How to keep a Queen Bee Alive in a Cage
Well I am fortunate to have a fantastic neighbor in Art Grigoryev, who gave me my first swarm, and has mentored me quite a bit.
Last Wednesday, he called to ask if I would like a queen that was from an established hive which he started from one of his hives swarming....I immediately said yes, but I did not have a queen cage, so I told him I would build one, and would be right over.
Here is a look at my apiary right now, with a number of nucs.
By the time I got to Art, he had also built a queen cage, and advised me to cover the sharp edges of the hardware cloth with tape or I might harm my queen.
"Don't ask me how I know" was Art's advice on the subject given with a smile.
The two cages are shown below:
Art's cage is on the left (far more refined) , my cage is on the right.
I came home, put my cage on a bench in the garage, thinking a quiet, fairly temperature neutral and dark place was needed, gave the bees a drop of water, then readied a two frame nuc to be queenless as their future home.
The next evening, to my astonishment, the queen and her attendants were dead!
I resolved to research the subject, and read about it Friday evening.
Here is Rachel taking charge last Saturday at the USF Beekeeping class we attend once a month at the USF Botanical Gardens:
The hive made queenless for Art's queen did not go to waste. I beefed it up with bees and used it as a cell builder for six practice grafts I took after the bee class. Three days later, it appears that I will have two very nice queen cells.
Art called Saturday afternoon telling me he had another queen for me! I readily accepted, and fetched her, this time in his cage. I placed this cage inside a hive made queenless with a queen excluder above another nuc, expecting that the bees will look after the queen. This is called banking a queen.
Monday morning, I popped in before work to free the queen, and well, let me report, that evidently, this is where queens come to die!
I resolved to figure this out as I had not read anything yet to completely help me keep a queen healthy before her hive is ready.
I put three bees each in a cage at 1pm Monday, one as a planned control group, the other to be fed....This time, on my desk so I can keep and eye on them!
Within an hour, having expended a lot of energy fanning and protesting, both groups looked sluggish in their behaviour. By hour two, both cages looked positively listless, so I decided that I had better begin feeding.
To Feed the Caged Bees:
Dip the tip of a finger in honey and touch it to the cage. Repeat with water.
I added a drop of water and a drop of honey to the cage with the cork, and over the next hour or so, those bees started to perk up a bit, while the control group became more and more listless.
By hour four, I can state that the control group was dead, and the fed group was healthy. The picture below shows the cages.
Control group bees, at hour four - dead (Art's cage):
The fed group of bees in a queen cage - very much alive (my cage):
First thing this morning, the fed cage is going very well, the bees are healthy, fanning and protesting occasionally and ... the control group is dead....
Two out of three bees still alive and very healthy.
Two out of three bees still alive and healthy.
One out of three bees alive and healthy.
Lesson learned the hard way! Sorry Art!
My advice....if you put a queen in a cage, immediately feed the bees in it with a drop of honey and a drop of water, repeat daily .... or you will kill your queen!
Don't ask me how I know ;)