I know there are a lot of people who have expressed interest in our new beekeeping venture, so I didn’t want to keep you waiting long for Part 2 of our bee journey: installing the bees. (You can check out Part 1 here.) I plan on doing a few posts in the future about checking on the bees at different phases, and if and when we have honey, I’ll try to make sure we document that as well, but today is all about installing the bees.
Last Wednesday, Tiffany got the call saying the bees had arrived and were ready for pick-up. She spent a sleepless night worrying about the bees and our timetable for getting them and getting them installed. Thursday morning, she went first thing to go pick up the bees so that she could at least monitor them until she and Scott were ready to bring them to the hive that evening. Thursday evening, everything was ready to be set up!
Tiffany made a sugar water concoction to feed the bees as a way to help them stay alive and stay at home since they do not have any food stores in the new hive. She brought over large, empty yogurt containers for filling with this mixture, as well as her beekeeping gear, hive tool, and of course, the packages of bees.
She and Scott put on their gear. Tiffany used duct tape around the top of her boots to keep the bees out, then put on her gloves, and then the jacket. Scott was in full suit, so he put on his gloves, then his suit, then tucked in his boots. They packed everything into the 4-wheeler trailer and took a ride back to the hives.
A few weeks ago, Scott and I brought 3 of the 4 sets of brood boxes back to where we were planning to set them up. All of the hives had come with frames with foundations and drawn comb in them, but after doing her own research, Tiffany wanted to try foundationless frames. She took one of her sets of brood boxes and ended up removing the comb from the frames, so the bees will have to build new comb to store their honey and their brood.
Since these hives are new to the bees, and they therefore do not have a store of honey to live off of, they need a sugar water solution to help keep them all alive. So with the top brood box removed, they used some small sticks set on top of the frames to place their sugar water solution onto. This kept contact from being directly onto the frames, and allows the bees to access the food.
The next thing they did was to remove a single frame from the brood box. The queen gets placed inside of the brood box inside of a little container where she has to work her way out and the other bees help her along. It helps to establish that particular hive as home for the bees. They were supposed to put a little marshmallow into the top of the hole to keep the queen from coming out immediately, but due to some confusion, we didn’t have any on hand, and they had to go without. (Later, we found out that there were two corks on the queen cage and that the other end appeared to have the marshmallow in it. Oh well, lesson learned!)
If they could make it fit without squashing the queen’s container, they placed the last frame back into the box, but they weren’t able to do that for every hive. While they could have each probably done this entire process alone, they both agreed that it was beneficial to have been working with somebody else…at least as newbies.
The next step was to put the bees into the hive. They did this a little differently with each hive as they tried to determine what the best way to go about it was. On one hive, they placed the package carefully into the hive and placed the top brood box (without frames) around the package, then placed on the two covers. On the other hives, they placed the second brood box on top of the first one (sans frames), and sort of “dumped” the bees out. Then they placed the package near the opening on the hive, and then put the two covers over the top of the second brood box.
They did all four hives, then went back to the first two and checked to see that everything was moving along alright. We saw a slow, steady march of the bees going into the hive, and since there was no more we could do, we left them be and prayed for the best. (BTW, I didn’t really do anything for this whole process…I was just along at a distance, taking pictures.)
The next morning, I took a walk over to the hives on behalf of Scott and Tiffany to make sure that everything looked okay (i.e. no big piles of dead bees). There was lots of activity, with most of the bees out of the packages, and I even spotted bees going to and from the hives from dandelions that dot the trails.
Later in the day, I found a few further from the hive, in the yard, and by the end of the day, there were few remaining in the packages.
Nobody had any bee stings after the installation, though Tiffany said she saw one try and sting her through her glove. There are some bees that did not make it through the transition, but so far, all appears to be doing well.
Tiffany had mentioned in passing that the life-cycle of a honey bee is anywhere from 30 days (minimum) to 150 days (roughly) depending on the bee’s job and the season. The queen bee can live much longer (years). I thought that was really interesting. She said that it is supposedly common that a few of the bees will be dead when you receive your package.
I had a few follow up questions for Tiffany about the initial installation and their check-up on the bees on Monday night.
Tiffany: Quite honestly, after installing the bees, my confidence level dropped because we didn’t put a marshmallow in after we took the cork out from the queen cage. We did a quick inspection tonight to see how things are going and I think that put into perspective how we’re doing and if everything will turn out okay.
Tiffany: So, I chose to do foundationless frames and I chose not to buy new ones. I took the old wax and foundations out of the used frames we bought by hand (which my super sweet husband and kids helped with!) and that ended up taking longer than I thought. If you do foundationless frames, you should have a guiding bar at the top made of a thin piece of wood or a short piece of wax foundation-and I did not end up putting that into about half of them. For the other half, I was able to get all of the wax out but I cut the plastic foundation that was already in the frames about and inch from the top to make the guiding bar. Also, two of the 20 frames I worked on had hard plastic foundation that I just left in, so I placed one in the bottom box and one the one above it. I was having anxiety about this the night before I picked up the bees and felt like a failure before even getting started. Anyway, early the next morning, I picked up the bees and, as I was driving home, I just had a sense of peace about it all. So, my thought is: this is all just an experiment and we’ll see how it goes! That was my biggest concern before installing the package.
Monday evening, Scott and Tiffany trekked back to the hives to check and make sure everything was going okay. The main concerns being 1) the bees were still alive and active, and 2) that they hadn’t abandoned the hive. Ideally, they would have checked on the bees earlier in the day for the sake of the warmth of the bees, but that wasn’t possible. The bees were more docile, probably because of the fact that it was a bit cool, but I think worked out well for them in the end.
They did not use a smoker for checking on the bees this time, though in the future they will. Since there was little activity outside of the hive and it was pretty quiet, I think both Scott and Tiffany were a bit nervous, but upon opening the first hive, they found the bees quietly at work.
They had a few things to do, the first being to remove the queen cage and to take the packages away from the hives. They then put in any frames that were kept out of the first brood box initially, and then they placed the second brood box back on, and inserted all of that boxes’ frames. On top of that, they placed the sugar water solution (again, on two shims/sticks) and an empty super box around that. The bees were not ready to be without the sugar water, and eventually, that will be removed when it is no longer needed. Finally, they placed the covers back onto the hives.
When they went to check on the hives, the bees were already at work- adding to the comb, cleaning it, and beginning to fill it with nectar and pollen. Everything seemed to be going according to “plan”, minus the bees building comb on the cover in the hive with the foundationless frames, which we’ll go through in a minute.
Tiffany did end up with two bee stings to her legs after checking on the bees, but the general consensus was that she probably would have been fine with either thicker pants or looser pants. Her jacket is larger than she would normally need (in case you were wondering if they are all that large), but she’s about 3 months pregnant, and her belly will continue to expand throughout the beekeeping season, so she needs the room to grow!
Tiffany: True, but I am nervous that it will happen again, and I don’t want to disturb their work a second time. We put things back into that hive a bit differently in hopes that the bees are encouraged to build the comb in the frames instead of on the cover.
Tiffany: Well, I’ve read different things, but one guy said that once it seems as though the bees are no longer using it, you can remove it. There was definitely sugar water gone from the containers we placed in the hives, but it was obvious they were already working on getting food from the dandelions and any other plants they could get to.
Hopefully I have written this clearly enough that you can follow along with the steps. Even though I got a lot of great pictures, it was hard to get anything close up without asking the beekeepers to stop moving or get out of the shot (which I did not do), and without a suit on myself, I wasn’t comfortable getting close just yet! I’m sure it will come with time.
How many of you are beekeepers? How many of you have toyed with the idea? If you’ve done it before, what were your biggest failures/mistakes? We always love to hear from you, so don’t forget to comment, like, and if you like what you learned, pass it on!