Friday, May 21, 2010

Welcome home bees!

Wednesday afternoon I picked up my package of bees--3 lbs, 10,000 honeybees and one queen to be exact. It was a 600 mile round trip. A package is actually a wooden box with two screened sides and a can of sugar syrup hanging down the middle with access holes for sustenance. I misted them with sugar water a couple times along the way to keep them hydrated and busy cleaning themselves. Bees are very hygenic.

They were humming along in the back of the vehicle as I made up songs about bees and flowers and how they would love their new home, crooning to them for the first hour. They settled right down. Because I arrived home at 10 p.m. I could not install them until Thursday afternoon. Installing them late in the day gives them a chance to get to know their new home.

Bee boxes are filled with frames on which the bees will build honey comb, lay their brood, store nectar and pollen, among other things. Everything in a bee hive is built so that all gaps are the exact width of a bee (about 3/8"). This is called _bee space_. If something is too narrow they will glue it shut with propolis, a sticky substance they manufacture from plant resins, and if it is too wide they will fill it with wax comb.

The foundation inside the frame is preformed to the shape of the natural comb, which helps get the bees off to a good architectural start. Because of the extreme heat where I live I chose plastic foundation coated with wax, but some people choose a beeswax foundation. The black foundation also aids in looking into the combs and seeing if eggs are being laid, crucial to the survival of the colony, as worker bees only live about six weeks.

The exterior of the boxes were primed and painted to weather proof them. Light neutral colors are recommended. I chose a honey colored yellow.

We chose a site in the middle of our property with a cedar brake to the North for protection from the Winter winds, overlooking the wildflower meadow. The spot was mowed and leveled, and Farmer Rick built the hive stand from concrete blocks and rough cut cedar. There is enough space for several hives and equipment while working.

This is the view the bees have from their front door, with the mountain just peaking over the treeline.

This was all done prior to the bee's arrival. Yesterday I installed the bees, and Farmer Rick was brave enough to photograph the event!

First, the donning of protective gear. Did I mention wearing this suit is like having my own personal sauna? That is the smoker in the foreground. It was stoked with newspaper and wood shavings several times before a longer lasting cotton fuel made for bee smoking was added.

The smoke messes up the bees' sense of smell which confuses them, since they communicate through phermones. It also makes them think their hive is on fire and usually they will gorge themselves on honey to have the strength to swarm and and find a new place to live. Eating the honey also settles their nerves.

But note, there is no honey in the package. As I smoked them they got angry. You could hear them turn their buzzing up a couple notches. I waited a couple minutes and smoked them again. This time they were really mad! I considered postponing the installation but I really wanted to get them into their new home. Perhaps I should have sung to them instead!

Notice how they've moved from all over the screen to an angry tornado shaped mob! The first task is popping the staple holding the queen's cage, then covering that with a thumb, while turning the whole contraption upside down to raise the syrup can just enough to grab it and pull it out. I could have used a third hand to do this.

With a one inch drop of the box, bees fall to the bottom (theoretically), the can is quickly removed (you get a face full of unhappy bees), bees clinging to the queens cage are shaken or brushed off, and a piece of cardboard is placed over the hole and weighted down so the majority of bees don't leave.

There's a cork at the bottom of the queen's cage that must be taken out so that the bees can lick a piece of candy over the next few days to release her. This gives them time to get to know her as their queen, since they were shaken out of a hive with a different queen.

The queen's cage is installed between two frames, hung by it's original strap tacked down.

Now for the most strange part...the package is inverted and the bees are shaken into the hive. Shake, shake, shake!

Then, shake some more! You can see that most of them are going down into the frames like good bees. But some are truly pissed off and trying to attack!

After no more bees would let loose, I capped them with the top board. Notice the entrances are blocked with newspaper. The apiary suggested this for 24 hours, letting them get used to their new home for the night. However...

There were a number of bees--maybe 200--still refusing to leave the box.

This seemed like too large a number to sacrifice, so I unplugged the front door and propped the package up hoping they would find their way in.

This is what I found in the early morning: the stragglers had moved from inside the box into a huddle on the outside corner, but still had not entered! But by noon, they had all gone inside or elsewhere. I later unplugged the top entrance (under the roof) around 10:30 a.m. to help.

I watched the stragglers go in, and others come out doing the spiral dance to orient themselves before going out to scout. Housekeeping bees dragged dead bees out the front door and slid them off the landing. So, hopefully this was business as usual. I also noted the guard bees were doing their job, running me off several times!

Next I will wait a week before entering the hive again and looking to see that the queen has been released and is laying eggs.  Stay tuned!


Anonymous said...

Honey! YUM. Sure wish I was close by so I could get some of that. :)

Jill said...

Wow! How neat! We had visiting bees here last summer and I loved it. My vegetable garden was so much more productive. The bee keeper did not have a big harvest though because we had so much rain. I hope your bees do well!!! I can't imagine being in a car driving that far with a hive.

thecrazysheeplady said...

Good for you! It's interesting to hear how beekeepers in different climates set things up.

Anonymous said...

Very impressive, Sage. As I'm sure you know, all of us living in the West have to be vigilant that Africanized bees don't overtake our native hives, in the wild or in boxes. They regularly hurt people and animals, here. Good luck with this project. Tell Rick the photos are great.

Dana and Daisy said...

I could never! Although last summer I did enjoy standing in my garden with busy bees all around me as they did their work. They all seemed much too busy to even notice me.

Soon, people will be calling you come get beehives down out of their trees and such.

Do you plan to sell your honey?

NitWit1 said...

I loved this story. Beekeeping is interesting and relatively safe if you understand what you are doing and how the bees will react.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

That many angry bees would scare me, although they do fascinate me, too. I can't toread updates about this new bee venture of yours. Good luck!


Blog Widget by LinkWithin