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Brett Kent

The bees knees: Overnight delivery of queens makes a happy beekeeper

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Welcome back to the Beehive. A lot has happened since I last wrote. Most beekeepers have received their bees and have installed them in their hives boxes by now. As you know, if you are a regular reader of this column, I over wintered my bees here in Park Rapids.

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My next order of business was to get ready for the new queen bees to arrive. So, the last week in April, I got the call from my friend Gerald Johnson, a commercial beekeeper up in Clearbrook.

Gerald and his sons Marcus and Eathan are not only honey farmers, but they also sell bees, which includes grafting and breeding their own queen bees. This is a process I will share with you in future columns. Anyway, Brenda and I drove up to Clearbrook and picked up our new queens.

About the first two weeks of May, I went through all my hives and split the strong hives. That is, I located the old queen and pinched her. I know this sounds terrible, and believe me, I did not like doing it, but the old queens have a tendency to swarm, resulting in diminished egg laying capacity.

So, with the old queen out of the picture, I would leave the hives queen-less for 24 hours. The worker bees know that something happened to the queen, because they cannot smell the pheromones she gives off. The following day, I re-enter the hive and split it, by taking out five or six frames of bees and brood.

Brood is unhatched bees. The amount of bees and brood will determine how many new hives I can make. Lastly, I introduce a new queen into each new split I make up. The queen is by herself, in a small cage. Now, being that the bees have been without a queen for 24 hours, they know their hive is in trouble and cannot survive without a queen.

So, when I introduce the new queen, the worker bees will accept her with open arms. This is truly one of the magical moments in beekeeping. The worker bees swarm the queen in her cage and begin to fan their wings. They are spreading the pheromone smell of the new queen to let everyone know that the queen is all right.

The worker bees spend the next two days eating through a candy plug in the queen cage. This allows time for the bees and the new queen to become acquainted, so the bees will accept their new queen. Once the bees eat through the candy plug, the new queen enters the hive and starts egg-laying immediately.

So, I went through my hives and the splits were going well. It turns out that my bees were strong; I didn't order enough queens from Gerald. So, I called Gerald and asked him if he had any extra queens lying around. I mean, every commercial bee guy probably has extra queens lying around.

Gerald said no, but that he could get me some. Gerald called his son Eathan, who was still in Texas, and they shipped me 20 more queens, UPS overnight, the following day. What a country. Where else can you get bugs from Texas to Minnesota overnight, delivered to your doorstep?

So the splits are made and the queens are installed. The hives have been moved to their summer locations. The queens are laying eggs to beat the band. The worker bees are gathering nectar from all the dandelions and the honey production has begun. The local beekeeper is taking a break, whew.

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