Monday, June 1, 2009

Hiving the package bees

I should have written this post a while ago. It's been a little more than 2 weeks since I hived the bees. Here's how it went.

Awoken by my phone ringing around 7 A.M., I picked it up to find that my bees had arrived at the post office and they were ready for pick-up. They had spent a couple of days extra in shipping and we were afraid they wouldn't be doing so well, but they were fine. The floor of the cage was dotted with bee corpses, but that is to be expected; there weren't a significant amount of dead bees. I don't know why but when bees are in a container they always climb up and hang from the top and from each other. I had brought a spray bottle of sugar water to the post office and gave them a sticky coat to eat while they waited to be installed. I did that because I figured they had eaten all the syrup out of the feeder can in the package, but when I took it out it was still half full. Also spraying the bees with sugar water keeps them from flying so much since they'll get drops of it on their wings. 

Once home with the package, I fired up the smoker and took the package and the hive parts to a temporary spot in the back, close to the place I had cleared for my hives. We have tons of cedar shingles from recent roof reparations, so I just make a small fire with some of those, dump it in the smoker and put sawdust on top to make a lot of smoke. I puffed the package a few times on each side with the smoker to engentle the bees, then I pried off the slat on top and took the feeder can and queen cage out. Some say to leave out a frame or two when you dump the bees in the hive body, but I forgot about that and just dumped them on top of all ten frames. You would think you're supposed to be more careful with a box full of bees, but it was as simple as shaking the whole three pounds of them out of the package and into the hive body. After that I pried off the thin slats holding the screen on and shook out the remaining bees. They were in a big mound on the frames, so I spread them out more evenly with my (gloved) hand to make them go down into the frames faster.

As for the queen, she was running around in her cage with quite a few bees clinging to it, trying to get her out. Or taking care of whatever needs she has while in a cage. The queen cage in a package of bees is plugged up with a candy and a piece of cork over that. So what you do when you get the bees is pop that cork off and the bees can eat away the sugar candy to free the queen. Also the queen eats on that while she and the others are in shipping. Dad dug that cork out Swiss Army knife and I then fit the queen cage snugly between two frames. Ah and the queen was marked with a shiny emerald green dot on her back, so she'll stand out from the other bees during hive inspection. You can spot the queen just by her different body shape and size, but for inexperienced beekeepers like myself, a marking helps a lot in that difficult task. 

Anyway, I got the queen cage in there and closed it up. I gave them an inner-cover feed of sugar syrup just like I did with the gangster bees, to give them immediate nourishment to start building comb. It's a good idea to feed a small fledgling colony with sugar syrup for a few weeks to give them a boost. The reason is that they don't yet have many foraging bees to go out and get nectar, so the sugar syrup right on top of their hive lets them get cracking much quicker. However, I want to take a 'natural' approach to apiculture, so I won't feed them sugar syrup or pollen substitutes if it isn't necessary to keep them in good health. Actually there are prominent beekeepers who say feeding them such things for too long weakens their immune systems (like us if we just eat junk food all the time). After supplying them with feed, I closed it up and put in an entrance reducer. We figured we'd leave it in the temporary spot for the time being, until all the bees flying around settled down.

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