Homemade Sugar Plug and God Save The Queen (Maybe)

On March 13th, I placed the remains of a starved colony — a sad, dirty looking queen and a few hundred bees — into a nuc box with a 60-watt light bulb in a desperate move to keep it alive. Most of the bees eventually died and it looked pretty damn grim for old queenie. Luckily the post-apocalyptic winter we’ve had in Newfoundland took a break yesterday when the sun came out and the temperature went up to 14°C (57°F). That was my chance to create a new colony (essentially a nuc) with the ragged queen and some bees from another hive. But first I had to catch the queen and put her in a cage so she wouldn’t be attacked when I mixed her together with some strange bees.

Mixing up some sugar and water. (April 02, 2016.)

Mixing up some sugar and water. (April 02, 2016.)


I dug out some plastic queen cages that consist of a mesh tube (some call them “hair roller” cages). One end has a plastic plug. The other end gets plugged with some candy that takes a day or two for the bees to eat through, by which time they’ll have gotten used to the queen’s pheromones and will accept her as their own (instead of killing her), in theory.

Jamming plug open end of queen cage into sugar goop. (April 2, 2016.)

Jamming open end of queen cage into sugar goop. (April 2, 2016.)


I made a plug of sugar by mixing some sugar with water until it was like wet cement. The photos illustrate how I did it. It’s pretty amazing, I know.

Sugar plugs drying in queen cage. (April 2, 2016.)

Sugar plugs drying in queen cage. (April 2, 2016.)


The funky part of the operation was catching the queen. I wish I’d had someone there to record it. It was strange to see her scoot around the dirty comb looking for a place to lay. I tried to get her to walk into the cage, but she was sneaky. I eventually managed to nudge her in with my finger. Then I sealed her in. I could have taken a photo of her alone in her cage, but I was too focused on the task at hand.

Queen cage with sugar plug. (April 2, 2016.)

Queen cage with sugar plug. Ta-da! Now just image a queen bee in there too. (April 2, 2016.)


My original plan was to steal some bees from one of my larger hives and throw them in a nuc box with the caged queen. But I changed my mind and went for the old bait and switch method instead. I set up a hive body with some empty drawn comb and some frames of honey and pollen and placed the caged queen pressed between two frames in the middle, just like I do when installing a mated queen. Then I moved a hive (full of bees) to a new location and put the single hive body with the caged queen in its place. All the returning foragers, homed in on the location of their old hive, returned to an empty hive with a queen caged in the middle of the frames. The same trick is often used to boost the population of a weak colony. In this case, it’s the weakest of colonies: a single bee, the queen.

The hive in the background was originally located where the green hive body (with a caged queen) is now located. (April 2, 2016.)

The hive in the background was originally located where the green hive body (with a caged queen) is now located. (April 2, 2016.)


It’s another desperate move and I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t work. But if does work, I’d like to reiterate that I should get a medal.

A beeyard going through a transitional phase. (April 2, 2016.)

A beeyard going through a transitional phase. (April 2, 2016.) The 5-deep hive, by the way, is not a hive. It’s a stack of deeps full of honey, pollen and drawn comb. My beeyard looks like a junkyard. So?


I’ll keep my nose out of the hive (or the nuc) for a few days. Then I’ll check to see if the queen is still alive. After all these shenanigans, did I save the queen? Probably not, but stay tuned…

Continued in A Cold Ragged Queen.

6 thoughts on “Homemade Sugar Plug and God Save The Queen (Maybe)

  1. The following is copied from an email response I wrote to some regarding this post:

    I’ve often heard that hives can be moved either 3 feet or 3 miles but nothing in between. It’s a safe rule to go by. Bees supposedly have a 3-day memory. After that they have to re-orient. If the bees are stuck in the hive for 3 days because of bad weather, that’s your chance to move them if you have to move them more than 3 feet (and less than 3 miles).

    The basic procedure is wait until all the bees are in the hive (evening or nighttime), seal them inside, move the hive (a two-person operation), put obstacles like branches in front of the bottom entrance so the bees are forced to re-orient, keep the top entrance plugged up, and then open the hive. The next morning the bees run into the obstacle (something that’s new to them), so they re-orient and everything is good. I know beekeepers who say it’s safe to move a hive 10 feet or so, but I’ve had bad results with that.

    Most of the bees in the hive I moved stayed with their hive because they were stuck in the hive for several days before I moved them. I just took the hive apart and moved it in the middle of the day. I’d guess somewhere between 500 and 1000 bees were already outside at the time and those are the ones that came back to the original location. That’s enough to keep the caged queen warm. Most of those bees are foragers, but they have no problem switching roles to adapt to their new hive situation. I’m pretty sure they’re giving their full attention to the queen. If she makes it and starts laying well, I’ll probably steal some brood from another hive to give the colony a boost. That’s a big IF though.

  2. Yes. I do believe this to be true, though you get better results if you keep them locked up for two or three days before placing the obstruction. Just make sure they have plenty of ventilation.

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