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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.