Okay, so I've already told you how deathly afraid of bees I am and how Caleb is going to take over the duties of beekeeping around here. But, until he learns the ropes, someone has to help. And because apparently Don has to hold down a job, I get to be the one that helps. Reality is so cruel.
Our bees arrived via UPS on April 27th. Yes, UPS actually delivered 20,000 bees (give or take a few, of course) to our door. Caleb and I got right to work.
Amazingly, I was not nearly as frightened as I've been in the past. Don bought full-body beesuit with attached helmet for me at the end of the year last year. This was the first time I wore it and it really did help to feel confident that they were not going to get in. Last year, while working bees, I had one go up my pantleg. To everyone's surprise, I managed to keep from ripping my pants off right there in the front yard. But, it was the last time I got anywhere near the hive last year. With the suit, I did hear buzzing for the next hour or so, but at least I could get the work done.
See? I even look...could it be...happy?And very pregnant. In the following pictures, you can see that there is a gap of red showing through my suit...the suit has slits for you to use the pockets of your clothing underneath. My big belly causes those slits to be wide, gaping holes. A fellow beekeeper suggested that I duct tape those slits up so that bees don't get in. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that will mean that I don't get the thing zipped, just like my bib overalls over the winter. Frankly, I'd rather be zipped up than worry about those holes. Once I have the baby, I'm definitely taping them, though.
First, we pried the wood off the top that held their travel feeder in place. The bees are shipped with a can full of syrup with teeny tiny little holes in the bottom for them to access it. Prying off the wood exposes the top of the can, but at this point, no bees can get out. Yet.
After the can is exposed, you gently slide it out and remove the queen cage. The queen is shipped in a separate cage so that the bees don't kill her. She isn't their queen yet, but by the time they get her out, they will have accepted her. She is shipped with a candy plug between her and the bees. They will eat through it, but it gives them time to get used to her scent.
Then, you pour the bees into the middle of the hive body. And yes, they do actually pour in. There are a few flying around, but the majority of them are in a big swarm, holding onto each other, and very docile.
Once they are in, you just replace the frames you've taken out for the pouring step, wedge the queen cage in between 2 frames to hold it up, and put the lid on. It is really quite easy...if you aren't in the middle of a panic attack.
One week later, we went to check the hives. The queens had both been released from their cages. We purchased marked queens (a little spot of paint on their backs) to make them easier to find. However, in the white hive, she wasn't marked. Either another queen was shipped with the swarm of bees and they accepted her and killed the new queen, or she somehow got her paint off. Either way, we did still find her and all seemed well. Lots of work was going on in both hives. So far, so good.
At this point last year, we had already lost the hive. While we still had bees, we never had the queen lay any eggs before she was killed (she was shipped without the candy plug and I didn't realize it until it was too late) and the workers started laying eggs. It sounds like a good solution, but it is the death of the hive because those eggs can only ever develop into drones. The workers will eventually die out and with it, the hive. Sometimes you can get them to accept a new queen, but usually, they kill her because they think they have everything under control. Regardless, I didn't realize what was happening until it was too late. This year, I'm praying that it all goes much more smoothly, and so far, it is.