April brings such joy to the heart of a beekeeper! My new bees (to replace my old ones that sadly died from the harsh winter) are coming. They will arrive Friday night. I've ordered two 3 lb packages each with a queen cage in them; they come from a bee warehouse in Georgia; each package cost me about $82. The 3 lb packages have about 3,000 bees (all female workers for the most part) recently shaken into them from differing hives. They have never met each other prior to being shaken into this wooden box with screening on it; the packages are carefully weighed to make sure the box is exactly 3 lbs.
Being from different hives, they are upset and disoriented. Then there's the matter of being separated from their moms (original queens in their own separate hives). Some imposter queen is now in the 3 lb package in small separate cage with them, but she doesn't smell right; not like mom did. They are so upset they would sting her if they could get at her. (Thus her separate protective cage!) Then there's the matter of driving over 800 miles to a new destination. Driving on the back of a truck bed means road potholes, gas fumes, temperature differences, and vibrations; by the time the packages arrive, there will be several dead sisters on the edge of the cluster and the floor of the package. It's just too much for them to take it all. And, on top of that, in Georgia, it is already spring. But, in Virginia and Maryland, the maples are just blooming. The crocuses and dandelions are finally coming out, but there is definitely a lag in available flowers for pollen and nectar (and warmth of temperature to which they are used to having)! It's a wonder, any of them will survive at all. When they arrive safely, I will let my readership know.
Rather than having them sent through the US mail or UPS or Fed Ex, which would be an additional shock to their systems and engender curiosity from postmasters and deliverymen with possible negative consequences, my local bee club sends a representative to go down to Georgia and pick all of the ordered bees from the club up at one time and bring them back in a trailer together. Once they have arrived, we get a call, we go and pick them up, and bring them home. I check them to be sure all looks in order; then I place mine in a cool, dark, dry place - my basement. They need to settle down and get used to their new queen. Darkness helps. That's what a hive is inside-dark and quiet except for buzzing.
They are also very thirsty, so I mix up my sugar water spray bottle with a bit of Fumigilin B antibiotic in it to help feed them and calm them down as well; they often will have dysentery or diarrhea from their long trip; this helps tremendously. I spray little droplets on the screening of the box's sides for them to lap up like kittens lapping milk. You don't want to douse them and get them chilled, wet, or cold, and especially not the queen; that's one reason the cage is at the top and off the bottom of the package. She gets better ventilation this way; also the cluster will begin to form around her as they recognize her as their new monarch.
The queen cage is provided with 5-7 of the queen's personal attendants who feed her as she cannot feed herself. They eat a sugar candy plug in a small opening at the end of the queen cage. It should take 4-7 days for them to eat through this plug. By the time they do, her majesty can walk out and be greeted royally and not stung to death by her new subjects. It takes those 4-7 days for her pheromone (perfume smell) to be accepted by her new subjects. Unfortunately, the 5-7 attendants in the cage with her will be stung to death as they exit the cage, as they are not recognized as like members. That's rather sad and a huge sacrifice on their part. But, I'm getting ahead of myself.
The bee packages will sit in the basement with me feeding them spray drops of sugar water for about 2-3 days; then I will hive them in their new hives. The queen with attendants will still be in their separate cage, but now in the hive, too-the cage hangs from the top of one of the frames with the plug side down; some beekeepers prefer up; I like down to have gravity assist in drawing the queen out; I will check the candy plug and even add a mini marshmallow to prolong the process to make sure that when the queen comes out she is accepted and not stung to death! Queens are expensive and a hive cannot make it without one! If the process seems slower for the attendants eating the candy plug opening, I'll pierce it with a small nail hole and not add a mini marshmallow. If I pierce it, I must be careful not to pierce the queen or her wings, legs, etc.
So, after bee pick up tomorrow, this next week will be consumed with the above processes and getting hives ready and watching the girls and the queen to see that all is well within the two new kingdoms (queendoms). Spring has sprung. The bees are coming the bees are coming! I'm psyched.