On Easter Sunday, the rains finally lifted and Maggie Rose and I were able to accompany Honeydew and Keith on a queen cell mission.  I’ve written before that our 4 month adventure in California is two fold: first, we pollinate almonds with our bees.  After the bees are done pollinating, we remove them to our holding yards near Red Bluff and begin to requeen each hive.

Without interference, a hive of bees will raise a new queen every few years.  We think it’s best to give the bees a new queen every spring, and that’s what we’ve been up to for the last month or so.  Requeening takes time.

As I wrote in my last post on this topic, when requeening most beekeepers purchase queens from queen breeders.  With a little help from our friends in California, we’re able to raise our own queens from our best stock, and we’re grateful for the kind assistance!

In a nutshell, requeening goes a little like this: Honeydew takes a frame of freshly hatched larvae. Using a dental implement looking tool, he gently scoops the larvae out of the cell and transplants it into a queen cup.  This is called grafting.

This new cell is placed on a row with 20 other grafted queen cups and given to a hive of bees to tend.  These bees feed the larvae the royal jelly that will turn a regular ole bee into The Queen.   All of this process is very regimented and on a specific day, at a specific time, Honeydew will take remove the queen cups from the hive and place them into a incubator.

The incubator in this picture was once used for chickens, but you know how we folks in agriculture can repurpose anything.  Ta da!  A Queen Incubator is born.

Another certain amount of time passes, and then Honeydew returns to the incubator to withdraw the queen cups, now filled with queens on the cusp of  hatching.

This particular incubator is filled with many, many of these rows of 20 grafted queen cups.  Honeydew withdraws the ones that are his and holds each row to a bright light, visually inspecting each to determine if there is a viable queen within it.  This process is called candling, as it used to be done by candlelight, and not by halogen bulb.

Honeydew then takes a hot knife and cuts the viable cups off of the wooden slat, placing them gently into an insulated queen basket – very apropros on Easter morning.

Honeydew then selects the number of cells he needs – about 250 on this particular day – tucks the basket gently between Maggie’s car seat and the truck bench, and heads for the holding yards!

There, queenless hives wait patiently for their new queen, and he gently parts the frames with his hive tool to insert the queen cell, which should hatch that same day, or the next.

Assuming the bees accept their new ruler, and do not kill her (as sometimes happens), the new Queen will wait patiently for a day of nice weather – about 70 degrees or higher will generally do the trick – and then leave the hive for her mating flight.

I’ll get to those details next time.

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