You heard it here first – the bees are hived and happy.
Early this morning the bees were in Georgia, their home state. Then they were loaded into the back of a truck and driven to Wood’s Beekeeping Supply and Academy, where we picked them up.
Here they are! Three-thousand happy little guys. I’m just kidding – they just got shaken out of their hives to travel 2,000 miles to a cold, wet place. They’re probably far from happy.
These six in particular must have spent the entire trip clinging to the outside of the package.
The weather was threatening rain all day, and as luck would have it the heavens opened just as we picked our bees up. We wanted to get them in, though, so we worked very quickly. I poked some holes in the lid of my bee syrup jar. We turned it over, and after a few seconds of dripping, the vacuum seal held. The bees will be able to pull the syrup out when they want it, but it won’t just drip all over them.
Finally it was go-time. David grabbed the bees and we booked it over to the hive.
We set them up in our state of the art weatherproof environment.
And we set to work. Technically I was in charge of this installation, though Kim had my back. Using the hive tool I pried open the lid of the package and pulled out the syrup can. The bees travel with a can of syrup so they stay fed on the road. That’s why they’re so clustered around the top of the package.
With the can out of the way, I could get to the queen. She travels in a much smaller mesh cage with a handful of attending bees.
She has to be kept separate because the bees in her package aren’t actually part of her colony. Queens are reared separately and put into these cages with a few bees who’ve grown up with and know her. But the 3,000 others are miscellaneous bees from other colonies. They’re literally shaken into the package and given a queen at random.
Bees don’t take kindly to random queens – in fact they go out of their way to kill them. That’s the reason for the separate queen cage (that, and making her easy for us to find). If she weren’t kept physically separate from the strange worker bees, she’d be dead before they left Georgia. Give her a few days, though, and she can spread her queeny pheromones and adopt this new colony as her own.
The key is keeping her in the cage inside the hive, so the colony can’t kill her before they get used to her. The cage comes with a pre-drilled hole in the side, plugged up with a cork. We pulled the cork out to reveal a second plug made of candy. Bees can’t chew through cork, but they’ll jump at the chance to eat some candy. The process takes a few days’ time – just long enough for them to fall under the queen’s sway. By then the queen will have a clear path out of her cage and a hive full of loyal subjects.
I hung the queen cage between two frames in the hive by nailing the attached yellow ribbon to the top of a frame. You can clearly see our queen in the topmost circle with a big white dot of paint on her back.
The queen in place (you can see the yellow ribbon laid across the frames), it was time to dump everybody else into their new home. I took three frames out of the center of the hive body to make room. We sprayed the bees with some bee syrup to calm them down (because they focus their attention on grooming) and clump them together (because they’re really sticky). Since it was a cold day, we went very light on the syrup so as not to chill them.
Also to help the clumping process, I gave the package a gentle but firm whack against the deck to knock them all down onto each other.
And then I shook them out. That’s all it takes – a little bit of shaking and maneuvering, and the majority of them dropped out through that hole and into the hive.
I very gently replaced the frames (don’t want to squish the bees below!) and put the inner cover on. On top of the inner cover we placed a second deep hive body to surround the inverted bee syrup feeder (lifted up on pieces of wood to give the bees room to get to the holes) and the package. Not all of the bees came out, and they’d have a very bad time left out in the cold and the rain. We covered everything up with the telescoping outer cover and got out of there.
On Saturday we’ll go back in to check on the queen and make sure she’s been released and welcomed. If she hasn’t been released, we’ll let her out. If she hasn’t been welcomed, we’ll panic and try to find another queen.
Until Saturday, it’s all up to the bees. I hope they’re warm tonight.