Thursday, June 3, 2010

All Hail the Queens

    Today (June 2) was a busy day at the bee store.  Although things have slowed down somewhat since the package bees, it is still a struggle to keep up on assembly orders.   The big deal today was the arrival of a shipment of 55 queen bees this afternoon from Wooten's Golden Queens, located in Palo Cedro, California.  We've been anxiously waiting for them as they were supposed to arrive last week and several customers are anxious to get new queens.  Several of them have to be shipped elsewhere, but they arrived too late in the day for me to be able to get them sent out today.  I did manage to get them transferred to two queen banks.  I put them in a small 5 frame nuc box that has a few frames of bees with a fair amount of capped brood.  As the capped brood emerges over the next 12 days it will provide a constant source of young bees to act as nurse bees for the queens.  The queen cages are placed in a modified frame that keeps the worker bees from chewing through the candy plugs and releasing any of the queens.  The queens stay healthy longer in a queen bank and allows us to provide a better product to our customers.

    The queens arrive in a "battery box" which has a bunch of little queen cages in neat little rows all covered with lots of loose bees.  I spray them down with a little thymol scented sugar syrup to ease their addition to the queen bank.  The thymol is supposed ot mask their scent and make it harder for the bees in the queen bank to discern that the bees from the battery box are not from their hive. I also spray thymol scented syrup on the bees in the queen bank.  Apparently I didn't spray quite enough today as I still saw some combat between the workers.

     In order to prepare queens for shipment  I have to add at least three worker bees to their cage so that they have some attendants to care for them until they are installed in a hive. This involves grabbing worker bees by their wings and stuffing them business end first into the queen cages. This is a bare-handed job as it requires some dexterity to catch bees by their wings as they crawl around on the queen cages. The amazing thing for many people is that I can cover the hole in the queen cage with my finger and never get stung.  I have taken an occasional sting when I wasn't able to secure both pairs of wings to prevent the worker bee from stinging.  The bees are quite agile and can easily bend around to get me if I don't get both pairs of wings. I've gotten reasonably good at this so I usually don't get stung.  Once I have added workers to the queen cage, it is simply a matter of preparing a priority mail box with a screened vent hole, adding several hot pink warning labels ("Live Queen Bees" "Keep Ventilated" "Keep Away from Insecticides" "Keep at Room Temperature") and transporting the package to the post office.

    Obviously selling queen bees is a fairly big hassle.  We are usually lucky to break even on queens by the end of the year as they are a very perishable product.  When customers complain about the price of queen bees I advise them that if they really knew all that went into producing, handling, and shipping queens, they would be amazed that they are so cheap.  However, it doesn't feel cheap when you pony up $27.13 after tax for a relatively small bug.  We mainly sell queens as a service to our customers.

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