, remove the queen cage, make sure there’s no queen in it, reposition the frames, and add the 10th frame to each box. While it’s not a lot of messing around in the hive- assuming all goes well- it is some; plus, the girls are now thinking of the hive as home and are less than enthusiastic about having it messed with.

Right about the time J came home from work, it started to rain a bit. Just sprinkling, but it looked menacing, so we figured we’d best try to do this to at least 1 hive before any downpours began. Also, bees do not like rain, and become even more unhappy about having their hives messed with in such. But tomorrow’s prediction was for thunderstorms in the evening, and we would not have a chance to do anything much Thursday… so tonight it was!

It’s important to do this now, because the girls are building comb and we want them building it in nice flat sheets on the foundation- not in weird modern-art structures in gaps around the queen cages.

So we got togged up- J didn’t wear the full bee suit at this point, though- I filled a spray bottle full of syrup to mellow out alarmed bees (Dan recommends this most of the time rather than smoke), and we got various bits of gear together, including the smoker in case we ended up needing it. We may want to get a small storage bin out by the hives…

Both Mary and Elizabeth were looking less active than Susan, so we started with Mary. I pulled off the outer and inner lids, and moved the frames a bit; J, who was wearing gloves, pulled out the queen cage and while there were a few bees therein, none of them looked like a queen. All according to plan! So we moved the frames back into position and added the 10th- we’re trying one all-in-one plastic frame in each hive, so that’s what we put in- closed Mary up, and all was well. The bees were pretty mellow about the whole thing- sprays of syrup definitely distract them! We have maybe a handful buzzing our heads, and the sound of the hive was starting to get very slightly louder- the more buzzing, the more pissed they are- but not much. There was some excessive comb around where the queen’s cage was, so I’m glad we got in there when we did! Now that the spacing is proper they’ll probably rework that.

Elizabeth went just as smoothly. J got some pictures of that; I’ll post them tonight or tomorrow. Same deal, basically- everything looks good.

But Susan…. ah, it looks like our Susan is going her own way! First off, when we opened the hive, she got more irritated than the other 2. Not badly so, but noticeably. And then… there was no visible queen cage. This threw us for a bit of a loop! Meanwhile, we heard thunder and the rain was getting heavier, so we adjourned into the house to figure out what the hell to do next.

We decided on a Plan: J would don the full haz-mat outfit. We’d open the hive, separate the frames between which the queen cage had fallen, then J would tilt the hive box a bit and I’d nab the cage from the bottom board (the hive boxes have 4 sides, but both top and bottom are open). Also, the rain suddenly stopped and the sun came out, so we decided to go for it.

This worked like a charm. We did smoke Susan some, and that and the syrup helped mellow her out a bit. She was definitely starting to get pissed off, though! The buzzing was probably twice as loud as it had been. Still, very few bees started flying around and buzzing our heads, so she may be a bit testy but isn’t especially aggressive. I ended up NOT wearing gloves to grab the queen cage; it’s a choice between more protection and clumsiness, or less protection and a greater ability to avoid doing things that would require protection. Also, our fancy bottom boards have special covered holes one can use to put smoke right into the hive- a nice touch.

That wasn’t the only curve ball Susan threw us, though! The queen cage was FAR more covered in bees than either Elizabeth’s or Mary’s were, and it was full of the girls as well- so much so, that we had no way of telling whether or not the queen was out- though the candy plug had been eaten through. What to do? The number of bees on and in the cage did seem to indicate that the queen might not yet have left the cage…

So we ended up putting the inner cover over the hive body with all its 10 frames, and put the second hive body on top of it, but empty. We put the queen cage right by the hole in the middle of the inner cover, figuring that if the bees were just attracted to residual queen essence (or candy) they’d go back into the hive, and if the queen were still in the cage, at some point she’d leave and head for the far nicer quarters below in the hive proper. Meanwhile, the extra body and the outside cover would protect her from weather etc.

So- success! Liz and Mary seem to be doing just fine and have clearly read the manuals and are following them. Susan has her own ideas, but in general things look OK with her, and I think we handled the situation fairly reasonably.

On Sunday we open the hives again, and this time we pull the frames out and see if we have any brood started! Meanwhile, I just made another 12 pounds of syrup, and tomorrow J will take a quick peek into Susan’s extra upper box and see what’s going on with the queen cage.

ETA: It was definitely an adrenaline rush again. Still, less of one then I had during the installation; I’m hopeful that in a couple of months I’ll be reasonably calm about the whole thing. J was amazing as he did all that serious messing with Susan, too!

-Amanda

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