(Although posted today, March 27th, this was written on Sat., March 23rd.)
Today is Saturday and it is time to set up my 2013 beeyard and install my new package bees! Even though it is officially spring and here in the mid-Atlantic the daffodils and hyacinths are blooming and my cherry tree buds are about to pop open, it is cold! (It was 20F last night!) I previewed the weekend forecast to see what today's weather would be. Today is the best day for a bee install. Tomorrow and Monday will be either rain or snow. We should have a high near 50F (more like upper 40's) midday and lows in the 30's and sun. This is much colder than last year when I installed bee packages; I had already mown my lawn twice by then.
So, if you read yesterday's post, you learned about my picking up the two packages on the spring equinox. I've been feeding them since and holding them in the dark and cool of my basement.
Preparation of the beeyard:
Walt (my dear boyfriend and assistant apiarist) has set up the lattices on the fencing around the beeyard to isolate the hives somewhat from peering neighbors.
This is relevant in that two weeks ago I discovered that my house plumbing lines were kaput. I thought the lines went straight from the house cleanout and right through my beeyard area. So, dear Walt took down the lattice fencework he had lovingly put up three years ago to make room for the anxiously anticipated "big dig." Suddenly the whole back yard might need to be dug up. " Oh, no", was my first thought, "what about the expected bees arrival on March 20th?!" (Most homeowners would have said, "oh no," and an expletive! And then complain about the money, etc...I did that later on.) So, now, three plumbers, and 14 days later, I have a restored plumbing line in my backyard. I had asked the plumber, (believe it or not his name really is Joe the Plumber!), how quickly he could do the job. "Oh, well," he said, "max three days." "Really?," I queried. He said, "Why? Do you have guests coming to visit, and you need your plumbing back?" "Um," I mumbled, "well, yes, sort of. A lot of them." (I thought it best to hold out on telling him of the 6,012 ladies who might be disturbed by his caterpillar like digger rumbling around in the backyard. Besides in early spring, the bees are VERY gentle and most beekeepers don't even wear protective clothing. But, I wasn't sure about vibrations from a large landmover!)
So, yesterday (Friday), Walt reinstalled the lattice work. Today, I have rolled out the black plastic tarp to cover the area where the two hives will be set up, so that no weeds will grow in front of the hives. (In midsummer, one really does not want to be weedwhacking in front of the hives!) I've also placed cinder blocks to elevate the hives off the ground. This keeps the hive from developing moisture and fungal growth at ground level, and also allows for ventilation through the hives, as the bottom boards of the hive are screened. Air moves in at the back of the hive, up through the hive and out through the top cover.
I place the entrance reducer on the front bottom of the hive's entrance to prevent pests (like mice, skunks, other insects, etc.) from coming into the hive, to help with warming the hive, and during an installation like today's, to keep the new bees inside their hive and keep them from swarming out...remember this is all new to them and they may try and abscond from the new home. We definitely don't want a swarm today!
Two weeks ago my friends Trevor and Jeni came and cut down some maples near the beeyard area to allow more sunlight into the yard. My beeyard and hives face East. I should say our hives, as Trevor and Jeni will be raising one of them. Bees need morning sun on the hives as they navigate by the sun and do amazing trigonometry in their tiny single neuroganglion heads. This determines where flowers full of nectar are in relation to the hive and how to get back to it safely. (More on this and the famous bee waggle communication dance in another blog.)
I have a 6 ft hedge border of privet planted about 5 ft beyond my hives entry at my shared property line with my neighbor. This is intentional, as the bees leaving the hive and heading east will go over the hedge and be above my neighbor's heads should they be in their backyards at the time. So there are no bee-neighbor head-on collisions! Although, I have the best neighbors in town and they never ever complain. In fact, they love my bees' honey and other hive products-soaps and candles and ornaments, and I keep them well-supplied.
Hives should be near a water source, or the ladies will find one; like a neighbor's pool! This does not make for good neighbors. I'm lucky to have a naturally flowing creek behind my house's back yard and the bees drink there. Other beekeepers place a tub or other source for their bees nearby.
A hive is composed of supers (the technical name for the boxes containing the frames.) There are small medium and deep supers. My hive is a smaller 8 frame English garden hive, as the American hives are 10 frames, and when the supers are full of honey, they weigh a lot! Many women and/or persons with back problems prefer to use the English garden hives with the medium size supers for this reason. So, I have only medium sized supers (and get less honey, but can lift it!).
My hives have pretty copper tops and look nice in a backyard garden. I paint my supers pink, white or blue in the weeks prior to bee arrival, not the traditional white. No reason why really. I just got a good deal on pink and blue exterior paint.
So, it is a sunny day and we need our bee hive tools. Today we will not be using smoke in a bee smoker, as these new bees are very gentle and don't need smoke. In fact, smoking the bees during an install could cause the bees to abscond and swarm. So, I have everything but my smoker and I carry the tools in a 5 gallon bucket.
For an installation, you need the bee packages, a hive tool to remove the wooden box top off the package, masking tape to lift the syrup can from the package box, a pocket on your beesuit to place the smaller queen box with her attendants in, a mini marshmallow to replace the candy plug which the attendants to the queen are eating through, and a nail to pierce a plug through which they have not been eating through. You need a feeder with more of the sugar syrup and antibiotic mixed up in it. (I use a gallon plastic bag that seals. You can lay one of these full of syrup gently across the top of the frames and use surface tension to allow for a small slit in the side-now on top, and this allows a feeding trough to develop for the bees to feed from without all the syrup leaking out.)
So, one takes the package and removes the queen cage and places her in your pocket. Then you bump the package sharply on the ground, jarring all the bees to the bottom. Then you take the syrup can out but cover the remaining hole with the wooden piece from the box top so no bees get out.
Check the queen cage to see how much sugar candy plug has been eaten by the queen's attendants. If most of it is gone, a mini marhsmallow must be placed at the end of the queen cage to replace it. However, if little of it has been eaten, as is the case today because of cooler temps and lessened metabolism, then one must gently take a nail and puncture the candy plug to help the attendants who are feeding their way out of the cage, creating an opening through which the queen will walk out when she is finally accepted by her new colony of workers. (I know that was grammatically a long run on sentence! Sorry!) It's all about pheromones. When the attendants walk out, they will be sadly stung to death. But, if enough time has occured and the new queen's pheromone is accepted by the workers-usually requiring about 4-7 days, then she takes over. And all is well.
My friend Trevor and his girlfriend Jeni and his daughter Rebecca actually purchased one of the bee packages from me and took the bee class this year; so they will be assisting with this operation, as well! I will document the travails and successes of both hives, but one hive is truly Trevor's! I'll write about both, as every hive truly has its own personality, and if one decides to beekeep, one really should have at least two hives to explore these differences in behavior and personality and honey production and susceptibility to pests and parasites, etc.
So it's a beautiful spring Saturday. The bees are successfully installed. And by midafternoon they are flying in and out taking their first scouting flights of the area. I even see some of them bringing in crocus pollen from my front yard! Success! But, the weather report for Sunday and Monday look bleek...snow?!...oh no! these girls are southern belles from GA....to be continued.