Monday, April 13, 2015

It's Official

It’s official, A. and I are beekeepers!

Yesterday started off with me making sugar syrup and A. building a hive stand then ended with us being official beekeepers.

I picked up the bees in the morning and A. finished up the hive stand and boxes while I was at my band concert. Then we packed everything up and headed to Chippewa to hive our bees.

Everything ready to go.

All in all it went pretty well. A pretty big hiccup occurred so we’ll see how that turns out (more on that in a minute.) When we got there we got everything set up and in place so we weren’t searching around for things. We decided that I would do most of the tasks and A. would help out when needed as well as take some awesome pictures. After everything was set up I donned my disposable painter’s coveralls and we got started. (Note to self: get a real bee suit or at least a decent work shirt and pants for beekeeping)

Spraying down the bees.
If you read the Beekeeping with Mr. Smith post, the steps are pretty much the same. Spray the bees, whack the box, remove the can and queen cage, check the queen, place the queen, and dump the bees in. Then put everything back together and you’re done right? Well, normally yes. Our story has a few twists in it however.

So things started to go awry when I removed the first queen from the package to take a look at her. 
Queen cage from the first package.

Bees releasing and spreading pheromones.
Most queen bees are held captive in their cages by a plug of candy which is then covered with a cork to prevent her escape while in transit. The beekeeper removes the cork and places the cage in the hive. Then the worker and attendant bees eat away the candy and release the queen. This is how Mr. Smith’s bees arrived and most of the things I’ve read say that this is the most common procedure. Well, the books did mention another type of queen cage where the queen is only held in by a cork. The idea being that the beekeeper removes the cork and then, in a swift ninja-like move, plugs the hole with a piece of marshmallow or fondant blocking the queen’s escape and then the process continues along the same as before. Well guess what kind we got? Yup, the non-candy one. So, now what? I didn’t bring any marshmallows because I assumed that we’d have the candy cages. (Remember that adage about assuming things? Yeah, that fully applies here.) I didn’t want to just stop everything now that we had already started so we improvised. In a move akin to the dorm room microfridge and frozen pizza slam, this is how it went down. We placed the cage between some frames and then A. got ready to pull the cork while I grabbed the package of bees. A. pulled the cork and I quickly dumped some bees on top. Then dumped the rest of the bees in the hive. This seemed to work pretty well on the first hive. The bees on top of the queen did their thing and shoved their little butts up in the air while fanning their wings to release and spread a pheromone that tells the other bees that the queen is in the hive and all is well. We got everything together, put some syrup in the feeder and put the lid on. 

At this point I remember about the pollen patties that I made the night before to put in with the bees since nothing is flowering yet and they don’t have anything stored. I had forgotten to put it in before we put the hive-top feeder on and then the outer cover. So we opened it back up and stuck the pollen patty in there.

Then I went to do the second hive. Again, no candy in the queen cage so we did the same thing as before except this time, the queen cage didn’t stay put between the frames the whole time. It seemed to work ok at first but I think when I dumped the first bundle of bees on top of the queen, she fell down to the bottom. Oops! We didn’t notice this had happened until I had already gotten the rest of the frames into the hive. A. mentioned not thinking that the queen cage was still were we put her. I didn’t want to disturb them too much so I just moved the frames apart a little bit and peered down into the hive. Sure enough, there was the queen. Luckily, she landed with the screen side up. I had read another method of hiving a colony where the queen is pushed into the hive through the entrance so we decided to leave her there and see how it goes. Fingers crossed!

Search and rescue mission for swimming bees.
This time A. helped me remember the pollen patty so I got that in there and then put the feeder on top. We had to do a bit of search and rescue with the bee brush while filling the feeders and putting the lid on. Then a couple of bricks on top of each hive to deter any pesky raccoons and we were done! A. and I are now officially beekeepers and gosh darn it if those hives didn’t look fantastic sitting up on their little knoll in the early evening sunlight.

Hives on the hill.
Ready to start.
Now the hard part. We wait and, in my case, we worry. We aren’t supposed to open the hive for a week to give the bees a chance to settle in, accept the queen, and start drawing out the comb. (Mini vocabulary lesson: when bees build comb it’s called drawing out. And it’s not always honeycomb. If it’s in the lower two hive bodies or deeps it’s called brood comb.) If there’s one thing I’ve always been terrible at it’s not anthropomorphizing just about everything. Ever since I was small my stuffed animals had names and personalities. I name my cars and feel the twinge of regret when they get replaced. When my parents moved out to the country from the home I grew up in I made them transplant the oak tree whose seedling survived the trip home from kindergarten wrapped in damp paper towels at the bottom of my backpack because I couldn’t bear the thought that the next owners might not want an oak tree there and would cut it down. Now here I go again with bees. I’ve officially been a beekeeper for all of a day and I woke up last night during the rain and started worrying that we forgot to slightly tilt the hive stand forward so that water would run out of the hive (ignoring the fact that we have screened bottom boards and this won’t be an issue.) I worried that the bricks we put on top would not be heavy enough to deter the raccoons that were, for certain, ravaging the hives at that very moment while they ignored the large bear that had his sights set on our honeyless hives because we do not yet have an electric fence set up. What would we do if our bees decided to kill their queens or the queens absconded from the hive because they were released almost immediately? Thankfully, I did finally realize that I was being a tad ridiculous since not much of this was within my control at the moment and made it back to sleep, but not before being relieved that A. and I have plans to go for a walk today and I can check on the hives. I’m sure they’re just fine and doing what bees do but until I know for sure, I’ll be a bit anxious. In the meantime, here's a few more pictures from the adventure.


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