Sunday, April 16, 2017

Baby Beeks

MissB and MisterA have decided to try beekeeping this year. MissB is nearly 13 years old and very excited about the idea of queenrearing. MasterA is 8 years old and likes the idea of encouraging the bees to make him honey.

I ordered a package to supplement the hive that survived from last year. But, last month I wasn't sure if the overwintered bees' queen had made it through, so I ordered an extra. That place had lower prices on packages, so I ordered two more. This worked out well for the children to have their own colonies, and I still had my second hive. Plus, it turns out the queen is laying in the old hive, so I could take a scoop of bees out of each of the three packages to start the spare queen.

MissB and I drove on Saturday, April 15, to pick up all our bees. It was beautiful and sunny! We picked up the first package and watched the beekeeper shake in his package for the demonstration. Then, we drove to the other pickup location and I pocketed the queen and took the packages. He told us to feed the bees, so I told him I planned to spray them with sugar syrup and install the packages the next day. However, it was so sunny and we were only an hour from home, so MissB and I tried to make it home before the rains hit. I'm glad we did.

The closer we got to home, the cloudier the skies were. We had planned to pick up pavers while we were out and just get the bees hived on Sunday, since it was forecast to be sunny and warm. At home, we moved bricks from the apple tree to support the hives, then in a light sprinkle, we set up the hive bodies. The rain cleared and the bees were put in their new homes. The way we put them in, though, was different that the example we'd seen earlier.

There are many ways to hive a swarm or package of bees. The two main ways shown around here are to either shake them in, like we'd seen that day, or to set the package box in the brood box (10-frame deep hive body) and let the bees migrate themselves. Either way, you pull out the queen cage first and set it between two frames. The issue with the first is that it can be rough on the bees, and there is a theory that bees abscond (leave) more frequently from this method. The issue with the second is that the bees might like their nice warm package box and not go to the queen, leaving her to die from cold, and they may make comb in the box which will be taken out, so they have to start over comb building. To keep the queen safe in this method, the package box can be tipped over the queen so a ball of bees will fall onto her. This is still gentler than shaking, and ensures the queen had her needed warmth.

My plan was to start the packages as nucleus colonies (nucs, pronounced nukes). I plan to move to using 8-frame medium boxes instead of deeps, as a 10-frame deep brood box that gets filled with honey can weigh close to 90 pounds. We have some deep and some medium nuc boxes. I had us each set the floor of the hive on the bricks, then a deep nuc box, then spray the bees and set the package inside that. The bees were immediately out of the wind, so the sugar spray wouldn't chill them, and we could manage the top of the box easily. The top box was next to the hive, so after the syrup can that comes in the package was pulled up, the queen could be affixed between top bars and set immediately over the package of bees. If you've ever seen a package, you'll know that the bees are usually forming a swarm ball at the top of the box. Because of this tendency to move upwards, I hoped the bees would move up out of the package to the queen cage. Next goes on the inner cover, the feeder, fill feeder, and cover with the lid. All done.

I did place the extra queen in a medium 10-frame hive body (which will be able to go back to the big hive once everything is transferred later in the week), and gave her about a cup of each of the three packages. This hive has the same type of feeder as the big hive, and the bees are happy to stay in and start building comb.

Sunday afternoon, we were able to get back in the hives and pull out the packages. It was so easy, we didn't have to disturb the bees much at all! I picked up the upper hive body, MissB or MisterA took off the lower hive body, set the package in front of the hive, and I set the box of bees back onto the hive floor. There was less than a quarter cup of bees in any package box, and they migrated into the hive by the end of the day. No shaking beyond the initial one to easily pull the queen cage, and that's not always that necessary when the bees are sprayed so they don't fly much and there's plenty of room to work the frames together since the package is already safe and sound.

It's supposed to rain Monday and Tuesday, so the queens will be checked and probably released on Wednesday. The extra queen may take a few more days to be accepted and able to be released, but we'll see how she's doing. The bees did not appear to be balling her (angrily pressing the cage), so I'm hoping she's accepted and ready to start laying on Wednesday.

I did add a medium super to the big hive a few days ago. They haven't yet begun to make comb in it. I may switch one frame out with a started frame from the nucs to encourage the bees to build in that hive body. They seemed to have fewer bees than before, so I hope that was because the foragers were out on such a nice day, and not because they decided to swarm after being cooped up for so long from the rains! I am feeding all the bees currently. Only the swamp lanterns are in bloom, so, between those and the pine and birch forest, the bees can only retrieve pollen. Once the dandelions are in bloom, the nectar flow is considered to have started and I can super the bees to see if they'll make honey. In my area, bees are said to need two full brood boxes (10-frame deeps) weighing close to 150 pounds to make it through the winter. With the 8-frame mediums, I plan to have a three box brood area (where they raise baby bees), and they may need two boxes full of honey for winter. Any excess beyond those will be for my family to harvest.

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