Moving Honey Bees-Take 1

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We headed down the country roads at dusk, watching the colors change across the horizon, mountains and trees becoming shadows.  We still have a bit of work at the old house to do.  We still have the basement and the garage to clean out and some spiffing up around the property before we send back the keys.  One thing we still needed to move was the bees.  I suppose we have been procrastinating.  We went at night certain that they would all be enveloped around their queen, their gentle rumble keeping the hive warm.  We would simply staple a bit of screen on the door and be out of there before they became wise.  Imagine our surprise when ten or so guard bees still walked the front of porch of the top bar hive.  Not sleepy in the least.

We didn’t come prepared with a ready to go smoker since we thought the kingdom was going to be asleep.  We took the empty smoker sheepishly over to our neighbor’s house and asked for a lighter and something to burn in it.  In her backyard she gave us some old woodchips and held out a handful of leaves and we went back over to the hive.  We had our suits on and a flashlight, which just seemed to wake the bees up more.  We started the smoker and a strange smell came out of it.

I said, “It smells like pot.  What did she give us?”  Doug leaned in to see.

“I burnt my sinuses!” he exclaimed, jumping back.

“Why did you put your face so close to the smoker?!”

We were manic.  Apparently moving thousands of bees isn’t a common activity for us.  We don’t smoke pot, but if there were a good time to start, last night would have been it.

The smoke was hot.  Too hot and I rather fear that I burnt the first layer of bees through the hive door.  We were just panicked.  Doug quickly stapled some screen onto the door and as we looked up we saw that around the roof of the hive there were several open areas.  We both took a good, deep breath and planned our next move.  We each got on one side and tried to lift it.  We made it six inches up when Doug said to put it down.  Who would have thought that several thousand wee bitty bees and their honey would weigh so much!  We agreed that we have no idea what we are doing and disappointedly went home, now certain that no one would be stealing our bees.

We need to call in reinforcements.

A Trip to a Medieval Village (our bee hive)

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There has been so much activity in the medieval kingdom (our bee hive that is) that I thought I better have my friend and mentor, Brett, come over and translate what is going on.  It has been four months since we first got our hive.

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After donning our suits and smoking the hive entrance to hide our intruding scents, we opened the roof.  Fifteen slats were being filled with comb, honey, and brood.

Doug and Brandon got some amazing pictures. You can actually see the pollen on the bees' legs here.

Doug and Brandon got some amazing pictures. You can actually see the pollen on the bees’ legs here.

The bees have capped the comb over the brood.  The flat clearer cells are worker bees and the puffier cells that are lower on the comb are drones.  The drones are the only boys in the hive.  They have one job, make out with the queen.  Come winter they shall be ousted from the kingdom.  All the workers are girls.  It is definitely a matriarchal society in this village.

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We also can see honey in the frames closest to the door.  We will save fifteen slats for the bees to get through winter.  Hopefully we can get a little wild herb honey for our winter tea.

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SAM_0052 Looks like the Queen is alive and well.  All hail the queen!

Chronicles of a Nervous New Beekeeper (with a top bar hive)

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I happened to be sifting through Facebook when I noted that my friend, Luis, who I went to the bee keeping class with was excitedly announcing that he was picking up his bees that morning.  …What?  I checked my email, but did not have an email telling me to do the same thing.  Others were talking about their soon to be filled hives as well and I began to panic.  I called the bee company and sure enough, mine were in a parking lot an hour away.  I had until noon to retrieve them.  Doug had just woken up and I was in a manic scurry.  What do we do??  The bees are coming!!

Despite the books and the class and badgering my poor mentor, Brett, with questions, I felt completely unready.  It did not feel like bringing home baby ducks.  A bit more could go wrong with 10,000 new bees.  I called Brett.  What do we do??  The bees are coming!!

Brett is the epitome of calm and collected.  He is a handsome, shy, eighteen year old who knows everything about bees.  He would come over after he installed his three hives.  I acted as if I were preparing for a baby to come home.  What do I need?  I pulled our bee jackets and veils from the packages and laid them out on the table.  My bee keeping book useless to me at the moment since nothing I could find helped me figure out a top bar hive.

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Do I need the smoker?  Brett would see how the bees were, but probably not.  (Too bad in hindsight, I still have no idea how to use it and I will have to go out and check on their sugar water!)

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I made the sugar water as he instructed.  50/50 water and sugar until dissolved.  Don’t burn it!

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I filled a five gallon bucket with water near their hive and floated wine corks for balance.

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I put the sugar water in a Tupperware container with lots of rocks and twigs so we don’t drown on our first day at the new digs.

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The bees arrived in the back of the Volvo.  Doug went by himself in case we had a few escapees and the baby in the back seat together.  None did and they were pretty preoccupied with freeing the queen.  Bees are ever so medieval.  I rather love that.

Finally our knight in shining armors arrived.  An unknowing neighbor looking on would suspect a fencing match or a trip to the moon with five of us wandering about in our bee suits.  Brett and his father, Lance, got right to work with photographer brother, Brandon, helping and taking pictures at the same time.  We were really much more in the way, so Doug took pictures as well and I stood nearby in the cacophony of bees taking in that mesmerizing sound.  I was not scared in the least in my bee suit.  They were not interested in me and I have never heard that many bees.  It was really quite magical.

First they took off the can glued into the top that holds sugar syrup for the ride over the mountains.  A few bees got out but gravitated towards the box.  They did not want to leave the queen.  A few got crushed when the cardboard came down and covered the hole.

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The queen was dangling in a box anxious to see her new kingdom.  It was held onto the carton of bees by a piece of metal.  Brett deftly (in large leather gloves even) took the box and stapled it to one of the top bars with a staple gun.  This was after he took out the cork and replaced it with a tiny marshmallow that the workers can eat through.

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One wouldn’t release the queen immediately as the kingdom may not be pleased and promptly kill her.  It takes awhile for her scent and the bees to all get to know each other and realize that they are family.  By the time the marshmallow is gone, it will be like they were never apart.

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Now at this point we were taught to bang the box down so all the bees fall to the bottom then dump it upside down into their new apartment complex.  Brett finds it easier to cut the screens with a sharp knife rather than try to fit everyone through the hole on top.

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Then they are turned upside down and literally poured into the hive.  If you could envision the sound of a “pfoomph”.  And the bees were in.  Now they are everywhere and Brett and Lance carefully replaced the top bars.

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Immediately the bees went to work.  Some had their backsides in the air calling the bees home that had run off.  Some were cleaning the dead bees out of the hive that didn’t make it.  The clamor of bees making a home was fascinating.  They had no interest in us whatsoever.  Just in making their new pink house a home.

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