It's been an exciting week as our new 'Frère Adam' queen bee was delivered in the post - the poor postie must have wondered what on earth was going on when the small cardboard box she put in our letter box started buzzing! We'd decided to buy a new fertilised queen to re-queen one of our hives rather than try to persuade the bees to raise a queen from donor brood, mainly because we want to change the temperament of this hive. It's become decidedly grumpy in recent weeks, so the best way of changing this is to introduce some new genetic characteristics. Frère Adam, or Brother Adam/Buckfast bees are supposedly calm and good-natured, so we're hoping our new queen will produce lots of new bees with a similar outlook on life.
We searched online for a French bee-rearing company, found one and then, in a typically French way, had to download a form and send it together with a cheque in the post....our queen then promptly turned up a few days later! She was in a small plastic cage, accompanied by a few worker bees who were taking care of her. She's not very big, more orange than we expected, and marked with a yellow dot to indicate that she's a 2017 queen. She'll be easy to spot!
The cage had slots in it, and was plugged with a lump of candy. All the books we have say 'put the queen in the hive'...er, yes, but how? Good old YouTube....one suggestion was to put an elastic band around a frame and wedge the cage under it. It seemed to be the most workable solution, so that's what we decided to do. However, having searched high and low for a big-enough elastic band to no avail, we used some frame wire. We wrapped this around one of the frames in the hive, wiring the cage in next to some sealed brood, and gently lowered the frame back in. The theory is that the candy plug will be chewed through by the bees in the hive, eventually releasing the queen; during the time it takes to do this they will have tasted and smelled the queen and hopefully accepted her. If we just dropped a queen into the hive then the bees would kill her as an unknown intruder.
We will leave the hive alone for 48 hours, then remove the cage (provided they haven't already built wax around it or propolised it into place!), and will check in a few more days to see if the queen is alive. With a bit of luck we'll see some eggs and larvae and know that she has started work. Watch this space for an update...