Three generations of our family helped get the homestead ready for our newest arrivals. Here they are completing one of the hive stands.
This is what a box of 10,000 bees looks like! Within that mass lies the queen, protected by a small cage until the new colony becomes familiar with her. The silver disk is the top of a can of sugar syrup that sustains the bees until they are able to forage again.
Here is one of our hives just before the bee release. I am primarily using starter strips, small straight strips attached to the top of each frame to get the bees started building combs in the right place and orientation, but have included one full frame of foundation in order to have an easy place to attach the queen initially. Once you remove the queen from the package you use a rubber band to hold her cage onto the foundation and frame. Most methods of installing packages of bees involve dumping the bees out of the box after the queen is removed and placed in the hive. Yes, the first act of many a new beekeeper is shaking a roiling mass of stinging insects out of a box! Sorta nuts. After viewing many a YouTube video of this procedure and feeling less and less brave all the time, I was happy to find the technique taught by the brilliant folks at Beekind up in Sebastopol, California. You install the queen and then simply place the box of bees in the hive and let them crawl out to be with her in their own. At least it looked simple when I watched it done by the guy who had done thousands of package installations before. My own reenactment of the deed was far less graceful. Fortunately, it did get the job done.
That’s me in a beesuit! I think I look super cool, very beekeeperly. If I was a real beekeeper, however, it seems I would do this procedure in something that displayed an aggressive level of nonchalance- perhaps cutoff jean shorts and a bikini top. This is what I have gleaned from my months of internet research on the art of beekeeping. These boxes of bees are without a home to defend and therefore very docile, I know. Knowing this is great, but I also needed to keep my hand shaking to a level where I still had some semblance of fine motor skills. The bee handler that drops the queen cage into the box of bees while attempting to remove the cage from the package must then insert her hand into the mass of bees to retrieve it. No thank you!
When I went to remove the package boxes and reconfigure the hives after 3 days I felt a little more sure of myself. After opening the first hive and pulling out my first frame of bees most of the nerves dissolved into absolute wonder. The bees were busily engaged in the festooning (how fantastic is that word??) behavior that helps them to make honeycomb. The comb itself was barely visible beneath the moving surface of bees linked together by their tiny bee claws, but the glimpses I got were breathtaking. The comb was pure white and perfectly formed. Such a miraculous design!
Two weeks after installation I will check again to see if my queens are settled in and getting down to the business of building colonies. Knowing how easy it is to fail completely at this hobby, I am trying not to get too attached to the outcome of this first attempt. It’s tough, though. I am already so smitten.