Fate of the Rebel Queen

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The reign of the rebel queen has ended.  Too short, but sweet.

We started beekeeping last summer.  Without much success in that our single hive died out over the winter. What was successful was a pretty nice honey harvest.  We had some help from a “bee guy” who brought a shiny stainless steel separator and spun the honey out of the comb in about 10 minutes.  It went into a really nice clean bucket with a filtered spigot. Easy breezy $450 plus shipping. I don’t know if that includes the bucket.

This spring we decided to try again. We attended the University of Minnesota Bee Lab.  This was the first classroom Rollo has been in since 1983.  He sat in the front row this time. He even asked a question.

“Being this is a honey beekeeping conference, why is there no honey out on the coffee/snack bar?”

The man has priorities.

We learned a lot. We learned how to hive a new package.  That’s what they call moving about 4000 angry bees from a screen box  into the hive.  We learned how to release their queen – she travels in a separate “first class” small screen cage.    We heard about feeding, and box rotation, mites, and wintering in 3 deep hives.  This system allows for more honey left over winter to feed the bees = We learned our bees probably died of starvation while we feasted on honey.

We decided to try it.  We picked up two packages in Hackensack Mn.  8000 angry bees rode home in the bathroom of the RV.

Once home,  we prepared to hive the packages. Spritzing them with a sugar water solution is supposed to appease them. This makes sense to me being quite appeased by sugar myself.  Rollo spritzed, shook and dumped his 4000 bees into the first hive.  About 1000 were flying around when he oh-so-carefully lowered the virgin queen’s cage deep into the hive.  She is supposed to STEP out with dignity and elegance to greet her subjects, then spend a few days decorating the new digs before making her mating flight. Rollo very carefully pulled back the screen door of her cage, having been warned it could snap back and behead her. We waited a split second….and she  shot out of the little cage and flew straight up out of the hive. And away, we guessed.  Our mouths hung open for a minute – oops forgot the sugar water part.

My turn.  I DRENCHED my queen and floated her out into her subjects.  Not graceful and dignified, but she sure didn’t fly away and thankfully she didn’t drown either.

Not knowing what else to do, we closed both hives and went to have some whiskey and talk about getting a new queen.

We were advised to wait a few days.  She might make it back to the hive, but probably not.  She might be found on the ground nearby with a cluster of bees surrounding her, but probably not.  Watch for eggs in the hive for a few days just to be sure she’s gone, we were told,  then order a new queen.

Within a week, eggs appeared in the Hive of the Rebel Queen, as we had christened it.   More eggs than in MY hive….of the soggy queen.  In fact, the Rebel outperformed the other lady all summer. She was first to need a second brood box, and a third.  Her’s was the only hive to need the queen separator and the honey boxes.  She achieved all of this  with benign neglect on our part as summer got busier.  We checked semi-regularly to be sure there was enough nectar and pollen and eggs and baby bees. But we didn’t remember our lessons about box rotation….or mites.  We checked for mites once.  None. Checked the boxes last week…and the Rebel Queen was gone.  Some of her loyal subjects lay dead around the outside of the hive.  Outrage. I assumed the mosquito spraying helicopter killed them. But I checked the surviving box and the mite load was high…We can’t be sure so I am going to assume she saw a mite or two and decided to move on.

I want to believe the Rebel Queen still flies. Somewhere.

The good news (I thought) was that she left behind her liquid gold treasure. Now to harvest it.

“Well,” said Pooh,

“what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.”

~ A.A. Milne Winnie the Pooh

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I was Pooh with 13 frames of honey in a wheelbarrow ready to start extracting. By hand.

I have spent the last two days scratching wax out of the frames with a fork, metal spatula and my fingers.  Then straining it though jelly strainer bags or cheesecloth tied and nailed to the cabinets to suspend it over bowls, buckets and jars.

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Here is what I learned.

1.Honey is sticky. I am sticky.  The floor is sticky. Wax flecks are stuck to everything.

2.  I am clumsy. Clumsy and sticky means wax gets in the honey.

3. $450 plus shipping is not really that bad.

4. The moment Pooh talks about?  The nameless one before you start eating or separating the honey?

That’s the best part. But still…

I offer you Rebel Queen Honey.  I don’t think I can sell it because

A. You couldn’t afford. If I added up the cost of 8000 angry bees, hives and other paraphernalia, trip to Hackensack, bee class, jars, cheesecloth and two days with my feet stuck to the floor…trust me you couldn’t afford it.

B. I don’t have a license -or even know if I need one.

But I can take a donation towards a separator. However, you will have to sign a release that you will not hold me responsible for…anything.  Although I filtered it, Rebel Queen honey is not guaranteed to be free of wax bits, bee parts, swear words, or sudden urges to fly away.

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