Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Long live the Queen!

I'm sure you are sick of this photo, but I love it!  It is my favorite to date, and because I spent most of this year without a camera in my hand, I don't have another one to replace it yet.  This queen is big and beautiful.  She has her court circling her, attending to her every need.

I so need a court.

Most of you realize the importance of the queen.  Each hive consists of one queen, workers and drones.  The workers make up about 90% of the population and the drones the other 10%.  All necessary.  All important.  In the absence of a queen there is no hive.  Their future depends on her and the 1500 eggs a day she can produce.  To be so important, the downside is how fragile these girls are.  They don't live forever.  Part of a beekeepers job is to monitor her activity, and replace her if need be.

This is where the problem lies.

Beekeepers have only a few options when it comes to replacing queens. 

  1.   Breed your own queens.
  2.   Let your hives raise and replace their queen.
  3.   Buy queens from a breeder.

Becoming a queen breeder is a goal of mine.  It is a complicated process, and I will admit I don't know much about it.  I was able to sit through one lecture on this topic at the Texas Beekeepers Association Summer Clinic this past June.  It was the one lecture I was really looking forward to.  It was the one lecture I planned my entire trip around.  It also happened to be the first lecture of the day, and the young girl who was teaching it was struggling.  She planned to have someone else giving the lecture with her, and that someone else ended up getting a flat tire on the way to the clinic.  This led to that someone else not making it.  That someone else also happened to have all of the equipment with them.  The entire lecture she was checking her phone.  She was obviously rattled due to the fact she did not have the props she had planned to use, and the whole thing went downhill from there.  The points she covered were well done, but in the end, she ran out of time.  I am sure it all made perfect sense to the other attendants with queen breeding experience, but to someone like me, not so much.  The lecture ended before she was finished and I am quite certain those last topics were vital to the process of breeding your own queens. 


Having said that, I understand getting a flat tire.  It can't be helped.  I understand getting rattled when your entire presentation gets thrown out the window.  I feel like I gleaned enough information to read up on the subject and get a better understanding, but I haven't had time for much reading this year.  Maybe when winter hits.  I did walk away with one very important piece of the puzzle.

The queens you produce are a representation of the stock you breed from.

Letting your hives raise and replace their own queens at first glance seems like the most natural solution.  There are just a few problems in this department.

  1. The queens you produce are a representation of the stock you breed from.
  2. It takes 16 days from egg to queen.
  3. Hives will have a gap in reproduction during this process.

And the final option, buying from a queen breeder.  I'm going to step out here and speak the truth.  When I took my beginner classes, we were told it was very important to buy queens from the region in which you live.  On the surface, this makes total sense to me.  Texas queens will be more accustom to Texas weather.  So for the past several years, this is what I've tried to do.

There are two main breeders in Texas.  They are family.  They used to run one business together, but sometime in the past, there was a feud.  It has been explained to me that these two families are now like the Hatfield's and McCoy's.  Serious feuding.  Like if one of them saw the other's dog, they'd shoot it.


I can't speak to the feud.  It happened long before my time, but in dealing with both of these companies individually, they should bury the hatchet.  The reason I say this, they are both lacking in customer service.  Where one is stronger, the other fails miserably, and vice versa.  So you can't help but think if they got it together again, they may have a decent go at it.  Even operating as one entity, they would still suck at the customer service thing.

There.  I said it.

Maybe it's just me, but I doubt it.  I spent years working in sales.  Customer service is very important in sales.  If you can't take care of the customer what do you have left?  This little corner of the market in the beekeeping industry takes quite a few liberties.  Queens are in short supply.  Queens are very fragile creatures.  I get this.  However, this is not an excuse to just treat people like crap.

The whole process of ordering queens is messed up.  If you are a big commercial guy, you may need 600.  If you are a little guy, like me, you may only need 10.  Who do you think wins here?  The other ridiculous part of this process is we have to order our queens long before we need them.  Like I am ordering queens now for March of 2016.  How am I supposed to do that?  There are a lot of variables in this scenario.  How many will I need?  When will I need them?  What will the weather be like?  Will they actually ship on time?  Blah, blah, blah.  Not to mention, they are a little expensive.  I realize a lot of this is out of everyone's control.  We're all in the same boat here.

There are a lot of leaks in this boat.

Last year, I placed my order for this years queens.  I don't usually like to put all my eggs in one basket, but I only had one order placed with the McCoy's.  Not sure why I did that, but I had my ship date set and all was well.


This was a crazy spring.  I had some hives building faster than others.  Faced with these hives swarming and taking a hit on their productivity when it counted, I searched for queens.  No luck.  Then to my surprise, the Hatfield's sent out an email stating they had some Hawaiian queens available.  How could this be?  This was awesome.  So I placed an order for some Hawaiians.  I wasn't sure how they'd fair in Texas, but it seemed like a good gamble.  Much better than not having anything to help manage my potential swarming issues.  The price on those Hawaiian girls was through the roof!  Still, based on what I was seeing in my operation, the price was worth it.

The process of splitting hives and requeening hives takes some planning.  In an ideal world, a hive or split should be without a queen for about three days prior to introducing a new one.  Plus, as I explained in my previous post, splits need to be moved to another bee yard.  You would think people in the business of breeding queens would know this.  I know they know this.  The Hatfield's and the McCoy's love to ship your queens with no heads up.  Pretty much the day they get on the UPS truck, you get an email later in the evening with a tracking number stating they'll be delivered the next day.  I don't really like this method of shipping confirmation, but over the years I have gotten used to it.

Anybody see where there may be an issue here?

I go out.  I look at my hives.  I make a plan.  I get my equipment ready.  I make my splits.  I move my splits to new apiaries.  Then, instead of getting an email with a shipping confirmation and tracking number, I get an email that says my Hawaiian girls are lost in transit from Hawaii to Texas.

Oh how I wish I had that email conversation saved to share with you.

I'm a reasonable person.  I get that things can happen.  I don't get the 9 emails it took to get anywhere with this company.  It went something like this.

Hatfield's:  Your queens are lost in transit.

Me:  What does this mean?  Are they going to reship?

Hatfield's:  Yes, they'll reship, but we don't know when.  If you can't wait, we can substitute some emergency queens in place of your Hawaiian queens.

Me:  Emergency queens?  Are these Hatfield queens?  (please keep in mind...Hatfield queens showed to be sold out per their website)

Hatfield's:  Yes.  These are Hatfield queens.

Me:  I'm in a bit of a bind here.  I'll take whatever I can get.

Hatfield's:  Okay.  I'll ship out some emergency queens then.

Me:  Great!

Me:  I appreciate anything you can do.  Just curious.  Am I going to be paying Hawaiian prices for Hatfield queens, or will you refund the difference?

Hatfield's:  We don't have any Hatfield queens.  They are sold out.  These are emergency queens.

Me:  Uh, but you just said?  I mean, I'm at your mercy and will take what I can get.  I was just curious.

Hatfield's:  These are emergency queens.  Want them or not?  You can wait for your Hawaiian's if you like, but I don't know when they'll come in.

The conversation went on from here.  It was rude and crazy and made no sense to me.  Just say No if that's what you mean!  The whole thing was stupid.  Then to add insult to injury, they shipped my emergency queens UPS Overnight with an AM delivery.  I waited all day for those stupid queens.  When my driver finally showed up, the label said they were shipped UPS Ground.  After an endless amount of time on hold with UPS, I discovered the original box they were shipped in had been destroyed somehow.  UPS was able to make out the ship to address, so they repackaged them and stuck a ground label on the package instead.  UPS told me to contact the shipper and I would be refunded the shipping costs.

Wanna guess how that conversation went?

Apparently the Hatfield's can't be bothered with that sort of paperwork.  I never saw a dime for the queen refund or for the shipping costs.

Licking my wounds from this experience, I recovered and readied myself for the next round of queens with the McCoy's.  I had an order confirmation with an expected ship date.  Prior to doing any of the necessary work to prepare for the arrival of new queens, I sent off an email asking to confirm my ship date.

Side note:  The Hatfield's and the McCoy's refuse to do business via telephone.

My email to the McCoy's:

Order # 7623

I had on my calendar that this order was shipping this week. Just want to
confirm the status of the order. I also noticed the bill to address is
incorrect. It should be P. O. Box 312 Ponder, TX 76259

Also, do you usually send an email with shipping information the day an
order has been shipped?
The McCoy's reply:
It's been rescheduled to ship out next week.  UPS took away our shipping
rights all of last week because one of their employees got stung by a bee.
As a result, we are running about one week behind schedule.  You will
receive an email on the day we ship so check your email regularly for the
shipping confirmation.
I had a lot of issues with this situation.
  1. I have no doubt that I would not have gotten this information if I had not asked for it.
  2. Who is the UPS guy that is such a sissy that he reported this to his higher ups?  (I get some people have violent reactions to bee stings, but if your that guy, why are you picking up at a queen breeder.  Request another route!)
  3. Is there really such a thing as UPS time-out?
  4. There are other ways to ship bees.  Wouldn't it make more sense to explore those avenues rather than hold up your operation for an entire week?
  5. Seriously.  I'm not the only one effected here.  Wouldn't a blanket email to all parties involved during your UPS time-out period have been an appropriate means of communication?
Luckily I had taken the time to send this email or I would have been put in a serious bind - Again!
Side note:  I talked to my UPS guy and he said the only way UPS will suspend your shipping privileges is if you don't pay your bills.
I shared this above response with The Blue Dog Bee Lady.  She had some queens added on to my order.  So this effected her as well.  She sent it back to me with commentary added.  So glad I saved it for you.  She cracks me up!
 UPS took away our shipping rights all of last week (but we just found out about last week a few minutes ago, even though nothing shipped last week, because we would have told you last week if we knew about last week - because customer service - we got it) because one of their employees got stung by a bee. As a result, we are running about one week behind schedule.(or maybe 2 weeks behind, because you never know when bees will sting - but we will let you know in 3 or 4 weeks if we are 2  weeks behind - because customer service - we got it).   You will receive an email on the day we ship (or the day after your shipment arrives - because we can't be bothered, er, I mean customer service - we got it) so check your email regularly for the shipping confirmation (or maybe you will win $1,000,000 from the lottery in your e-mail, who knows.) It's been rescheduled to ship out next week. (of course that doesn't really mean anything - because where else can you get bees in Texas besides us, or our family feud cousins, so we don't care!!)

Love from the QueenBee
I mean, seriously.  I would have had more respect for them if they had just answered me with the above commentary.  At least it would have been the truth.  I'm thick skinned.  I can handle the truth.  I can't handle being treated like I'm an idiot.
One would think if you have been in UPS time-out for a week, and you say your a week behind schedule, then you would be shipping the following week.  Like you said you would.
The following week I called.  And I called.  Until finally someone was brave enough to call me back.  My order was not going to ship.  There was no future ship date set.  The new story...a couple of their bee yards had taken a hit in storms.  The day she phoned me, they were supposed to ship 600 queens.  The crew only brought in 26.  All orders were being shipped in the order they where received.  It could be next week.  Or two weeks.  Or six weeks.  Or never.  If I wanted to cancel my order, I was free to do it online.

Because heaven forbid she have to find that order while we were on the phone and ripped it up right then!
I did cancel my order online.  I threw all my plans out the window and went back to the drawing board.  In canceling my order, I read the fine print.  You are only allowed to cancel one order with this breeder and expect a full refund.  Any orders after that will only be issued a store credit.  Only one get-out-of-jail-free card.  Then after that you're just stuck with them!
Guess this was my last order with this breeder...for soooo many reasons.
More to come on my Queen breeder Education of 2015.


  1. Whew! Oh my goodness! What a mess!!! Before I met you I had no idea what went into bee keeping - it certainly makes me appreciate honey a whole lot more!!!

    I love how you can take such a frustrating experience and turn it into an entertaining read - that's talent, my friend!

    1. If I had told this story as it was happening it would have been totally different! Entertaining? Yes, probably. As clean as this version? No. I was HOT!

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