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The Bees are Here!

This weekend was by far the most exciting weekend at the farm! On Saturday morning the bees I had ordered arrived at the bee store, and we picked them up and went right to the farm to install them into their hive. I purchased the bees in what they call a bee package, which is a small wood and mesh box that contains 3 lbs or approximately 10,000 bees. In preparation for the big event, I took a beekeeping class a couple of months ago from the store where I purchased the bees. The process of transferring the bees into the hive sounded easy enough in the class (there was only one slide in the Powerpoint presentation after all!), but there are lots of steps in the process and all the while you can’t help but think about all that could go wrong with 10,000 angry bees on the loose! Actually it went pretty well, although if I install another hive in the future I will definitely do a few things differently.

First off, I put on the protective bee gear, which worked great except for the slight decrease in finger dexterity due to the gloves (more on that later). While the bees are being transported from where they are bred to the bee store, they feed on a simple syrup mixture in a tin can that hangs in the middle of the wooden box. The first step in transferring the bees is to pry the tin can loose and quickly lift it out of the box, stick your hand in the box, and remove the tiny cage the queen bee is contained in that hangs from the top of the box. Then you have to quickly put the tin can back in the box to keep the bees from escaping. Since the queen bee meets her colony for the first time when they are packaged for shipment, the queen is confined in a very small cage, about the size of a lipstick tube, to allow her colony to be exposed to her pheromones and learn to identify her as their queen before they actually interact with her because there is a possibility that they may kill her if they don’t recognize her as their queen. Before hanging the queen cage in the beehive, you remove a tiny cork at the bottom of her cage and replace it with a miniature marshmallow, then attach the queen cage with a thumbtack to the inside of the hive (did I mention you’re wearing gloves during all of this?!) Over the course of a couple of days, the queen and the other bees eat the marshmallow and she is released from her cage to join her colony. Doesn’t that sound like a romantic fairytale!

Okay, that first part was a bit nerve-wracking, but the next step was much more so. Working quickly, you bang the box containing the bees on the ground to knock the bees onto the bottom of the cage, then remove the tin can again and pour the bees through the relatively small hole in the box into the bee hive. It sounded easy when it was described in the class I took, but let me tell you as soon as I whacked the box on the ground and I heard the loud buzzing of 10,000 bees I got a little freaked out! I was able to get the majority of the bees into the hive after several whacks and repeated pouring and shaking of bees into the hive. You don’t have to get every last bee into the hive, just most of them, and then you leave the cage propped in front of the hive entrance and they are supposed to find their way into the hive.  I didn’t really find the bees to be all that interested in leaving their cage and going into the hive, so I came back a couple more times during the afternoon to whack and shake them into the hive and I’d say eventually all but probably 100 of them went into the hive.

So after all of the excitement of transferring the bees into the hive, I was more than a little ready to close the hive up and be done with it. I installed their pollen patty and placed an inverted jar of simple syrup in the top of the hive. These are both needed to feed the colony until more plants come into bloom later in the spring for them to feed on. I did forget to do one thing which I’m hoping doesn’t cause too much of a problem. What I forgot to do is to slide the frames where the bees make their comb closely up against the queen cage so she is surrounded on both sides by a frame. I went back to the hive today to check on their food supply of simple syrup and I thought maybe I would slide those frames together. This time I had my smoker with me to drive the bees deeper into the hive, but even with the smoker there was a little more bee activity than I was ready for, so I just left the frames as they were. I suppose it will take some time working with the bees and refining my technique before I feel more confident managing the bees and the hive. Next weekend I will have to muster up my courage and get all of the frames in their proper place. For now, I am going to celebrate the homecoming of the new members of 5R Farm.



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