The Mark of a Queen

Saturday, nine hearty souls showed up in Swanzey, New Hampshire at the home of “Imagine That Honey” for bee-keeping class.  Jodi and Dean greeted everyone and arranged our vehicles across their lawn.  We trooped down to their basement/rec room and found seats.  Jodi handed those new to the class armloads of reading material; articles, catelogs and magazines.  Later that evening, I took a quick glance at this trove of information and was astonished to see that the cataloges included instructional articles regarding the equipment they were selling.  Hmm, what would Victoria’s Secret write?

The class moved to the workshop which was literally buzzing.  Boxes made of thin wood and screens were lined up by the door and dense with bees.  We were going to install a queen and her court  into a newly constructed pine hive.  First, we walked out to the bee yard.  Jodi had done several installations the night before and the air was warm and placid with the hum of each colony setting up housekeeping.

At first we stood apprehensively around the outside of electric fence as Jodi and Dean strolled through the hives, talking about the procedure.  With the buzzing and Jodi’s confidence,  I lost interest in the insects-with-stingers bumbling in the air around me.

While we all suited up, Dean headed back to the workshop for the bees and equipment.  There was a fascinating array of hats, veils, shirts and gloves.  We tucked our pant-legs into our socks and headed back to the bees.

For the 3 hours we worked with the bees, Dean never even wore gloves.  I only saw him gently brush one bee off his arm.  Jodi explained the construction of the hives; fielding questions and preparing it for the installation.  Dean lit the smoker and assisted.

First, Jodi removed the queen’s cage.  She demonstrated how to pierce the end just enough that the three worker bees and the queen would start to eat their way out.  The small package was then placed in the hive.  Slowly and patiently, she and Dean pried off the wood and screen from one side of the small crate then Jodi literally dumped the rest of the bees into the hive.  Let me just say, there were a lot of bees.

Jodi introducing us to the Queen

Dumping the bees into their new home

Once the colony was comfortable and busy in the new hive, we took a short drive to another bee yard for Jodi to do a spring inspection.  This time we gathered inside the fence and got up close and personal with the bees.  Jodi was checking to see how the four hives had survived the winter.

A frame showing a recently hatched queen cell…I know, tough to decipher.

Key to this was finding the queen in each.  Once found, she was carefully removed and marked with a red dot for ease of identifying her during future checks.  One of the four hives was not very healthy.  The queen was very small and did not seem to be laying well.  The hive was visibly different from its healthier neighbor with a big fat queen.

Queen captured (very carefully!!) for marking

Releasing the Queen back into the hive

I was thrilled to be able to identify a queen on sight.  We asked a million questions about the differences and what could be done to help the ailing hive.  Jodi’s one comment that stuck with me was something along the lines of, “We are merely the stewards to the bees.  They have their own society and orderly world.  When we try to take over and govern it we mess it up or the bees just leave.”

6 thoughts on “The Mark of a Queen

  1. How interesting to have met the queen. How long have you been keeping bees? We just spent three months in Croatia, and I was yearning to visit a beekeeper to learn the ins and outs of the practice. Unfortunately we didn’t get to during this visit, so it’s yet another excuse to return.

    A few years ago while hiking in a German forest, we encountered a beekeeper whose truck had gotten stuck in the early-spring mud. Some of my hiking companions helped free the truck, and during the process the beekeeper was talking to his precious bees. My friend noted that with so much love going into caring for them, the honey must indeed be special. As a thank you gesture for rescuing him, the kind beekeeper even delivered us each a jar of his bees’ honey. It was indeed wonderful. 🙂

    • Hi Tricia, thanks for stopping by and commenting. Wow, three months in Croatia must have been fascinating.

      I am starting my second year of beekeeping and feel like there is so much to learn, it will take me years to feel confident.

      • Martha, indeed, we were lucky to spend three months in Croatia. It’s our second year wintering there. With talk of lavender honey from the neighboring islands, and the olive and grape harvests in the autumn, we hope to return soon.

        What led you to take up beekeeping? 🙂

      • It was on my bucket-list for life and when I was involuntarily retired from the corporate rat-race I jumped in. Such a peaceful hobby.

        I didn’t know Croatia had an olive harvest! As you can see from other posts, I’ve really gotten into true Extra Virgin Olive Oil, too.

  2. Pingback: Holding On | Therapeutic Misadventures

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