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Feeding Queens in Bulk Shipping Boxes

Queens are shipped by plane and bus in double screened shipping boxes containing 50 or 100 queens (plus the normal 4% extra for a total of 52 or 104).  Inside the shipping box, each queen is confined alone in a small cage.  These cages are arranged in rows, with screens facing out, allowing feeding of all queens by the young bulk bees that are provided, loose in the shipping box, to travel with the queens, and care for them. 

Food for all is provided in the form of bee candy inside the box.  That candy is sufficient for the bees on a short trip, but if the queens are not to be used for several days, additional feed, and water must be provided. 

Here is how we do it.

On arrival, if the weather is decent, we take the box outside and let the attendant bees fly.  They defecate, if necessary, and the good ones come back to the box.  If this is done late in the day, they can be closed up and taken inside after an hour or so, around dusk. 

If the box smells bad and the bees look old, we shake them somewhere, and provide new young attendant bees from the brood combs of a local hive. 

While the lid is off, we cut a feed hole in the box lid and tape a screen (from an old shipping box) over the hole so we can change the feed bottle periodically, and so we can carry the entire box to the field with us without having bees coming out the feed hole. (Note 1).

We then mix thin syrup (50/50) so the bees have water in their feed, and we add fumigillan to the syrup for insurance.  We also spray a little water into the screens of the box if it is a dry day. 

We then make a few small nail holes in the lid of a small jar, fill it, invert it, and place it on the screen.  A good box of bees will sometimes take a half-pint in a day, and too much feeding can result in comb building on the queen cages in the box, so only make a few holes in the lid.

We store the shipping box in full light (not direct sun) at normal room temperature (20 C / 72 F, and the bees last very nicely for a week or two.  I once tried keeping about 10 queens this way for over a month -- almost two months, actually -- but the queens were no good after that time.  They did not lay.

The Hawaiian Queen Company (I had previously erroneously said Big Island Queens) has a new, smaller 100-queen box with smaller queen cages (left).  They look very good, but time will tell.  A smaller queen cage may fit better between top bars.  The large -- 3-hole -- cages can be a hard to place in the hive.  When introducing queens, the ideal location is just above the main patches of brood.

Note 1: While using the queens in a bee yard, I usually leave the lid off the shipping box while I am working with it, so the bees can fly until I am ready to leave.  Of course, most come back, and any left behind have a home.

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