The phone rang early yesterday, around 7:30am. The caller id said “US Government”, so as my wife answered I thought “either the Feds are after us for something, or else my package of bees has arrived”. Fortunately, it was the latter!
It still amazes me that bees can be ordered and delivered by mail. But my cousin, who works for the USPS, assures me that’s not unusual, and that bees aren’t the oddest things that come through the post office. Any rate, I was there as soon as they opened to pick up the newest inhabitants of Happy Acres. I’ve been wanting to get back into beekeeping, and now it was official.
The bees are shipped in a little mesh cage that has a feeder can of sugar water in it to give them something to eat during their journey. First thing I did was to spray them with a bit of syrup I had mixed up which was about half water, half sugar. Their buzzing lowered a few decibels as they began cleaning up the sugar.
The bees in the cage are mostly worker bees. There is one queen bee, and she is in her own little cage, with a few attendants in there to care for her. The reason for the separation is that the workers and their new queen are unrelated and the workers need time to accept this new queen as their own. The queen cage is plugged with a little piece of candy, and by the time the bees eat away the candy they will have become used to the pheromones released by the queen, and ready to accept her.
To install the package of bees, the beekeeper has to remove the feeder can and queen cage, then shake the ball of bees down from the sides of the package so they can be “poured” into the hive. The first and only time I ever did this before was 20+ years ago, before the internet was invented. It was just me in my bee suit with the bees, back in the south forty, hoping I was doing it all correctly based on what I had read in books. These days there are Youtube instructional videos like this one at Mother Earth News. And there are great web sites and blogs with informative posts and photos like this one that the folks at Curbstone Valley are putting up about their beekeeping experiences.
So what’s different this time around? Yesterday, it was me in my bee suit with the bees, back in the south ‘half-acre’, but feeling a lot more confident than I was 20 years ago! I chose to suit up yesterday with veil, jacket and gloves, even though that might have been overkill. Package bees are usually pretty docile, since they have no hive to defend, but I need to get used to working in the outfit for the visits in the future where the bees will possibly be a little more agitated. And working in veil and gloves definitely takes some getting used to.
I’ll feed the bees sugar syrup for some time while they build up the colony. And I’ll wait for several days before opening up the hive again. Then I will check to make sure the queen got out of her cage, and then remove the queen cage. After that it’s a matter of checking on the hive every week or so to see how the bees are progressing. The bees are starting out with frames full of bare foundation, and they need to build comb on it so the queen can start laying eggs and raising new workers. I put the queen cage between two of the frames, with the candy end pointing down.
After shaking out the bees several times, there were still a few left in the cage, so I put it on the ground near the opening to the hive. An hour later, all of them had come out and found their way in with the rest of the bees.
The whole process of hiving the bees took about 15 minutes, including the photo ops. Thanks to my wife for getting the shot of me holding the package of bees. Since she doesn’t have protective gear (yet), she didn’t go down to the hive to see the rest of the process.
It looks like me and the bees got off to a good start yesterday. I’m hoping in time it will develop into be a real sweet relationship!