Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Marking the Queen

There's bee drama going on here. I examined a hive last week because the bees were doing a lot of agitated flying, and after going through all three boxes, found not a single bit of brood. No eggs, no babies, just honey and pollen and worker bees. There was one open queen cell, so there's a small possibility that the queen had been superseded by a younger queen who had not yet begun to lay eggs.


And maybe all that agitated flying is really a series of mating flights.

And maybe not.

After talking to my beekeeping buddies, I decided that I'd check again this week, and then if there are still no eggs, I'm going to combine my small #3 hive with the queenless one. This should result in much happier bees, and much more honey for me. Both good outcomes.

Before making that combination, though, marking the queen, who I had already seen, in the small hive would make finding her in the big hive much easier. I truly love the intersection between ancient agriculture and the digital age, so I went to Youtube and found a video about marking a queen bee. It looked pretty straightforward.

There's a code for marking bees, and this year it's green. I have green paint. Great. I can do this.

The only sticky thing for me is the whole "bare handed" thing. I'm not a fan of being stung on my hands, and I don't have the confidence that I can move slowly enough to not provoke stinging. But marking a queen would require holding her.

Aha. I have a large match box. Surely that will work! I can take her away from her guards, and use my bare hands where I will feel less threatened. So I press ganged my eldest into being the tour photographer and back up queen wrangler and set out, as the morning's steady rain had given way to breezy sunshine.

The hive is very small. There are only a few drawn combs. No queen on the first two frames full of capped brood.

Right after that, my smoker stopped smoking. This happens a lot to me. If there were Remedial Smoker Management, I would take it. Fortunately, after a few puffs,

And stuffing a big of dry leaves into it, it roared right back. I wear two different gloves because the yellow plastic ones are miserable to maneuver in yet I lost or the dog ate my left leather glove. It works okay.

Finally, on the newest brood comb, I hit pay dirt. The cells were only half drawn, but in each one I saw a teeny egg sitting on its end. Plus, all the nurse bees were frantically buzzing with their tails in the air -- they were fanning smoke away from their charges and their queen. I pointed her out to Sarafina, and kept trying to get her (completely void of protective clothing) to come closer to get a good picture.

She declined.
The queen is a truly handsome bee, with a long, acorn-colored abdomen. After pointing her out, I managed to shove her into the match box. She wasn't thrilled with that idea, but I managed and she and I and one worker bee moved away from the hive. The worker flew out halfway across the yard.

I set up all my supplies

and took off my gloves, and then realized -- I'm not willing to even do this barehanded! Weenie keeper me!

That's when things got even more fun. Paint ready, box ready, (gloved) hands ready, and yes, the queen dropped out of the box onto the grass. I thought she might fly away, but she just buzzed around a bit.

Finally, I coaxed her onto my (yes, okay, gloved) left hand and got the paint ready. I was using an official piece of straw dipped into acrylic craft paint as my marker of choice.
One quick dab, and she's marked! I probably could have made it a bit bigger, but we'll worry about that the next time I mark a queen. Maybe I'll use a bigger piece of straw.

Back into the match box, both to dry the paint so her attendants don't lick it off and to carry her back to the hive.

I lay the box on the frames, and put the last frame back into place. I had hoped to set her on the entrance and watch her walk in, for drama, I guess, but then she seemed ready to release herself on her own recognizance out of the box.

And popped down in between the frames faster than she could be photographed.

When Friday comes, and I'm joining hives and being interviewed by a magazine reporter about urban beekeeping, she'll be easy to find. Not that I'll be looking for her, necessarily, but if I were, I could find her.


Kristin said...

This is a wonderful tale. I can't believe you dropped her in the grass. Your two gloves are too funny. Basically, you crackle me up and I get a kick out of reading your posts.

Susan said...

I was holding my breath reading about the queen lost in the grass. I'm curious about the interview--give us a full report.

patricia said...

Now wait. If you insist on wearing gloves, can't you find some that are a bit more close-fitting, that will give you more dexterity? That don't look like something from a slasher film?

And what about buying some stinky smoker fuel? It isn't free, but it's cheap, and it stays lit forever.

Or maybe you're doing scavenger beekeeping...

Thanks for sharing the post. I learn something every time you do.

patricia said...

I looked at the photos again--it's just the yellow glove that creeps me out. The one that looks like a big wax hand.

Anonymous said...

thought you were cook before, when you were posting your neat knitting - wow, bees, I am impressed. Thanks for showing this cool process!

Just Jenn said...

I think I'd be even more of a weenie then you! I commend your bravery to even think about sticking your whole hand in a bee hive (gloved or no!) 0.o