It is queen producing season! The first grafts happened late February and now thousands and thousands of nucs (mini colonies) are scattered across the Sacramento Valley. Normally, how it works is the beekeepers make up the tiny colonies with about a spam can of bees (that is the actual measurement in a few cases), put in a cell with a queen about to emerge, then place the nuc out into the field so the queen can mate a few days post-emergence. The beekeepers will wait until the new queen is laying eggs and generally looks healthy, then catch and cage the queen, and ship her off to their customers. A day after the queen is removed, a new queen cell is introduced and the process starts over.
Weather is key to all this. The beekeepers can control almost everything, except for the weather. January and February had beautiful days for mating flights, but winter finally came in March. Now, there are thousands of queens just hanging around their nuc and waiting for a chance to fly. The oldest queens in the field have been waiting for about three weeks to mate. With the crazy warm weather in the other parts of the country (MN hit 80º a couple weeks ago), other beekeepers are really anxious to split their already booming colonies and introduce a new queen. The bad mating weather has pushed back many of the orders to a later date. Since the nucs have been in the field so long without brood, they are nearing the point where they will have to be totally re-made, which could set the orders back even further.
So, if you are one of the beekeepers anxiously awaiting your new queens to come in the mail, you may need a little patience. The queen producers would love to get them to you, but only if they are properly mated. So, good luck out there and hope for better weather!