Today was the big day I’ve been waiting for. My first hive of bees arrived this morning. Long have I wanted to become a beekeeper. I was checking on everything, hoping I was prepared, as much as I could be, for this new endeavour in the Homegrown Adventure.
I went to the farmer’s market early, they were coming from another island on the first ferry. I had a feeling if I waited until later in the day the bees would be agitated and hot. (We are in the middle of a heat wave here on the west coast) I had the spot all picked out for them, just out from a large fir tree to give them shelter, but out of the shade, so they get sun for most of the day. I had a pallet for a platform, leveled out with rocks, with a slight slope towards the entrance so that there will not be water trapped inside and dampness. This I had been advised to do by Kathy, who has been a beekeeper for over 20 years, and who’s hives are thriving under her care.
I put the bee suit on. I made my bee suit from a white paint suit, elastic pant cuffs over rubber boots, bee keeper’s gloves, a bee keeper’s hat and hood, and went outside to meet my pets, with the fluttery stomach that one might get when meeting a crowd of 30 000, as well as a soveregn monarch whom you need to be accepted by and get along with.
Tom, my bee supplier, had the basic beginnings of a new hive in the back of his truck. a bottom board, one deep super with frames in it, a top part and a top board. There was aslo whats known as a nuc box with 5 or6 frames in it. This was a smaller box with screens in the sides, meant for travelling with bees. He helped immensly with the set up. I was kind of nervous, but have learned when dealing with bees, slow deliberate, careful movements work best.
It is important to keep calm, so that you keep the bees calm during all your interactions with the stinging insects that provide us with honey, pollen and beeswax, and help us grow our food through pollination. They will not sting you unless they feel they have to to protect their queen and hive.
We opened the hive, and heard the vigorous buzzing. Inside were frames, with drawn out comb, some of which had brood, (larve and eggs) in it. Around the outsides of it was some glistening with freshly made honey, not capped yet. These bees had been living in this hive for only about 5 days, and they had done all this work on it so far.
Tom and I inspected all the frames in the deep super, and then took the lid off of the Nuc box. First he picked out a frame, looked at the bees crawling on the comb in a big crowd, showed me one that was slightly bigger than the others. It was a drone, a male bee that lives in hopes of mating with the queen, and generally doesn’t help out around the hive. I was told in the winter to expect to see a pile of them dead outside the hive, because they get the boot in the wintertime, and the other bees will not share honey with them.
We saw a bee emerging from its brood comb,where it had been sealed off as a larve. The wax was being chewed from the inside as the young worker ate her way out of the cell. Her first glimpse of the world happened to be at that moment as we were inspecting the comb. We made eye contact, as she continued to pull her large, new body from the saftey of the sealed wax cell where she’d spent her entire existance so far. Here was one bee that might already recognize me as her keeper. I was advised to wear the suit for the first little while until the bees and I get to know each other.
In the July heat, Tom advised me to put a flat dish of water somewhere close to the hive. I would have to put a jar of sugar syrup upside down on two sticks inside the hive to feed them. I would have to do this in the evening, once the day cooled off.
It was on the second to last frame that we put in the hive where we saw the queen. About an inch long, and swollen, she looked strong and healthy as she presided over other bees. Guards were buzzing noisily at us as we carefully moved that one frame she was on into the hive. It was the moment in the whole hive instillation where they were the most agitated. Tom was actually impressed with how calm they were through out the whole process otherwise. They were just guarding the queen, carefully, as they had been born to do, such loyal subjects. I named the queen bee Beatrice, a regal sounding name that often gets shorted to Bee. The queen went in the hive, along with the last frame of bees. Tom removed the screen over the entrance, and there they were, set up in their new home. We left the Nuc box, which still had a few hundred bees clinging to the sides of it, beside the hive.
We could see some bees leaving the hive, flying in a circle as they rose above it to orient themselves to its location and surroundings. I became aware of all the flowers in my yard, the dandlions and clover in the lawn, the tiny clover I had planted in the newly cleared areas in hopes of greening it up and providing a food supply to the bees I hoped to get, the wildflowers in the bushes.
Tom went back to the farmer’s market to sell honey and produce, and I drank a cup of coffee watching my bees flying out of their hive. I hope their queen is safe, and that they all will return at nightfall or whenever. Long live the queen. May she not have gotten accidently squished when we put her frame in the deep super. I wonder to myself when I should check them again, and when I should make a point of looking for her. Probably not tonight when I put the sugar syrup in.
I have been told that this hive may need to be split within 30 days, because it is multiplying rapidly and raising a lot of brood, then I will have 2 hives started. Which I would like very much to have happen. Also, to mix the syrup 2/3 sugar to 1/3 water, and add a little bit of honey to it.
In the baking sun of the hot afternoon, I see very little activity around the hive. I hope they haven’t just all scattered loose into the world never to return, that my bees will be there in their home, to grow and prosper.
May the hive prosper and thrive
Long live the queen!