Friday, April 24, 2009

Finally...

...the bees have arrived!! They were supposed to arrive Wednesday - which would have been great because I work near home on Wednesdays - but alas, I got a call from the post office to tell me they didn't arrive on Wednesday!! So Thursday afternoon I get the call from Fred - post office manager - telling me that "Your bees has arrived". Problem was, Thursdays I work 40 minutes from home and I wasn't finished until 7:00. So I called my neighbors, the Champagnes, and they came to the rescue - they went and picked up the bees (thanks guys!!). So I didn't get to see the looks on the postal worker's faces, but I was told that on the walk home from the post office, there were many questions from the neighbors about what David was carrying!

This is what a 3 pound package of bees looks like. They are all hanging onto each other around the feeder can (which you can't even see). The queen is in the middle of it all in her own little cage.

So anyway, I have to race home from work to try to get home before it's dark out so I can install the bees in their new home. I get home at 7:40 and still have a few things to do to prepare (hey, I was never a boy scout, what can I say). The light is fading fast and I am scrambling around. I could have left the bees in the cage for the night but since they had an extra day of travel, I really wanted to get them in the hive. There were a few hundred dead bees on the bottom of the cage, but that's pretty typical. It had gotten dark out so we needed to bring a lamp out onto the roof - wonder if any of the neighbors were watching!

It is pretty amazing to hear the package of bees buzzing and humming - as I carried them up to the 3rd floor of the house, the volume of the buzz would rise and fall - but 10,000 bees buzzing in unison is pretty loud. I think Jolie liked it too...

video
I bring the bees up to the roof to and I'm ready to go. So I popped the lid off of the cage and removed the can of sugar water (their travel rations). When the cage was opened, a few bees starting flying around, but 99% of them stayed in the cage. The queen comes in her own small cage which is suspended in the middle of the larger cage. When the bee suppliers prepare the packages, they take bees from many different hives - so the workers and drones don't really know the queen. If the queen were just dumped in from the start with strange bees, there is a good chance they would treat her as an invader and kill her. So, the queen cage allows the workers to get to know the queen and her pheromone so that they can accept the queen as their own.

I had already set up the hive and now I just had to dump the bees in. (This picture is actually after I had already dumped them in.)

The bees are all kind of clinging to the top of the cage and to each other - they hold onto each other and form a kind of daisy-chain - it almost looks like a net. A sharp rap of the cage on the ground (or roof in this case) makes all the bees fall to the bottom - and then I just turned the package over and literally shook the bees into the hive. It took a couple more sets of rap-flip-shake to get most of the bees into the hive. At this point there are many more bees flying around - but they are incredibly docile. And somehow, I felt totally calm - I was surprised myself. I had no idea how I would feel - if I would be scared or nervous - but for the most part, I was calm. I didn't wear a veil or gloves or anything other than the clothes I had been wearing all day.

Like everything in beekeeping, there are several different ways to release the queen from her cage. One end of the queen's cage is plugged with fondant/candy. A typical way to release the queen is to suspend her little cage between the frames in the hive and let the worker bees eat through the candy to release her - this usually takes a few days and gives all of the bees time to get acquainted with the queen so that when she finally gets out of her cage, everything is hunky-dory. One disadvantage to this is that you lose 3-4 days of the queen beginning her work of raising brood. Another disadvantage is that you have to open the hive/frames to check if the queen has been released and retrieve the empty cage and this is very disruptive to the hive. So, another way to release the queen is to pop open her cage and dump her into the hive with the rest of the bees - the so-called "direct release" method. The major risk here is that the other bees may kill the queen. Also there is a chance the queen could just up and fly away when you release her this way. The major advantage is that the queen is immediately able to settle into her new home and get to work laying eggs.

Because my bees had a few days on the road to get to know the queen, I opted for the direct release method. I pried open her little cage and dumped her in. In reality, I can't say 100% that she is in the hive at this moment - besides the fact that it was getting dark out, she could have just taken off and said "I'm outta here". But I feel pretty good about it. I will know for sure when I open the hive for an inspection in a few weeks to check on what's happening - if there are eggs in the hive, you know that the queen is in there and doing her job. It is really discouraged to poke around in the hive a lot, especially in the first few weeks of a new hive setting up their home. It is hard to resist the temptation!!

Next I had to figure out the feeding situation. Until the hive gets more established, the weather gets consistently warmer and the nectar really starts to flow, they need a little help with food. Typically people use sugar water or honey to feed the bees. I opted for honey. I was using a method of feeding that involves filling a ziploc baggie with honey and laying it on top of the frames in the hive. You cut a few small slits in the bag, and the bees are able to get to the honey without it leaking all over the place (note to self - this only works if you have a ziploc that actually closes tightly!) So I am tearing through our kitchen trying to find a freakin' gallon ziploc that doesn't leak - yeah, the treehugger that I am, we wash and re-use our ziplocs and we didn't have one new bag in the whole house (I thought we did but I never actually checked!). So I finally found one that would hold water - or so I thought. I filled it with about 4 cups of honey and a little water to thin it out. I even turned it upside down just to check for leakage - all good. So I laid it on the top of the frames and made a few 3 inch slits with a razor and covered up the hive.



At this point I am just kind of hanging out and watching the bees. There are a decent number of bees flying around - some of them bumping into me or landing on me. But again, I was pretty calm. I felt a few bees on the back of my neck - hanging out on the fuzzy hair on the back of my neck. It didn't really phase me until I felt a little pinch. I honestly didn't realize I had been stung for a good five seconds - it barely hurt at all (not as bad as some acupuncture needles I've inserted!). I did get a little freaked and I went inside for a second to make sure the stinger was out - I had Teresa scrape it out. If you ever get stung by a honeybee, first thing you should do is get the stinger out - because as it sits in your skin, it pumps more venom into you. It stung a little bit, but really not bad (today it is just itchy like a mosquito bite). I went back outside to finish cleaning up. No biggie.

I woke up early this morning to check on the girls. When I looked outside - I saw a total mess! A river of honey was flowing from the bottom of the hive down to the gutter. Bees were drowning and getting covered in the sticky sweet liquid. I guess if you're a bee, there are worse ways to go - I think it's equivalent to us drowning in a vat of ice cream or maybe beer if that's your thing! My ziploc was unlocked!! This is definitely not how it is supposed to happen! After cleaning up as best I could, I just spent some time watching the bees settling into their new home. I think they'll be OK.

To be continued...

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