Queen Cages

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Next Year’s Champions

During the height of the beekeeping season, while we are busy raising queens and shipping orders, another project takes place in the background.  Our breeding experts are assessing an assortment of bee stock obtained from around the country for the best of the best – the most mite resistant, the most gentle, the most hardy of all.  They then cross their best candidates with other desirable stock, typically pure VSH drones obtained from the USDA.  If all goes well, the results are outstanding breeder queens for the upcoming season – next year’s champions.

Around the end of each season, we look forward to receiving a new group of these hand-selected breeders to add to our existing proven stock.  This assures us a ready selection of quality queens from which to breed at the start of the next season.

We recently received our final set of this season’s breeder queens.  Number 63, pictured above inside a push-in cage, arrived with high accolades.  Her offspring is light and gentle, and contains both the Pol-Line and VSH traits.  She is precious, and we are taking all precautions for her well-being!

To introduce her into a new colony we used a homemade push-in cage.  This type of cage allows the queen to begin laying eggs in a safe and controlled area before the cage is removed and she is fully released into her new colony.  By laying eggs before she is released, she becomes more desirable and better accepted by her new colony, greatly increasing the odds of her successful introduction.

Queen Cages

Queen bees are transported in various types of cages.  The JZ’s BZ’s plastic queen cage, pictured above, is an excellent cage for shipping and introducing queens.  It is strong, but has plenty of openings to let air in during shipping, and then later to let the pheromone of the queen disperse out into the receiving colony during installation.  The bottom of the cage has a shielded area where the queen can hide when she is feeling insecure.  The long tube is stuffed with queen cage candy for a delayed release of the queen.  Wildflower Meadows ships many small and medium sized orders of queen bees in the JZ’s BZ’s plastic cages, each with six attendant bees inside to support the queen bee.

CA Mini Queen Cage

Because of its light weight and narrow profile, the wooden California Mini Cage, pictured above, is the perfect cage for handling shipments of larger quantities of queens.  Typically, with this kind of cage, the attendant bees reside outside the cage.  Four or more nurse bees will usually cling to the outside of the screen, feeding the queen bee through the screen.  The California Mini Cage’s narrow profile enables the beekeeper to quickly and easily insert it inside the colony without violating the bee space between frames.

Queen Cage Candy

Queen cage candy is the primary food source for both the queen bees and the attendant bees when they are shipped through the USPS mail or UPS.  The candy is also a key element of the queen introduction.  Worker bees chew through the candy – typically over the course of a couple of days – while the colony becomes accustomed to the pheromones of the new queen, assuring her safe acceptance.

The history of shipping queen bees via mail goes all the way back to the 1860’s.   Queen producers knew that they needed to include some kind of food for the queen bees and attendants during shipment.  The natural and obvious choice was honey; and the first series of shipments included little pieces of comb honey in the containers.  You can imagine the messy scenes at the post office as a result of this approach.  Surely enough, in 1872, tired of leaky packages, the postal authorities banned shipment of queens through the mail.  The post office, however, never really enforced this ruling.  And beekeepers – being beekeepers – never really gave up trying new methods of shipping queen bees.

The pioneer of queen cage candy was a man named Good, who in the early 1880’s proposed using a mixture of cold honey and sugar to create a dripless honeybee food.  Shortly thereafter beekeepers fine-tuned the concept, eventually settled on a mixture of sugars for the candy.  To this day, some beekeeping books refer to queen cage candy as “Good” candy in honor of this visionary beekeeper.

Today’s queen cage candy typically calls for a mixture two types of sugar, a liquid inverted sugar called nulomoline, plus a dried sugar, which is either powdered sugar or another type of dried sugar called drivert.  The candy-making process itself is not too difficult. The liquid sugar is warmed, and the dried sugar is added until the consistency is just right.  The goal is to achieve the perfect balance of firmness and suppleness in the candy.  If the candy is too hard the bees cannot chew through it.  If the candy is too soft it can melt or drip onto the queen.  Here is where the queen producer becomes a professional candy maker, carefully crafting the ideal sugary food – not for average people, but instead for insect royalty.