In Georgia last week it was cold where they raise the bees and so the virgin queens stayed home and didn't take their mating flights - (they call them virgin queens rather than princesses). And what you are buying when you buy a "package" is a mated queen with enough random worker bees to help her raise her first wave of brood. But the cold weather meant a shortage, and although I'd ordered three packages, I could only pick up the two.
On Saturday I installed the bees in the waiting hives -- each queen in a tiny cage with a few attendants. If you let her out too soon the confused worker bees will kill her. So the entry to the cage is plugged with a candy paste. By the time the bees eat through it, a matter of a few days, they've adopted the young queen as their own, and she sets about laying her eggs in the new comb.
I checked on the hives today, and shook the bees off the cage in the first hive. The queen was not yet freed, so I undid the cork and let her out to disappear into the swarm. She has a bright red spot of paint upon her. In a few days I'll look for her or at least look for signs of eggs. That will mean we are launched.
In the other hive the queen and her attendant were dead, still inside the cage. No idea why she failed, though it happens. I may be able replace her if I can secure a mated queen in the next few days. It becomes a race against time. The bees, queenless, may drift next door to the other hive. Even if they stay put, the clock is ticking on these worker bees. They only live for six weeks, and already it is nearly a week since they were packaged in Georgia. Another few days to get a replacement; another few days in the cage before they will accept her; and only then will she begin to lay eggs for a replacement generation. How many of the workers will survive over the following weeks to nurture the larvae to be nurses for the expanding brood chamber? Even when things go well, the population reaches a nadir in the transition from the dying original workers to the queen's new offspring. This delay makes that nadir all the deeper and more precarious.