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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Home Sweet Home in the Valley…

A dandy field

The Valley is four pounds heavier today. No need for a crash diet though, no trimming of portions, or counting those calories. The weight gain? Four pounds of California honeybees. In the previous post I mentioned the package of bees I brought home the other day for services rendered at the Beez Neez on package bee day. It’s time to hustle the little ladies into their new home. The longer they’re incarcerated, the deeper the pile of little bee corpses on the bottom of the wooden cage.

Earlier in the week I prepared their new home. Today it’s time to install them. A hum of impatience from the cage tells me they’re more than anxious to set up housekeeping. New HomeI set aside the lid from the empty box and remove four wooden frames to make room for the four pound ball. The syrup can, heavy with sugar water, slides out easily when I invert the box. I twist the can slowly outwards to avoid mashing the hundreds of bees clinging to it and rest the cage gently on its side while I wriggle the smaller queen cage out of the slot on top of the cageHer majesty's cage. Her little cell is swaddled in attendant bees entranced by the queen’s locator pheromone. These hangers on I shake off and then tuck the cage in my shirt pocket to keep the solitary bee warm while I install her court. 


Attendant bees

The bees immediately begin to exit the cage, crawl down the frames to survey their new surroundings. It’s a cool afternoon and they have clustered tightly for warmth. I’ll neeSyrup can removedd to hasten their exodus. A forceful knock on each side with the heels of my hands dislodges them in clumps to the floor of the cage. Then I rock the box back and forth and tumble them out the opening and into the hive.


In they go

In this manner I empty the cage as best I can and prepare to install their leader, that regal bee upon which so much depends for the colony’s survival.shaken out

Three days ago these bees had different queens and were accustomed to them and their unique royal scent. At this point they are unfamiliar with this queen pretender, might take her for a stranger, an intruder, and in allegiance to their recent queen, very likely kill her. For this reason she is caged for her own protection until her new court no longer considers her a usurper. To extend this introduction period another twelve to twenty-four hours, I use a neat little trick Jim taught me four years ago—the mini-marshmallow procedure. Her MajestyThe queen is kept prisoner in her cage by a small slice of cork inserted in the exit hole. I carefully remove this plug with the tip of my jackknife and to prevent her escape, I swiftly cover the hole with my left thumb. This little maneuver is crucial, for if the queen escapes, the entire operation is doomed. She will fly off to parts unknown and die, and the hive in turn will soon die without her. I always make sure she is on the move upwards before I unplug the cage. Then I quickly plug the hole with a mini-marshmallow. By the time the workers chew this sweet morsel away, they will be ready to greet and accept her highness. (Note the white locator dot on the queen’s thorax.)Her majesty joinsI replace the frames I set aside earlier and insert the marshmallowed cage in the center of the cluster, making sure the attendants can access her through the wire mesh of her cage. I replace the lid snugly. My part in all this is done for the moment. Now it’s “Home Sweet Home”for them. I’ll continue to feed the newly installed bees with sugar syrup until the weather improves and the maple blooms. This readily available nectar source will not only promote colony strength but encourage the workers to accept their new leader.

The next day I pull the cage, check for the queen. The marshmallow is gone. The cage is empty. There’s no need to look for her majesty. I know she is there in the dark somewhere, surrounded by the clustering warmth of her thousands of subjects. The pomp and ceremony of her coronation is over. I’ll not disturb her while she gets on with the business of populating her realm.

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