Monday, April 23, 2012

B-Day Has Arrived!

I received the call around 10:30 AM on Thursday, April 19th.....the bees will be ready for pickup at 2 PM!!  I left work right after lunch and headed home to pick up my wife for the short journey to St. Charles.  I placed two empty deep hive bodies in the bed of the truck strapped in with a bungee cord to house the packages and help shield them from the wind.  The weather was cool and there were signs of impending rain in the sky.  The 20+ minute drive seemed interminable and my nervousness and excitement continued to build the entire way there.  Finally, the GPS directed us onto Wahl road where T M Klein & Sons Honey was located.  We turned onto the gravel road and I began to wonder if my GPS had lead me astray when I saw a "Local Honey For Sale" sign.  That must be it!  We turned in and my fears were quickly abated as I saw row upon row of beehives sitting on the lot.  My wife and I hopped out of the truck and after waiting a short time for another person to pick up their packages of bees, we were directed into a large shed to get our bees.  Wow, I have never seen a package of bees in person before, let along hundreds of them stacked four feet high!!  A few straggler bees flew aimlessly around our heads as Mr. Klein picked up our two packages and carefully brushed off a few "cling on" bees.  They were loaded into the boxes in the back of the truck and off we went.

The journey home was uneventful.  Well, besides me being constantly worried if the day's cool temperatures (low 50's) and if the now lightly falling rain was giving "the girls" a deathly chill.  I know, it is a bit pathetic isn't it?  =)

We arrived home and promptly placed our two new packages of bees in the pole barn.  This is where they would recover from their journey as I made the final preparations to install the packages. 

First step, prepare the sugar syrup feed.  Since a package of bees has no resources stored up to feed themselves and with the weather poor and flowers few, it is a good idea to give them some artificial feed until they can feed themselves.  In the Spring time, a ratio of 1 pound of sugar to 1 pound of water is recommended.  So, I weighed out 5 pounds of water to match my 5 pounds of sugar and commenced boiling.  When the water reached a boil I shut off the heat and stirred in the sugar which quickly dissolved into the hot water.  I transferred the hot syrup to a 5 gallon bucket to allow it to cool.  Second step, wait for the syrup to cool and obsessively review in my mind over and over how I will install the packages.  Did I mention
waiting for the syrup to cool?  Come on! 

At this point, my wife and I were both getting fidgety and the time was approaching 6:30 PM.  It's go time!  Let's do this thing!  We suited up in our bee suits and grabbed the bucket of syrup and headed out to the pole barn.  I put some of the sugar syrup into a spray bottle, some into a mason jar with holes poked into the lid for the white hive and the rest of the syrup was destined for the top feeder in green hive.  Now we double check that we had all the tools we would need.  Hive tool, bee brush, spray bottle, bucket with syrup, a small nail to put a hole in the queen cage's candy plug and.......the bees!  We walked boldly out to the hives with our equipment and the first package of bees wondering if any of the neighbors were watching the "weirdos" in the white suits next door.  =)

I have watched many videos and read many methods to installing a package of bees and I decided that I would lightly spray the bees with sugar syrup, spray the frames with sugar syrup and do a slow release of the queen by poking a small hole in the exposed candy plug that would allow the worker bees to gradually eat through it over the next few days, thus freeing the queen.  Thank the good Lord that both installations went very smoothly with only one or two minor hiccups.  I started with green hive and removed the top cover, the top feeder and inner cover.  Then I removed about half of the frames and set them aside.

I sprayed the frames and then sprayed the bees lightly with the syrup (making them slightly sticky, less apt to fly and occupied with cleaning the sugar off of themselves).  I then used my hive tool to pry the staples out of the small piece of wood covering the top of the package.  The staples were in there really well and it took quite some time to dig them all out. 

We decided that it might be a good idea to have a pair of pliers around when we did the second package.  With the piece of wood removed, the can of feed within the package is now exposed and I pried it out.

I quickly replaced the piece of wood over the circular opening left by the can of syrup and set the can down on its side so I would not squish all the bees clinging to the underside.  I then pried up the staple holding the strap connected to the queen cage, lifted the wooden cover while holding the strap, and removed the queen cage.  You couldn't even see the cage with so many bees clinging to it!

I moved the queen cage over to the hive and gave it one quick shake, knocking the clinging bees off and quickly checked the cage to make sure the queen was alive.  Check!

Using my hive tool, I then pried out the small bit of cork in the candy end of the queen cage.  Then, fumbling around in my pocket I got ahold of the small nail I brought and cautiously poked a small hole in the now exposed candy plug, making sure not to skewer the queen inside! I then placed the queen cage between two frames near the side and tried pushing them together to hold the cage in place.  Of course, all the bees wanted to sit right between the two frames.  After some cajoling, I was able to move the bees and hang the queen cage where I wanted it.  I hooked the strap over an adjacent frame and called it good.  Back to the package of bees, I gave them a few more spritzes and readied myself for the "fireworks". I removed the wood cover and slammed the package onto the ground, knocking the bees into a cluster on the bottom.  I then upended the package, dumping them vigorously into the empty area of the hive body where I had removed the frames earlier.  The last few remaining bees I dumped directly on top of the queen cage.

I set the mostly empty package in front of the hive entrance and carefully placed the inner cover onto the hive.  After a few attempts with bees being in danger of getting squashed, I was finally able to lay the inner cover down.
The hive top feeder then went on and I filled each reservoir with sugar syrup.  The top cover went on and I was done!!  All of this in just over 5 minutes!  My wife bravely recorded the entire event with only a
jacket and veil.  She had bees landing on her hands during the process and she only freaked out a few times!  =)  For the second package installation, she nicely asked for a pair of gloves and that I close up her pant legs with some duct tape.  I think this made her much less nervous  =)  We then proceeded to march back to the pole barn and retrieve the second package of bees with the addition of a pair of pliers and the mason jar feeder that we had filled previously. 

The installation into the white hive went just as smoothly.  There was a bit of a surprise when I pried off the wooden cover to find that there was a large hole cut into the box that was then exposed!  I just placed the cover over that hole and continued the installation.  I have the black Honey Super Cell (HSC) frames in the white hive and that made it a bit easier to place the queen cage as opposed to the foundationless frames in the green hive.  I flipped the mason jar feeder upside down to let the initial squirt of syrup out and as the dripping stopped, I placed it upon two wooden shims I had made and then placed the top cover on.  Done!

All in all the installation went very well and the bees were very calm despite all the rough treatment.  We received zero stings and to my knowledge, did not squash any bees.  Our clean white bee suits were dotted with a few yellowish/orange spots so our biggest calamity during the installation was
getting hit with a bit of bee poo!  =)  In hindsight, with the temperatures as cool as it was, I may not have needed to spray them at all with the syrup before installing them.  Also, I didn't take notice if the candy plug was facing up or down when I hung the queen cages.  Looking back at the photos we took, I can see that the candy end was on the opposite side as the strap, so it would be facing down.  I've heard people say that it should be facing up so that if any of the attendants inside the cage die, they would then fall to the bottom of the cage allowing the queen an unblocked exit.  Not sure it really matters but I guess I'll find out soon enough.

My next task is to check the amount of syrup left in the feeders and check to see if the queens have been released.  I am currently targeting Tuesday for these tasks which means they will have been in the hive for about five full days.  I'm not sure if they will have gone through all that syrup in that amount of time but hopefully the queens will be release and laying eggs into some newly constructed wax comb.  The next update will be coming soon!  Thanks for reading.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Hives Deployed

After hours of meticulous painting and another few hours of artistic detail painting from my wife, the hives are complete!  I put a coat of primer and then two coats of paint on the outside of all the boxes, the bottom board and the telescoping cover.

My wife bought some stencils and put the flower and bee outlines on, filled them in with some color and finished it off with some dotted line bee trails.  I think she did a great job and the bees will have the best looking house in the neighborhood!!  Donchathink?

Before "empurtyment"


With the advice we received from our fellow beeks, we wanted to get the hives out early and empty.  The idea being that if any neighbor would react negatively they would probably do so as soon as they saw the hives.  It wouldn't prevent any issues but at least we might get an early warning of who might have concerns.  Well, we were hoping to have them out about a month early but I guess a week early is going to have to work.  I cut a strip of pine to exactly fit the entrance of each hive so no mice or other critters will get in before the bees arrive.

Speaking of bees arriving.......t minus 6 days and counting!!  April 19th is the day!  I still have a lot of work to do before they get here. 

Some of my tasks include:
  * Rototill the bee garden
  * build a bunch more frames
  * put starter strips in the remaining deep frames
  * melt the beeswax and paint it on the starter strips as well as the plastic Honey Super Cell frames
  * find a glass jar to use for a hive feeder (I have a top feeder for one hive but not the other)
  * buy some sugar so I can make some 1:1 syrup to feed the bees when they arrive