While responding to a question on the Glacier County Honey Facebook page the other day, I realized I’ve done a pretty poor job of explaining what the bees are up to lately.  My apologies.  In short: the almonds reached the peak of their bloom, the bees did their darndest, and then we moved all of the hives back up to our holding yards near Red Bluff.  There are more nectar sources up in the hills, and the bees are happier there, and have time to build up their strength before we ship them back to Montana.

While the bees are sittin’ pretty in the sunshine, Honeydew and Keith get down to the next order of California business: requeening all of our colonies.  A queen will generally live for several years, and without interference, the bees would simply raise a new queen when the time came.  But in order to ensure  the queen’s viability, we give the bees a new queen each spring.  That way, we can be sure that the queen is young and vigorous and ready to lay eggs all summer.  So, this time of year, Honeydew grafts, or raises, a “cell” containing a new queen — pictures to come soon — and gives one to each colony.  Catching the old queen, installing the new queen, and ensuring that the new queen mates and is laying eggs, are all tasks that must be done before we can leave California and return to Montana.  Which we both miss like crazy, by the way.

All of these tasks are tedious, time consuming, and they must be performed, over and over again, 6-7 days per week.  There is no rest for the weary beekeeper this time of year, not even for Easter Sunday, but it will all be worth it when we return to Montana and all of these vigorous hives make the best honey you’ve never tasted!

Most beekeepers, hobbyist and commercial alike, do not graft their own queens, but purchase them this time of year from queen breeders like Steve Park and Jackie Park-Burris, our friends and business partners.  Y’all met Jackie on the blog last summer:

Many beekeepers also purchase “packages” of bees, sometimes to replace dead hives with and sometimes to build up the strength of existing hives, among other reasons.  A commercial beekeeper purchasing large numbers of package bees will have his/her own boxes for transporting these bees, and they will need to be delivered to the bee breeder for filling.  Yesterday, we delivered a load of these boxes to Strachan Apiaries for Smoot Honey Co., good friends of ours near Great Falls, Montana.

Don’t we look like the Beverly Hillbillies?

On Easter Sunday, the next round of our queen cells will be ready for installation, and I’m bringing my camera – for the last three Sundays, it’s been pouring rain and cold, cold, cold, so the conditions for picture taking, to say nothing of opening hives of bees, have been less than ideal, but that looks to change this week.

Ah, spring.  Thank you for returning.

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