The new queen had arrived, and I was anxious to get her installed before the bees flew away. I put on my coveralls and boots, grabbed my bee gloves, veil, hive tool and smoker. I drove the new queen out to meet her subjects.
From what I’d read, I had to kill the old queen first, or the new queen would be killed by the old queen. I had seen black and white photos and drawings of queen bees, but the queen in the cage was the first live queen I had ever seen. I didn’t really know the difference between the queen and worker bees, other than that the queen was larger than workers. I also knew that drones were larger than workers, but not as large as a queen.
I lit my smoker, put on the veil and gloves, gathered all of my bee equipment, and carried the new queen out to middle of the field where the hive was. I gently set the queen on a rock near the hive under the shade of a tree. I took a good look at her. She was cool, she was comfortable, her attendant was there to watch over her.
Then I turned my attention to the hive and the bees. I smoked the bees, removed the cover and began the hunt for the old queen. I still did not know much about bees or bee behavior. I wasn’t sure if I had the old queen or not. So, I pretty much went through the hive indiscriminately killing big bees. I looked at each frame carefully. If the bee was unfortunate enough to be overweight, it got squished. If it was bigger than its neighbors, it was a dead bee. I killed bee after bee. Finally, I was satisfied that I had done all I could do to ensure a peaceable transfer of power from the old queen to the new.
Peaceable? After that slaughter of bees? Well at least I had given the new queen every chance to take control of the hive. The old queen must surely be dead. I replaced all of the frames and got the hive back in order.
Then, I turned to the rock to pick up the new queen. The new monarch and mother of the hive who would rule over the hive with a kind and gentle hand. The queen who would labor day after day laying eggs and producing generation after generation of bees for the next two to three years.
New Queens have to be installed slowly. They have to be introduced to the hive properly, or the bees will just see her as an intruder and kill her.
In order to help with the transition, the queen cage has a screen on the side, with the exit on the end. The exit is blocked by a piece of candy. It usually takes a day or two for the bees to eat through the candy and release the queen. By that time, they are familiar with her smell. They will bring her water and try to groom her through the cage. They get to know her and accept her. Maybe they take this time to swap stories and compare relatives (“You’re from Navasota? I have relatives from there. Do you know the Buckfast Family? You are? We’ll we’re practically cousins!”).
Everyone becomes comfortable with everyone else during the time of the great candy eating. And what better way to break the ice than over a meal of sugar? The queen can be released once the candy is gone, and she can get to work immediately.
So, I’ve put the hive back together, and I turn to the rock, reaching down to pick up the queen.
And … she’s covered with ants!
The ants were attracted to the candy and decided the queen and her worker would also make for a nutritious meal.
What I knew about hives at this time (which wasn’t enough) was that bees will leave a hive when there isn’t a queen in the hive. I was desperate. I had just murdered everyone in the hive that looked slightly queenish, and the queen I had intended to take over the hive had just been devoured by a tribe of wild ants! Without a queen, I would surely lose all of my bees.
I quickly pulled out my cell phone to call Weaver …
Oh, wait. We didn’t have a cell phone back then.
O.K. I put the hive back together, gathered my beekeeping tools and walked back to my truck. I drove home, cranked up the computer, went online …
Oh yea, no internet, either.
I drove home, picked up the phone and dialed (yes, a rotary dial) Weaver Apiaries.
After they stopped laughing, the Weavers promised to mail me another queen.
The second time, I was able to keep the queen safe. And I didn’t slaughter as many innocent drones.
I still don’t know if the queen in that hive was my Weaver Buckfast queen or not. I just know that we had bees.
Maybe now I was really a beekeeper.