Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A Fresh Look and Another Start

Photos from this post will look different from the last one since spring is finally making an appearance in central Minnesota.  We are starting to see green grass peeking through the brown, the sun warming the days after cool nights, and some Minnesotans wearing shorts at the first sign of a 60 degree high-temp for the day.

All hands were busy helping us get the hives ready last weekend.  The kids are taking a particular interest in helping this year, and we are excited to teach them skills for beekeeping whenever we can.

Mr. Bee made the 90-mile trip yesterday to pick up our four, two-pound packages of Carniolan honeybees, and so it was what we call "Bee Day."

It's hard to describe how lovely it was to hear that humming sound of that many bees again.  This time of year can be frustrating in our area, mostly due to the weather.  We hardly ever know when the snow is really gone or when spring has actually arrived, and we watch as hard as we can for signs of life in plants and trees that have been dormant for what seems like an age.  Once the sun comes out and the trees start to bloom, people tend to be in a better mood. We're all on the cusp of it right now, but the bees just pushed me right into spring happiness yesterday.

The bees have come to us again this year via "Bee Bus," a plastic box that we don't quite prefer but that does the job.  It is fun to pause and look at all of the antennae and legs trying to find their way out - and to know that soon these bees will be busy making their way in our hives.

Being that it is now our fifth year of beekeeping, Mr. Bee and I work pretty quickly together.  He does much more of the work to get things ready and I am generally in charge of the queen cages while Mr. Bee "installs" the new bees.

A question I have been asked a few times this year is: how do you keep the bees from flying everywhere when you put them in?  In short, we don't.  Most bees start to get to work right away, and some start orienting themselves in front of the hive. Many do fly around to check out the area, but bees are very non-aggressive at this point.

This year, we happened to notice the differences in each package in the number of bees surrounding the queen, and after the initial shake-off, how the remaining bees (which we assume are the royal attendants, those dedicated to caring for the queen) attended to each queen.

Here is what it looks like when we remove the queen cage from the Bee Bus...

and here is what the queen cage looks like at first - covered in bees, of course!

Here are my essential tools for getting the queen cage ready to put in the hive: a screw and a marshmallow.  Also pictured is the cork that I had removed from another queen cage.

For background, we receive queens in a small cage with one mesh side.  Since the bees have only recently been assigned to these boxes with the queen, they need time to accept her.  By the time they made the trip to Minnesota, usually from California, this is almost accomplished.  For her safety, I use a screw and take the cork out of the side of her cage and replace it with a marshmallow.  By the time the bees have eaten through, they should have accepted her and she will make her way out and look for comb to start laying eggs.

Here is what the queen cage looks like after an initial shake to get most of the bees off and into the hive box:

We assume that some of these bees are royal attendants, so I don't go out of my way to remove them at this point.  Their job is to care for the queen, so I let them fuss over her.  I remove the cork, smoosh in a marshmallow, and then we hang the cage off of one end of a center frame, so that the queen will be in the best position when she emerges.

Here you can see what this looks like once we put the frames back together.

This time of year, we put on the inner cover and supply some simple sugar syrup until there is nectar available outside...

...and the bees slurp it up with their straw-like tongues.

Winter is hard in Minnesota, but we do enjoy the changing seasons and we learn to find the beauty in each one.  This year, the arrival of the bees and taking the time to work with Mr. Bee reminded me of the hope that comes with the earth coming to life again in the spring. We look forward to sharing updates with you as the beekeeping season progresses!

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