Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Rescue of Royal Ruckus

See that beautifully marked queen, the one with the yellow dot? Click on her to make the photo larger. She is currently sung as a bug inside her cage, inside Royal Ruckus getting acquainted with her new kingdom. Why yellow you ask, good question and a perfect segway to talk about queens for a moment.

While she doesn't rule the hive the queen is really is the source of all work and it is important to keep track of her and her age. Marked queens create quite a stir among beekeepers, some like 'em and some don't. The ones who don't, well I can't speak for them but it feels like they think having marked queens is like cheating. I'll admit the little shaming session I got last evening while picking up our Yellow Lady was uncalled for. We had unmarked queens our first year of beekeeping and we learned how to locate her among 70,000 -100,000 bees. And yes, if we couldn't actually find her we could located good evidence of her health and livelihood sighting newly layed eggs. For me finding eggs is far more difficult than finding the queen and it would suit me just fine to find away to make them neon green.  Our second year we ordered marked queens and locating her became a much easier. There is pure joy when you see her, marked or unmarked, pure unadulterated joy. We like marked queens. I don't think I would go so far as calling it cheating, besides it is important to know how old your queen is and if you have unmarked queens it is impossible to know because there are circumstances in which the hive will re-queen itself. You have no idea if your unmarked queen is your original queen. Nay say'ers would probably dismiss this argument and say well you shouldn't keep a colony around for more than two or three years anyway so what's the point. I'll just stick with we like marked queens.

Beekeepers have come up with an international coloring system for marked queens so we can keep track of the age of a queen. For years ending in 1 or 6 the marking is white, 2 or 7 yellow, 3 or 8 red, 4 or 9 green and 5 or 0 is blue. Our supplier in Kentucky does not follow the international system and all the queens are marked in white which was a little disappointing when we got our packages. We picked up our Yellow Lady from a local supplier in Stillwater who does follow the system. Not without a little shaming as I was writing the check telling me I didn't need to spend the extra money on a marked queen and that it didn't matter if I found her in the hive or not as long as I could find eggs. I didn't really want to get into it with him so I just smiled as said thanks and paid the extra buck.

We mapped out our plan. A practice run with the old queen cage and a spare hive box with frames. We got our act together and into the yard we went. First we checked the Drone Den to make sure we had queen acceptance. It was easy to find the queen, not many bees at this point and we feel pretty sure she is laying. Paula is much better at seeing the eggs than I am, even with a little magnifying glass it is hard for me and I am good at imagining things. We added syrup to Drone Den, Crazy Comb and The Turquoise Bee and we also stole a frame of open brood from The Turquoise bee to slip into Royal Ruckus. I would have preferred to steal from Crazy Comb but we can't find her queen so it was too risky. Putting a frame of open brood into Royal Ruckus will hopefully keep the bees busy tending to brood buying us some time while they accepted the Yellow Lady.

The time had come. We took our queen cage out of the plastic container and shook off the travel attendants that were clinging to the cage. The queen supplier doesn't add attendants into the actual queen cage which is what we are used to. He claims you get quicker better acceptance and that the workers will feed her though the screen. O.K. but I would have preferred a few inside with her just in case. We took great care to make sure the cage was secured between two frames, using a thin metal holder to secure it. This cage isn't going to fall. Been there, done that, don't need to repeat that lesson!

We added syrup and closed up the hive. Mission accomplished. We will return on Friday to release her. Paula and I were both reassured that we had made the right decision about the original queen. After seeing how active the Yellow Lady was in her cage there is no doubt the other queen was very sick. It made both of feel a lot better to see this healthy queen. I'd like to think I might start sleeping better but we still have a few hurdles. We need to safely release her and then check for queen acceptance. If you are of the praying sort please have at it! In the mean time I am starting a study of bee biology, reviewing  stages of development and hoping to integrate that into my hive inspections this summer.

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