One of the bee hives was in trouble. Beekeeper Karla informed me that its population was down to one-third of its former size. The queen bee, of which every hive has one, was nowhere to be seen. A few drones were bumbling about outside, looking like a bunch of drunks trying to find their way home after the bars close. The flight path was busy with worker bees buzzing in, saddle bags filled with pollen. But this would come to an end if the queen had really gathered her faithful followers and left town. The job of the queen bee is to lay eggs, which in turn produce more worker bees. Workers only live 5 to 6 weeks. Without a constant resupply the hive would die out.
With the queen abdicated, there was hope that a new young queen was in development. Beekeepers look for special cells in the hive. These “queen cells” look a bit like large peanuts, hanging from the interior structure. No peanuts were in sight anywhere. The queen had left without a thought toward royal succession.
In this emergency, beekeeper Karla made phone calls and learned that a new queen bee looking for employment could be picked up in Lakemont, near Clayton. Lockdown or not, this beehive had to survive. Besides, Rabun County is exceptionally pretty in the spring, and a perfect destination for a Harley ride.
U.S. 441 was almost empty as North Georgians obeyed the lockdown. In the gorgeous landscape, the bee supply company was open as an essential business. Queen Bee II come in a little plastic cage the size of a hand sanitizer. With her were several worker bees as maids-in-waiting. The cage went into a padded cooler bag, and my little Harley queen was ready for the ride.
Thirty miles in a saddlebag on an old, loud, vibrating motorcycle isn’t for everyone, and I became concerned that the little royal court in the cage might get upset. But as I took it to the bee house after arrival, the queen and her servants were just fine. A day later, hive workers had eaten through the plug of candy that closed the cage, and the Harley queen had taken over the reins of her new kingdom. We’ll be watching for new larvae to appear now as proof that she’s fulfilling her duties.
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.