Monday, June 3, 2013

Bee Happy

Colony one, at the bottom of the hill on the edge of the woods.
We have bees again!

On Memorial Day we received the call, "Bees are coming tomorrow." At first, the bee roundup was scheduled for the afternoon, but at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday I received another call, "They're coming early." Apparently, the bee guy feared that his bees were in danger from the warm weather and he wanted to distribute them early.

So I rounded up two hive boxes and headed out.

In the past we obtained bees in a "package," which consists of a small box with screen sides full of bees and a young queen who is a stranger to the workers. To prevent the workers from killing the strange queen, she is in her own little box within the box of bees. After a few days, the workers (it is hoped) have accepted the new queen and the keeper (me) must look in the hive box and make certain that she has been released. The queen's chariot has a hole in it that is plugged with hard candy or a marshmallow that the workers eat through.

Searching for the queen during the transfer.
This year we decided to get our bees in a nucleus (actually, two of them). A nucleus contains a working queen, hundreds or thousands  of workers and five frames containing brood (deposited eggs and developing larvae). Because the queen is new and no eggs or larvae are present in a package, it takes longer to become established than a nucleus does. We also had saved several frames full of honey, collected when our previous colony failed during the winter. So these girls were going to get a good start.

By 9 a.m. or so on Tuesday I was on the road with my empty hive boxes. When I arrived, the gentleman who had brought the bees had set a couple dozen or so boxes full of working bees on the ground in the orchard of the local beekeeper who has served as mentor to us and numerous other local beekeepers. The bee guy wore no gear -- no veiled helmet, nor even a long-sleeved shirt. He was clad simply in a white t-shirt, jeans and a hat to keep the summer sun off of his bald head. That is a man who is at one with his bees.

As he emptied his boxes into my hive boxes, he carefully checked each frame until he found the queen. If we get no queen, soon we'll have no bees. Each worker lives only about three weeks after emerging from her larval cell. So a queenless hive will survive only until all of the incubating eggs and larvae are gone.
Hive two near the house, under a hedge tree.
In one of the colonies that he transferred to my waiting boxes, workers appeared to be angry at their queen. Perhaps they were simply stressed by the ride, whatever, but it concerned the bee guy and he instructed me to check the hive in a few days and make sure that she is doing well. If not, he'd send us a new queen.

So we checked that hive on Friday and found the queen alive and well. The workers appeared to have calmed down and were going about their business as usual.

The second colony he attempted to transfer appeared to have no queen. So he removed all of the frames he had already put in my hive box and transferred a new set of frames, showing me the queen before he finished the transfer.

Then it was a slow and breathless drive home. Screen had been placed in the hive box opening to prevent too many of the bees from escaping, and cargo straps held the hive box, the bottom board and lid together. Another strap kept the boxes from sliding around in the back of my pickup. With all of that, I still worried that things might shift on the 20- or 30-mile trip home. When I reached our gravel road, I drove as slowly as I could to minimize the rattling and bumping, but gravel roads are gravel roads.
Busy bees.
Everything was still in place when I arrived at our homestead. Whew! I donned my bee gear -- I am not as confident as the bee guy and I did not want to get stung while carrying the heavy hive box and possibly drop it. While the opening had been blocked by screen, a few bees still were wandering around on the outside. The first hive box was set in place (top photo). Then I zoomed up the hill and set the second box in place, near one of the garden sites. This was the box that we needed to check in a few days. Best to have it within easy reach, I figured.

It gives me great joy to have bees again. Now, when I see honey bees on the salvias and other garden flowers, I can assume that they are "our girls." Fortunately, our flower garden is full of blossoms right now. Yesterday we noticed that the caraway thyme, now a mat of tiny red-purple blossoms, was covered with honey bees. Yay!

Something seems missing when the only thing you have is plants (well, and the wildlife, of course). So our little operation now feels more complete. Next up -- chickens. But next year. Or the year after. It will take a little more work to get things set up for them.
A garden full of blooms..

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