Hallelujah, We Have Bees!!!

MB: Wow! The last two days have been a jumble of excitement and nervousness. Even though I obsessively watched videos and read my books and websites over and over, I was still afraid I would do something wrong, like forget what to do in the middle of putting the bees in the hive. It felt kind of like those dreams you have about studying for a test in college, but then forgetting everything on test day — oh wait, that actually happened. You know what I’m talking about, same feeling. But mostly I was excited that the bees were finally here and I would finally be a beekeeper!

When I picked up the bees on Saturday night I was mesmerized, there were so many and they were one big ball of energy. They were all huddled up, clinging to each other, and their queen, making a lovely, low thrumming sound. There were even a few bees outside the cage who must have been left behind when the cage was nailed shut, but they held onto the outside of the screen the whole way to Block Island.  As we drove home, I held the cage in my lap. Oh! I love my bees already!

They spent the night in the workshop next to my seedlings. I thought the grow mat that was under the seedlings would give off some warmth, which it must have because they moved closer to that side of the cage.

This is how they were shipped.
This is how they were shipped.

On Sunday morning we were lucky to have an invitation to watch an experienced Island beekeeper install his bees into his new hives. It’s always good to get a visual and some great tips from someone who’s done it before. That said, it did not prevent me from making a small, but critical mistake when I went home to install my bees.

Back in the garden, I decided not to wear my bee suit or gloves. I was very organized and things were running smoothly until that moment when I realized that the bees were a bit more active than they should have been. I put the queen in the hive and began to empty the cage full of bees into the hive. (See the step-by-step pictures below.) Quite a few bees started to buzz around and some landed on me. They didn’t sting or even seem aggressive, there was just a lot of them flying around. When one landed on my cheek, I thought, “Oh boy, my face is going to look great if this girl decides to go for it!”  To my surprise, I wasn’t scared of them crawling all over me, but I was a little freaked out that I had spent too much time getting them in the hive. It was at this point that I realized that I had not sprayed enough sugar syrup on my little bees and I decided that it would be best to put on the bee suit. Doing that helped me concentrate on getting the job done.

It was a little overwhelming having bees crawling all over me and waiting to get my first sting, while trying to concentrate on getting the hive back together. Adding to the stress was the presence of my sister Pam (Yes, another sister!) who I’d asked to take pictures. She is deathly afraid of bees, but trusted me when I promised her that the bees would not be flying around that much, nor would they come near her. Oops!

She was a trooper, though. She toughed it out and took great pictures with a steady hand. That’s a primo example of sister love! Thank god she didn’t get stung! It would have been another family story told too many times!

The real lesson here is that I should have SOAKED the bees with sugar syrup, not just mist them a few times as I did. The syrup makes it hard for them to fly around and they are focused on cleaning themselves and their sisters, distracting them from what is happening. I strongly recommend giving those girls a good heavy spraying a few times. Believe me, this a must!

Something you should know about me is that I’m a worry wart and if something is in my care, I take it very seriously. All day long I kept going outside and to see if the bees that had lingered inside the cage had made their way into the hive. I worried that something had gone dreadfully wrong. It was a bit of a relief to see a few of the bees lined up at the entrance of the hive with their butts in the air. It looked funny, but I believe it meant they were releasing a pheromone that tells all the other bees that a safe home had been found and to come on in!  Towards dusk the bees seemed to be calm and almost all of them were inside the hive. I put my ear up to the box and it was humming — a very good sign.

It’s Monday morning. The sun is rising and, praise be, it’s shining on the beehive. On the other hand, there’s ice in the birdbath and it is very windy! Don’t you love April in the Northeast! Hopefully, the bees will get warm enough to want to explore their new surroundings and start building a happy and healthy colony!

Many thanks to all those who have helped me with this wonderful journey into beekeeping!

Things I needed to get started.
Things I needed to get started.
Taking the top off the bee's cage.
Taking the top off the bees' cage.

Taking the top of the cage off reveals the can of sugar syrup that kept the bees fed during their journey and the little box that contains the queen. You can’t quite see it, it’s on the far side of the can.

Punching a hole in the candy plug.
Punching a hole in the candy plug.

Beekeepers use a very ingenious method of keeping the queen, and a few attendants, in her little cage during the trip to the new hive — they insert a little candy plug in the end of the box. I poked a small hole in the plug before I put it into the hive. The worker bees will chew through it and release her.

Positioning the queen's cage in the hive box.
Positioning the queen's cage in the hive box.

I removed several of the foundation frames and hung the queen’s cage in between two of them. I’ll remove the cage in a few days after everyone’s settled in.

Spraying the girls with sugar syrup.
Spraying the girls with sugar syrup.

Here’s where I ran into trouble — though I didn’t know it quite yet. I sprayed the girls with sugar syrup for the second time, but I didn’t use enough. I should have sprayed a LOT more than I did. Note that I’m not wearing my bee suit or my gloves. That won’t last long!

Removing the feeding can.
Removing the feeding can.

Here I’m removing the feeding can. The bees are still pretty mellow, though you can see that they’re eager to get out of the cage. They’re wondering where their queen went.

Pouring the bees into the hive.
Pouring the bees into the hive.

The bees are supposed to kind of pour into the hive. They need a little encouragement. A shake or two should do it.

Bees are flying everywhere!
Bees are flying everywhere!

Whoa! I think we’re in trouble. Sound the alarm. Bees flying around — way too many!! Get the suit!!!

Safe inside the bee suit.
Safe inside the bee suit.
Pouring out the rest of the bees.
Pouring out the rest of the bees.
A closer look at the bees in the frames.
A closer look at the bees in the frames.

Even though some of the bees were flying around, it’s pretty amazing how all they really want to do is get in the hive to be with the queen.

Replacing the frames.
Replacing the frames — very carefully.
Positioning the feeding pan.
Positioning the feeding pan.

The bees need to be fed sugar syrup until the nectar begins to flow and that won’t happen until the weather warms up.

Pouring in the syrup.
Pouring in the syrup.
Putting on an empty super and the hive top.
Putting on an empty super and the hive top.
Some bees remain in the cage.
Some bees remain in the cage.

Not all of the bees wanted to leave the cage. The only thing I could do at this point was to place it close to the hive opening and hope that they would find their way into the hive.

Bees gather at the hive opening.
Bees gather at the hive opening.

And there you have it.  The next step is to do nothing. I’ll need to leave them alone for a few days to get acclimated, to get settled in and to build out the combs so their queen can begin laying eggs. Life in the hive begins!

6 thoughts on “Hallelujah, We Have Bees!!!

Add yours

  1. We’re working on the answer, Jim. A friend of ours – an experienced beekeeper – got our bees for us. MB will let you know what kind of bees we have as soon as she can.

  2. Very helpful! I’m expecting my first package around May 9th. So far I have only one bee experience with a swarm being introduced to my hive, but 5 days there and they flew away.

    I’ll definitely have a lot of sugar water ready, and wear my veil. How brave were you? at the beginning without your suit!!!

  3. Good luck with your bees! I’m glad that it’s been helpful. If you have any questions as you go along, please ask. I am a few weeks ahead of you and you may have some of the same questions that I had with my bees. I will be happy to help out if I can.

    p.s. I’m not so sure brave is the right word!!

  4. Hey folks,

    Nice pictorial of a wonderful time………opening the shipment in spring.
    Love it myself down here in Georgia……where your little ladies
    probably started life. (Although with our mild winters we don’t have to buy many, they winter over quite easily). BTW They’re Italians.
    Which are the calmest quietest hardest working girls you can get. Unfortunately the coloration is identical to the African bee. Which is a bit bigger and thicker, but we know from the pictures that you don’t have African bees because
    there’s no ambulance in the background taking you to the hospital, (or the morgue) after they started flying all around and you had into get your suit.

    Have you considered a TBH? in your future?

    Frank Ward
    Atlanta, GA

    1. Hi Frank- yes I had my husband build me a TBH after my bees swarmed, story in a later post. I love the TBH and so do the bees, they survived the winter and have been very busy with the beautiful weather we’ve been having. I worked on the cross comb yesterday and all seems to be in order for now. Thanks for stopping by and yes I do believe they came from Georgia!

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