It’s good to be Queen.

Last week, before the rain and then the snow and then the hail and now the absolutely HOWLING winds, Brother Dear and Honeydew went gopher hunting did some bee work together.

Now that all of our lovely ladies are back in Montana, Honeydew has spread their hives throughout Glacier County and beyond.  After he delivered them all to their summer bee yards, and gave them a pep talk about the warehouse we’re hoping to build and the resulting need for a stellar honey crop, he went back around and worked through the hives to make sure each is queen right.  That’s just bee-speak for a hive with a healthy queen.  He says it very quickly:  “queenright.”

The English major in me loves this term, another word in this new language of apiaries that I’m learning to speak.  I always dreamed of a husband who could speak foreign languages.  I just didn’t realize they’d be the languages of bees, engines, and elk.  At any rate, when Honeydew is determining whether or not a hive is queen right (for the hive won’t last long without their Queen – just like Honeydew wouldn’t last long without me around to snatch the Doritos/salt/chocolate chips from his grubby hands), he pulls the frames from the hive and uses his very sharp eyes to locate The Queen.

If Honeydew determines that the Queen is not laying eggs, is not properly laying eggs, or is otherwise misbehaving, he will catch her and kill her.  If he determines that she has absconded, so much the better.  We don’t need her kind.  Time for a new queen for the hive.

In the spring, in California, Honeydew spends a lot of time grafting new queen bees – “grafting” is a fairly complicated business, and deserves its own blog post, but for now let’s just say that that he takes a frame out of a hive that’s queen right, scoops an egg from a cell, places it in an incubator, blows pixie dust into the apparatus, goes outside and does a Queen Dance, and poof!  A few days later a vigorous, virgin Queen emerges, ready to assume her duties.  He does this many, many times over, and eventually has what is called a “queen bank,” a hive filled with queens in little cages, where worker bees attend to their every need, massaging, exfoliating, and generally pampering their fearless, caged leaders.  Or, if you’re a beekeeper and not an English major, where worker bees feed each Queen, giving her honey from their long tongue to hers.

These are four queen cages, each holding its own Queen, each faithfully attended to by worker bees.  Do you see the cork at the end of the cage?  When a beekeeper is ready to release a queen into any given hive, he will remove the cork with his hive tool and plug the entrance with crystallized honey, so that by the time the worker bees and the Queen have eaten through the honey to find one another, they are well acquainted and on good terms.  If they are not on good terms, the worker bees may kill the Queen, and that is an expensive murder from a beekeeper’s point of view.

Another great shot of worker bees attending their Queen.  Kind of reminds me of pledges, in the Greek system of the South, where I came of age.  I really need some worker bees around Hillhouse.  A pledge wouldn’t be so bad either.  It’s very good to be Queen.

2010.  Glacier County Honey Co.  All Rights Reserved.  All photo credits to Brother Dear.