Fellow beekeepers were talking about ordering queen bees through the mail so I decided to give it a try.

Fellow beekeepers were talking about ordering queen bees through the mail so I decided to give it a try.
Queen bees set the genetics, the tone, even the personality of a hive. A queen’s main job is to lay eggs, sometimes 1,200 a day, while the rest of her needs are taken care of by a group of worker bees. She rarely leaves the hive once she is mated, spending most of her life moving through wax combs laying eggs.
She has the longest life span, able to live four to five years depending on how well she lays eggs.
When a beekeeper has a “mean” aggressive hive, the discussion turns to what kind of new queen is going to be introduced. The old queen is caught, killed, and after 24 hours, when worker bees realize they are queenless, a new queen is introduced.
Not immediately. The new queen is in a small detention box that gets suspended in the hive. Worker bees get to know her through her pheromone and, if all goes well, worker bees will release her from the box so she can start getting the colony organized to her satisfaction.
Bee colonies are also known to grow their own new queen, something I prefer my bees doing. When a queen starts laying eggs in a spotty pattern, worker bees will literally grow a new queen.
After about three weeks, the new queen will emerge, kill off the old queen and take off on her mating flight. She may or may not mate well – a queen bee will mate with up to 20 drones, or male bees, assuming she can find them.
It’s a perilous time for the queen. She has to travel several miles away from the hive to find the drones and sometimes, the new queen doesn’t make it back. It can be a stressful few days as beekeepers wait to see if their new queens come back home.
Two of my colonies had 4-year old queens starting to lay eggs in a less than solid pattern. Instead of waiting for the bees to grow their own, I thought I would introduce new mail order bees known to be gentle, healthy and good-laying queens.
After placing the order and getting a delivery date, the post office was notified to call me as soon as they came in.
Bees arrived in a small box on the Saturday before a long three-day weekend and no one called me.
When I picked them up Tuesday, the post office clerk said “you mean we’ve had bees in here” as she went to look for the 6-inch-by-8-inch box.
I opened the box to show her how bees are shipped in a tiny 1-inch-by-3-inch wire-mesh covered box. They were all dead, the lovely orange queen and her four worker bee entourage.
The clerk could tell I was upset and was very kind. She gave me full instructions on how to file a claim and the phone number of the postmaster.
Once filed online, the claim was processed quickly. I was given a full refund. I waited until after getting the claim check to bury the bees in a flower bed under hyssop, one of their favorite herbs.
I also decided then and there my queen bees were better off locally grown.
Charlotte Ekker Wiggins is a certified gardener sharing gardening tips in a rapidly changing climate. Copyright 2014 used with permission by Rolla Daily News and Waynesville Daily Guide. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Contact Charlotte at chargardens@ gmail.com.