|A queen cage. Notice the white dot on the queen's abdomen.|
One always approaches the beginning of the beekeeping season with trepidation. Did the hive survive the winter? Do they have a queen? Is she going to lay? When will first bloom be? They are delicate creatures, at least up here in the great white north they are. So it was with joy that I discovered both of my hives had survived. An excellent start. I started to count the extra pounds of honey I was going to harvest with two hives at full strength from the get go. But Grandma always said don't count your honey before it is bottled. Or something like that.
One of the greatest words in beekeeping is 'queenright'. It is great because it sounds cool and archaic but it also means that all is well with your hive, the queen is there and she is laying and everyone is doing their jobs. Well my other hive was not queenright. It started off that way, but somewhere along the line the queen died, and some of the worker bees morphed into drone laying bees. I am not sure why this happens, but when bees do not have a queen, weird shit goes on, and this is one of the things that definitely falls into the category of weird shit. As I looked through the hive, frame after frame of drone cells appeared and that's it. Drones basically have one task, to impregnate the queen. After that, they are dead weight. A hive full of drones will basically die, since no one will go out and forage for nectar and pollen. So I needed to make this hive 'queenright' ASAP.
Luckily there is a guy a few towns over who raises queens, and doubly luckily I have a neighbor who is my beekeeper compadre and who is retired. He volunteered not only to drive over and pick up the queen, and not only to bring over a few frames of brood, but also to watch O. while I installed the queen in the hive. Then he came back the next day, after doing some research, and let me know that simply installing the queen would not work, I had to go through a complex procedure of removing the 'house' bees but keeping the 'field' bees. Then he took O. for a walk so I could get this done. It took about an hour and was probably the most unpleasant beekeeping task I have ever performed. Angry angry bees, three of which got inside my suit. Anyway, they finally were all set up, and fingers crossed if it worked at all. But slim chance of harvesting honey from that hive this year either. So the reality is that the honey that goes in my tea every morning will not be from my own hives, once last year's supply runs out. And that pretty much sucks and makes you wonder why you bother.
That's where my beekeeping head is at right now. Even with the influx of new bees and new hopes, I am saddled with these same old burdens of trying to keep them alive and happy, and above all, queenright.