Amateur Hour in the Bee Yard

A week and a half ago, approximately 30,000 honeybees were delivered on my front doorstep.

I have to admit that I was a little surprised to see my purchase of three, 3-pound boxes of bees delivered.  I must have a ballsy mailman.  Bees in shipment are notorious for picking up “hitchhikers” or other honeybees in the area who are enticed by the queen’s pheromones and decide to join her entourage… on the outside of the mesh packaging. This can be a little unnerving to anyone, especially if the queen acquires a lot of devoted followers during her travels.

Yet here they were; a week early, on my doorstep.  I was completely unprepared for their arrival. I hurriedly made 20 cups of sugar water and while it cooled, staged my bee equipment in the back of the truck.  Now people, I am a honeybee expert by no means, but this wasn’t my first rodeo either. Any experienced beekeeper watching the package install operation, however, would have been shaking his/her head in disappointment. It totally looked like amateur hour in my bee yard:

Hive #1

I installed the entrance reducer and nine frames of pulled comb.  Some of the foundations weren’t in the prettiest of shape, but my thought process was that minimum maintenance and clean-up with the pulled comb, would be better for the girls than starting from scratch.  I had my equipment staged nearby, pried open the lid of the package of bees, pulled out the can of travel sugar syrup, and….. dropped the queen cage into the package. Shit. Immediately, 10,000 or so bees descended on the queen cage, making it impossible to try and retrieve. So, I did the next best thing that I could think of at the time: I dumped the whole package, queen cage and all, into the first box.

As the bees fell into the new hive box, they scattered around enough for me to see the queen cage laying on the bottom board.  I stuck my gloved hand in between the frames crawling with bees, and was immediately stung on the back of the hand.

Throwing a few curse words into the air, I realized I had made one of my many rookie mistakes of the day  – I didn’t thoroughly inspect my equipment.  The little bastard mouse that lives in our garage, who likes to play Dominoes with our cat Jesse (because the cat sure as hell isn’t taking care of our mouse problem), decided that my beekeeping gloves were what he wanted to chew on to pass the time when the cat was away.  Out of all of the crap that my husband has shoved in that garage.  My beekeeping gloves. And sure enough, a quarter-sized hole on the back of my hand allowed one of the girls to sting me to her death. I waited patiently, with bees swarming all around my head, for my husband to run up to the house and get me a spare pair of gloves.

New right hand glove donned, I stuck my hand back in between the frames and plucked out the queen cage. The cages come equipped with two corks, one on each end of the cage. And wouldn’t you know, it, I pried the wrong cork out – the side that allowed nothing between fresh air and my queen. I watched in horror as her long cylindrical body immediately took flight.  Now, she could have turned around and flown back into the hive box with the rest of her followers.  Could have. I attempted to install the queen cage in between frames and ended up dropping the fucking cage on the bottom board again.

Disgusted with my butter fingers and lack of attention to detail, I installed the last bare frame, the top hive feeder, filled it about halfway with sugar water, and installed the telescoping cover. About 30 bees started bearding the front of the hive box… I hoped that the queen decided that H#1 looked cool enough to take up residence in, and decided to stick around. Only time will tell. I packed up my equipment and moved onto…

Hive #2

I installed the entrance reducer and only three frames of pulled comb, the other seven had bare foundations. I like to switch up the variables when I install bees: previously pulled frames versus bare foundation, plastic versus beeswax foundations, different types of feeders, different locations, etcetera. I take notes and study them during my down time. I like to get an idea of what environment the girls seem to flourish in, and what doesn’t seem to be working so well. Ziploc bag feeders, albeit simplistic and inexpensive, have provided the greatest results in the past (read = no mold, less chance of drowning bees, less mess.  Usually.).

I was not going to make the same mistake with the queen cage on this install, so I carefully pried off the lid and sugar syrup can with one hand, while holding on to the plastic strap attached to the queen cage with another. I verified that the queen was alive and kicking, installed her cage in between two frames, and dumped her remaining followers into the hive box. This was a good “dump” – only about 30 or so bees remained in the package when I was through.

I installed the inside top cover, laid the Ziploc bag full of sugar water on top of the cover, and… I sprang a leak! Sugar water was dripping all over everything. I must had punctured the bag when I set up my equipment in the truck. I quickly grabbed a spare Ziploc (thank goodness for small miracles), and clumsily attempted to dump the remaining sugar water from the damaged bag into a new bag. Ever try opening a Ziploc bag while wearing oven mitts?  Yeah, same concept.  With bulky gloves (two layers on my right hand), I got about 1/2 of the bag’s worth of sugar water into the hole-free bag, the other 1/2 on me.  Sigh.  I placed what was remaining of the Ziploc baggie of sugar water on the top cover, punctured a small hole in the baggie for the bees to feed out of, and placed the lid on top of H#2.

Hive #3

By the time I made it around to installing my third packages of bees, I started getting into the swing of things.  Or so I thought.  The queen cage install went as smoothly as the install on H#2.  I dumped the package of been on top of seven frames of pulled comb, and wouldn’t you know it – I forgot the damn entrance reducer.  The entrance reducer is a very important part of a package install.  It allows the guard bees of a new hive a smaller entrance to protect against robber bees and other insects/animals that would like to help themselves to the sugar water/honey stores inside.  A reducer will also help acclimate the queen to her new home a little quicker and slow down her want/need to fly away.  But, I forgot the reducer.  So, I carefully moved bees away from the entrance at the same time as I wedged my hive tool under the brood box to lift it at the same time as I attempted to slide the reducer underneath.  Remember, I am doing all of this with gloves that fit about as well as my Pampered Chef oven mitts.

Reducer finally in, I bent down to grab what was remaining in the gallon jug of sugar water that I had left for H#3…. and kicked the damn thing over.  I was not winning for losing that day.  I poured about six cups of sugar water into the frame feeder that was installed, added the top cover, and decided that I had done enough damage for the day.  I cleaned up my equipment and left the bee yard.

Update… Two Days After Install

Taking a stroll through the bee yard after work on Friday, I was ecstatic to find that I had lots of action on all three hives!  On package installs, you want to wait at least a week before peeking into the hive.  Again, it has something to do with letting the queen get acclimated to her new home.  I guess if I just moved into a new home, I wouldn’t want to be checked on constantly either.  Watching from afar, I am fairly certain that the queen stayed put in H#1!  The temperatures were supposed to drop, so I installed the bottom boards for a little extra insulation on H#1, H#2, and H#3.

Update… One Week After Install

Windy, stormy, and bad weather forecasted.  I was unable to get in my bees on the one week mark, and my family left the following day for a short vacation.  I left the bottom boards in, and am so glad that I did: while my family and I enjoyed temps in the mid-90’s, Illinois was cold, and poured.  All.  Weekend. Long.

Update… One and a Half Weeks After Install

Although the rain has stopped, it is extremely windy and a little colder than I like it to be when I open up a hive for an inspection.  I know when the time comes to get in the boxes, however, the girls will surely have built the most magnificent burr comb.  Burr comb is the honeycomb that the bees will build to conform to their space.  Unfortunately, in the hive box, for maximum brood laying patterns, honey production and harvesting, the girls will need to conform to the individual frame specifications and the burr comb will need to be pulled out.  Such a tragedy – I know they work so hard on these little works of art, only for the big bad beekeeper to rip them out because they don’t adhere to the framing standards.  Better in the long run, and always something fun for the kids to take into Show and Tell.

More to follow!

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