Monday, April 29, 2013

On the Excitement of Installing Package Bees into Hives

Chelle was kind enough to get me my veil, smoker, gloves and hive tool for Christmas this last year and I've been reading everything that I can ever since.  I built my own hives (not works of art but serviceable) and covers, fenced in a spot up the hill where there would be plenty of sun.  I watched every Youtube video I could find on beekeeping for top bar hives, went to a talk at the library and attended a meeting of the Olympia Beekeepers Association.  But, in many ways like fishing, nothing prepares you like doing it.

The bees look very small in their package on the way home from Tarboo Valley Bees.  Scarlet talks to them and we spray them with sugar water from time to time to keep them calm and they sit on the front porch while I install the hives and wait for the weather to warm up.  After a beautiful warm and sunny week the weekend turns cold on us and the bees don't really care for the cold.

So the time comes and I take the bees up the hill with two mason jar feeders and my smoker.  I have my veil and gloves on, start the smoker and give the bees a couple puffs.  The drone of their buzzing goes up a few notes and notches in the volume department.  That's when my heart starts.  I take one package to the hive on the right (since named "Sweet Combs" by Scarlet) and remove the can of sugar water.  Some bees invariably fly out of the package.  I then carefully move over the queen cage and pull it up and start brushing bees off of the queen cage with my gloved hands.  The gloves are a bit too big but I'm kind of grateful for that at this point.  My heart is hammering but I'm telling myself to go slow, breathe through my nose and be calm.

I hang the queen between bars four and five and then turn my attention to the rest of the bees.  I try to just set the package into the hive but it doesn't really fit so I do what I've seen on Youtube and wack the package firmly against the ground, lift it over the hive, turn it over and start dumping bees into the hive.  Now they are flying everywhere and I'm trying to get the top of the hive closed without squishing them.  I'm anxious and excited.  As small as they look in their package now they seem huge, buzzing around and hanging from their wings in the air that's threatening rain.

I put the cover on the hive and go over to the second hive (Named "Honey House" by Olivia) and with a little more confidence go through the same procedure but upon taking the queen cage out I'm saddened to see that the poor girl is dead.  This gets my attention not the least of which because I've heard that a queenless colony is often grumpy so again my heart gets beating.  I stay calm though, shake the package into the hive and close up shop.  Later that day I would retrieve a new queen who we would keep under a cardboard box, in her cage with attending bees, in the kitchen.  The next day I went back up the hill and took out the old queen cage (which I put back in on the advice of the folks I bought her from) and replaced it with the new queen.  Everything went pretty smooth so I felt pretty happy with myself and closed up shop and then remembered what I forgot.

That is, to take the cork out of the new queen's cage so that when they eat the candy they can get her out.  At this point I'm glad I still have smoke in the smoker and dive back in again.  The bees weren't so happy this time though and though I tried to move quickly by the end of it they were dive bombing my helmet and telling me that they were unhappy.  I got things closed back up after fighting with the cork to get it out and sighed with relief a bit walking down the hill.  I had accidentally squished some bees in my haste and know that I can't do that again, you don't want to accidentally kill any bees and especially not the queen.

I learned a few things from all of this.  First, make sure you go up the hill to work the bees with a plan.  They have enough patience for you to work with them if you're confident, focused and soft of working WITH them.  If you make a mistake they are liable to get a little testy.  Second, I didn't get stung so they are as docile as I have heard, at least for now.  It's very very hard to describe the sense of anxiety associated with the thought of being stung.  I'd almost rather it just happened and got over with.  At the same time though after going through hell to get to WA from CA you can tell that they welcome your presence and help.  If anything they have been very very patient with me at the start of this adventure.  Here's to hoping that continues!

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