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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Everything's Going To Bee Alright

I spent the better part of yesterday, to the exclusion of everything else, getting ready for bees.  I watched my bookmarked video on how to install bees in a top bar hive over and over, and realized that I'd missed something crucial.  I had nothing planned for feeding the bees during the spring, which I would surely need to do because they had no honey stores.  There were all kinds of fancy bee feeding set ups, but I didn't have a lot of time, so I settled on something free and easy.  I took a fence board scrap from making the hive roof, jammed it down near the bottom of the hive on the sloping sides of the hive, and put a clean tub of sugar syrup in it with sticks sticking out of it so they'd have something to stand on and not drown in it.  After getting that taken care of, I was all set for bees.

Steve stood in the long line at Ruhl Bee Supply in Gladstone to purchase all my gear, while I picked up my bees.  The fellow offered me a sheet of instructions which I declined, because after all, I'd spent the morning studying what I should do.  He stopped me. "This may be different from what you're used to," he said.  It was.  The video had explained how to get the queen cage out of the bee package, how to remove the cork with a dry wall screw, and how to hang the queen cage up on one of the top bars.  In their scenario, the hole in the queen cage was stuffed with candy, and then the cork, and all you had to do was pull out the cork and hang up the cage, and the workers would later eat their way through the candy to release the queen.

The way the bee supplier in California from whom Ruhl gets their bees did it, was to cork the queen in her cage, and attach a mini marshmallow to the top of the bee package with a thumbtack.  In this scenario, I had to remove the cork, cover the hole with a digit so she couldn't get out, and then yank off the marshmallow from the package and stuff it, minus the thumbtack, into the hole. Then, and only then, I could pin the cage to the top bar and get her installed.

Except the cork wouldn't come out the way it was supposed to.  In fact the reason you're not getting video of this disaster movie is that I cussed most of the way through it.  Mildly for me, but still. You don't need to be subjected to that.  I pretty much cussed my way through the whole installation because everything seemed to be going wrong and I was high strung through the whole thing.  It was not a good scene for someone trying to quit swearing, which by the way is a lot harder to do than quitting smoking; that I did over twenty-five years ago.  Quitting cigarettes was easy compared to quitting cussing and I wish to hell I'd never started.  Anyway, the first thing the cork did when I tried to screw in the dry wall screw and pull it out was that it crumbled and wouldn't come out.  I tried it again and same thing.  Then I grabbed the T-pin I'd set aside for pinning the cage to the top bar and tried to pry the cork out, which was even worse, because it just worked its way further into the cage with the queen.  So without really thinking it through, I pushed the cork into the cage, looked to see that the queen could get around it (she could, but in retrospect, what was I going to do if she couldn't?), and then plugged the hole with the marshmallow.  I hung her up on her top bar, set it in the hive, and then proceeded to dump the rest of the bees into the hive.  That part went off fairly without a hitch.  I put all the top bars in, and put the roof on, and then put the bee package on the empty arm of the hive stand so that the remaining girls could find their way to the hive. The girls were finally home, and I was pretty high on the whole experience.

The bees had been quiet on the ride home from Ruhl, and okay once I'd sprayed them a couple of times with the sugar syrup, which occupied them with licking themselves off, but they got loud when I rapped them smartly on the top of the hive to knock them all down to the bottom of the package.  Now they were pretty well agitated. So things were a little hairy with them flying all around as I literally dumped them into their new home, but I felt reasonably safe in my bee jacket and gloves.  Later yesterday evening when the sun was well over the hill but there was still enough light out to see, I went out to check on things.  There were no bees flying around, although there were a few straggler bees outside that were definitely acting as though they were dying. I was saddened by that, but consoled myself with the knowledge that worker bees only live four to six weeks, but bees dying always makes me sad.  I rounded to the front of the hive and peered at the entrance.  And then I saw something that was so cute to me that I forgot all about my trevails of the day:  lined up across the three inch entrance were several soldier bees standing shoulder to shoulder, guarding the entrance.  I was so tickled to see that they were already entrenched in the hive that I went back into the house, reasonably confident that all was going to be right.

Then last night I got to thinking about the queen; if the hole is at the bottom of the cage, then the cork would fall across the hole, and she would still not be able to get out!  I determined that I had to rescue her, and this is where things went south.  This morning while it was still cool and the bees wouldn't be out yet, I suited up to go rescue the queen. I removed the bar on which I'd pinned her the day before, and not surprisingly, the cage and bar were covered in workers. What a dummy- I'd forgotten my sugar spray and my bee brush, so I ran back to the house for those.  I also had to return to the house one more time because I realized I couldn't see what I was doing and needed my glasses.  Steve had to unzip my hood enough so that he could seat them on my face for me.  Back at the hive,  I sprayed down the workers (lightly- you can't just saturate them) and brushed them off the queen cage. To my consternation, the cage was full of workers!  They'd managed to eat through the candy in a single evening, which was a huge surprise to me because everything I'd read indicated that it would take them a couple of days to get through it.  Because the cage was full of workers, I couldn't tell where the cork was, and I couldn't tell where the queen was. I rapped the cage a couple of times and knocked out most of the workers from the cage. Now I could see the cork, which took me a couple of tries to get out. I had to be really careful so that I wouldn't crush anybody, most importantly the queen.  When I finally had the cork out and was able to see what was going on in the cage, there were two workers crawling about.  No queen.  No queen, and I had no idea where she was.  Ohhhhh crap, was all I could think.

So I sprayed the workers down again, brushed them into the gap, and pulling the queen cage off the bar, I replaced it into the hive, and then put the roof back on.  I have no idea where the queen really is, and don't know how many workers I killed in the process of trying to rescue her.  I am so bummed.

As I write this, the morning has warmed up, and the sun is starting to burn off the clouds, and I can see bees flying around the hive. They have food in the hive, and a pollen patty to eat, and facing south, they are right in front of a large patch of dandelions, so there is forage for them if they want to do that. There are ornamental trees in the neighborhood that are still in bloom, and the neighbors have three large apple trees that will bloom shortly.  Then, hopefully, my flower bed will starting putting out flowers and there will be raspberry and boysenberry blossoms, and then peas and eventually peppers and tomatoes and all that.

I've done everything I can as a novice beekeeper. I hope that the queen is alright.  I'll give them more food in a couple of days, and then next Friday or Saturday, weather depending, I'll take a look for brood.  That's if everything indicates that I still have bees.

I should take some consolation in the fact that at the very least, I get to cross off another item from my goals list. In the meantime, all I can do is hope for the best.


Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

I'm very excited about your bees. If they spent transit time with their queen in the cage, I think it's probable that they accepted her once they released her, so all should be well.

I checked my hives today, and I'm not sure what we've got. There are bees in both, but I haven't spotted the queen. Next nice day, I'll do the frame-by-frame check.

Welcome to beekeeping, Paula!

Miriam said...

Okay, so it didn't go as smoothly as you'd hoped. But still, how exciting, and what an accomplishment!

If the queen has been killed, what are the implications - can you just buy another one? Will the workers stay put long enough for that or is the worry that they'll take off? (You can probably tell I know nothing about bees...)

Paula said...

Thank you, Tamar. I hope that I become worthy of the little dears. I'm quite worried about them. This evening at dusk I checked on them again, and there were a bunch clinging to the underside of the hive. I don't know why. Tomorrow morning I'll check the feed and see how that's going.

Paula said...

I could order another queen Miriam, but I don't know how long it will take to get her, or if the bees would accept her. I think the only reason bees take off is when they swarm, and I believe the only reason why they do that is that the queen is taking off.

No, I believe what happens is that if the queen dies in a new colony, then the whole colony dies. If it were an established colony, there would be brood that the bees could turn into queens.

If I lose this colony, I'll have to wait until next year to rehive the hive.

BCKRVUE said...

Paula, it must have been a good weekend for working with bees. Here in Iowa we won't bee getting our packages for another 2 weeks. I'm happy to report that 2 of my 4 hives successfully made it through the winter. I've had similar problems trying to place a new queen in the hive, in the future you can always remove one end of the mesh over the queen and release her into the hive. The top bar bee hives have one drawback with top bar bee hive is that honey cannot be extracted by centrifugal force using a honey extractor machine because a top-bar frame does not have reinforced foundation or a full frame. Also, bees have to rebuild the comb after each harvest, making the honey yield less than traditional hives, but the beeswax yield much greater. But I've also heard they work well for capturing wild swarms.

Paula said...

BCKRVUE- thanks for the tip! There were lots of reasons that I chose to go with a top bar hive: I could make it myself out of scrap (which I did), the combs would be smaller, so the cells would be smaller, so the bees would be smaller, so the varroa mites wouldn't be as much of a concern because they don't fit in smaller bees so well. I don't consider not being able to extract the honey with a centrifugal extractor to be much of a drawback because it means I won't have to buy one. I am really more interested in having pollinators living in the garden than I am honey, and when it comes to harvesting, I'm as interested in the wax as I am the honey. TBH's are also supposed to be much easier to manage for backyard beekeepers, especially those that can't pick up very much (me!), so all in all, they were definitely the way for me to go.

But you are absolutely right about the difference in harvesting; folks who are in it for the honey should probably stick to the Langstroth hive.

Rae said...

Yikes! That's a lot to have happened since I saw the happily buzzing buggers Friday afternoon! I almost wish I'd been there to hear the cursing. Lol. Sounds like quite the show! :)

Btw, I found that list... in my desk... at work. Sigh. I'll try and email what I've got a bit later today.

Happy Monday!!!

Paula said...

Thanks Rae- I was going to give Concentrates a call later to see what they have, so I'll wait 'til I get your email. Thank you again for checking into that stuff for me.