Thursday, May 10, 2018

Bee Day 2018

Last fall was a very busy time for us. We had many things going on, and although we harvested our honey and kept our best hopes for the bees to winter, we didn't get to spend as much time closing out the season as we would have liked.  One hive made it through January, and no hives made it all the way through our long, long winter.

As I have said, our winter was long here in central Minnesota.  It always feels long in February and March, but it really was long this year.  One local company had bee pickup in April and there was a blizzard the next week!  Our beekeeping mentor had his bees arrive with that shipment, and (to his wife's dismay) he kept those girls down in their basement for a couple weeks until the terrible weather passed.  Well, winter finally did pass by, and we are smitten with Minnesota again.  Sunshine and green is what we really needed to see.

In my last post, I explained that we were waiting for "nucs" of Italian honeybees this year - each including an already-established, laying queen and four frames of honeybees and brood in one, waxed cardboard box.  Mr. Bee has been working hard to get all of the hive components ready for our two nucs, which we hope will grow fast enough to be split into four hives total. Not only did spring arrive, but the moment we were waiting for arrived. Yesterday our bees came, which is what we call Bee Day!

Here is a photo of the two nucs in a large, drawstring net.  The net is what my husband called "invaluable," since the bees can leave the nuc box, and if it's in your vehicle at the time, that's a problem.  No problem here!  Do you see how he also tucked them in so that they wouldn't be too jostled or tip over during travel? A must.

Honeybees that arrive in a nuc instead of a "package" (a mesh-sided box that you dump in) are generally a bit more aggressive during installation because they have more to lose.  They have their own queen, their own brood to take care of, their own home.  When we take the frames out of the cardboard box to install them into the hive box, we are disrupting their home and their work.  We always strive to have all our supplies and tools ready before we open a hive, and so we took extra care again this year to make the transition as smooth and fast as possible.

Here is a look at what we had ready for each hive; the bottom board, the hive box, outer frames filled with honeycomb from last year (food for the new bees), a space for the new frames to go into easily (important), extra frames to fill the box, and the inner and outer covers.  You will also see the smoker in the corner.  We had this available in case the bees needed settling down.

Once everything was ready, we carried the boxes and net closer and Mr. Bee took out one nuc at a time.

I did not take any photos when we installed the first nuc since those bees seemed upset about the whole thing. We saw a BEAUTIFUL brood pattern, which I did not get a photo of, and which explains why they were more aggressive.  We were very happy to see the frames covered in brood and we were happy when we got the lid on and the bees started filing in at the entrance.  

I did get photos of those bees at the entrance, since we could see some bees at the front got in formation to fan pheromones out to let the other bees know where to enter. See the bee butts pointed out and up?  That means they are fanning that pheromone out from the entrance and away. It is much like them sending out a very certain signal to say, "We are over here!"  Within minutes, most of the bees had found the entrance and went in to get to work.

One of my favorite photos from the day is this girl, working hard to signal to the other bees:

I did get a couple photos from the second nuc we installed, since they were in a better mood.  Mr. Bee took two frames at a time, lifted them up and directly to the hive box, where we placed them in the exact order they had in the nuc box.

Hives have temperament differences, so that may be a factor, but I wondered if this hive was calmer because they did not have as nice of an established brood.  You can see it closer in the photo below. We would like to see many fewer "empty spaces" between the capped ones, but we will wait just a little bit to see if this is a consistent problem for this queen or this hive.

Each hive was filled with the remaining empty frames, and then the inner cover.

We placed an extra box of honey and empty for the bees to have for food and space, but we blocked it off for now. Here are our two new hives:

It was very peaceful to, once again, just sit and watch them acclimate. I even spotted this girl, covered in pollen.

We also left a jar of honey and a gift for Mr. T, who graciously allows us to have our bees on his property.  He is the brave man who rides his lawn mower past the hives a couple times a year! He deserves many thanks, but this ceramic spoon rest I made will have to do for now.

We love being beekeepers, and we are looking forward to sharing another season with you.  I hope to learn and share more about particular bee behaviors, and I hope you will enjoy being along for the adventure of learning!