Rob and I picked up our package of honeybees last Saturday.
It was a very exciting day. I have had bees once before, but this was my first time installing a package.
The bees ship in a little crate with a canister of sugar water, the queen safe in a little tiny cage suspended next to the sugar water.
On the way home, Rob drove, and I carried the bees in my lap, acting as an extra shock absorber. One stray bee came along for the ride – not in the crate! – and caused mild consternation when she started flying around the car. Fortunately she quickly settled on the rear window, and we were able to complete the trip home without mishap.
We already had the sugar water ready, so when we got home we spritzed the bees with the sugar water through the screen that sided the crate. That settled them down while we gathered our supplies and (rather minimal) protection.
We got everything set up by the hive, took the lid off, and pulled a few of the frames – which later will hold comb and honey – to make room for all the bees.
The trickiest part was pulling the canister of sugar syrup from the crate. It was in a can, and the slightest lip stuck up above the crate’s edge. It took quick work with the pliers to pull the crate – and that opened a hole in the crate!
We were able to get the canister extracted and cover the hole with some cloth before many bees escaped. The escapees provided a cloud of confusion over the subsequent proceedings.
Then we had to make a secondary foray into the crate to extract the queen’s tiny cage. A number of bees were clinging to it – the queen! the queen! – but I decided not to worry about it, and just set the whole lot aside.
The most dramatic bit was actually getting three pounds of bees into the hive.
You might imagine that it is a careful and graceful process – or maybe a natural process, setting the whole crate into the hive?
You give the crate a good hard rap, to knock all the bees into the bottom of the crate.
Then you upend the crate over the hive and dump the bees in. It takes a fair bit of shaking and shifting back and forth to get most of the heap into the hive.
I still find it amazing that that’s what you do, but it is quite effective!
The result was most of the bees in a heap in the hive, and a couple/few dozen buzzing around us and the hive.
It would be pretty scary to someone unfamiliar with bees, but I knew that they weren’t in aggressive mode. You just ignore them . . . or try to.
The main hitch was with the queen. The YouTube instructions I had watched all talked about a “candy plug” in the queen’s cage.
The candy plug prevents the workers from getting to the queen right away. The 3 lbs of bees are just a random bunch of bees, they aren’t workers for this queen, initially. The workers would sting the queen to death if they could get at her.
Oddly, although their first instinct is to sting her, their second instinct is to feed her, and so thwarted in their murderous impulses, they keep her alive.
After a few days, the scents and pheromones all do their thing – I’m fuzzy on that bit – and they become that queen’s bees, and all is right with the world.
The candy plug in the queen’s cage allows the necessary time to pass, since the workers can’t remove it right away.
The one problem was, the cage only had one tiny cork. No candy plug.
We called the supplier, and they told us that we should just plug the hole with a marshmallow.
A marshmallow? Sigh . . . .
We had to close the hive up – more or less – and run to the store for a bag of mini marshmallows before we could get the queen properly installed.
Aside from that little hitch, it went pretty seamlessly. No stings, no visible casualties, and the girls were out foraging within the hour.
They are all settled nicely now. The local ants are causing a little trouble, but when we opened the hive up a couple days ago to feed the bees, everything looked in good order. The girls were all clustered together, building comb, and the queen was gone from the cage. Fingers crossed that all is in good shape!
I had bees once before, when I was living in Seattle.
A swarm happened to settle in the boxwood at the edge of my lot. Rather than ignoring them or calling someone like a sensible person, I rushed out and bought a hive.
It was all pretty exciting . . . but my precious bees didn’t make it through the winter. I still don’t know whether I did something wrong, or whether it was just the rotten bee-odds at work. A couple winters ago, one in three hives throughout the US died.
In any case, hopefully this hive will thrive. We’re already scheming about getting a second one next year!