April 7, 2011

A Bee Story

This might take a little while to tell, so I'll give away the ending right now... We got new honey bees and successfully moved them in to their home! Ok, now the long version -

Last year, in April, we got a box-o-bees. It was a cold, rainy day when we put them in the hive and it didn't get warm for many days after that. Not knowing much about raising bees in the Pacific Northwest, we had purchased a top feeder. It's a tray that fits over the top of the hive; you fill it with sugar water. But it was so cold that the bees never came up the top to feed. They all died.

We purchased a second round of bees. This time we went with a nuc. A nuc is a small, 5 frame, hive that you put simply into the big hive. It was much easier. Also, it was one month later and warm. The bees did great all summer long. They brought the comb out, filled cells with honey and raised lots of little bees. Then in the fall, the weather got cold and rainy. One day we came down to check on the bees and they were all dead. They hadn't left the hive. There was no sign of disease, mites, fungus - nothing. Just thousands of dead bees. It sucked! Sad and discouraged we put the hive and equipment went in the barn for the winter.

So here we are one April later and ready to make another attempt at raising honey bees. The first decision was to change hive's location. Jeremy and my Dad chose a spot near the barn and across the creek that gets direct sun from about noon until 3pm, the rest of the time there is dappled shade. The second decision was to use the frame feeder. Basically, it's a hollow, narrow plastic rectangle that sits down in the hive. The bees therefore don't have to come up the the top to eat. Third, my Dad decided to use a solid base, instead of a screen base, for the hive. This would mean the bees could work less hard to warm the hive.

The bees were set to arrive a week ago - the first weekend of April. However, the unseasonably cold weather in northern California made it impossible for the bees to be brought up. Then this week has been Jordan's spring break and she and headed to the cabin. Ruhl (the honey bee supply store) called to say that the bees would arrive on Thursday and must be picked up by Friday afternoon. Meaning me and my Mom would have to take care of the bees alone.

I got a little panic-y. It's not that I'm that afraid of bees - although being afraid of bees is the most common fear besides public speaking and spiders. But the process of putting them in the hive last year was a little nerve wracking. Bottom line, you have to shake the bees from the box into the hive. And I'm talking about 10,000 bees. Shaking the crap out of thousands of bees it's my idea of a good time. So, I started making inquiries about getting some help. I contacted the Clark County Beekeepers Association and Urban Growth Bounty, from whom we took a class about honey bees. My request was - Could someone please come help me! Desperate I know, but I was desperate. I got speedy and multiple responses. The association sent me some videos and advice. The links to the videos are below. The advice was to calm down. Literally. Everyone who got back to me said that this was simple and I could do it. I did get a few potential takers to come help. But my pride kicked in and I decided that me and my Mom could totally handle this!

Mom and I made the drive to Ruhl in Gladstone, OR on Friday. It was a glorious morning - sunny and warm (well, warm for April in the Pacific Northwest). We picked up our bees. Truly amazing that ten thousand bees can fit in a 18" by 10" by 4" box. After arriving home and having some lunch, we headed down the hive and got to work!

First we got everything out and put on the regalia. Some sexy outfits for sure! Then we read, re-read and re-read the instructions Ruhl sent with the box. In watching the videos, we learned that shaking the bees out is not necessary. Whew! So ... 1) remove five frames. 2) fill the feeder and put in the place of one of the frames. 3) remove the can of sugar water from the box-o-bees and quickly pull the queen out and put the can back in. 4) secure the queen to a frame, using a rubber band (genius). 5) put the queen/frame back in the hive. 6) remove the can of sugar water and put the whole box in the hive. 7) close it all up. No problem! We didn't even get stung.

All done now. The bees were out flying today, making big circles checking out the territory. Crossed fingers that they will survive and make it through the summer, fall and winter. Next spring, with any luck, the hive will be thriving and
we'll have some extra honey to partake in.

The videos about getting bees installed and feeding them:


Amber said...

Looking hot!

Anonymous said...

Great job Mindz. Dad

Mindy said...

@ Dad - Thanks, it was an adventure! Can't wait to peek in on them in the next few days and see how all the little ladies are doing!

@ Amber - Thanks ;-)

robin said...

That is so cool that you got bees. We captured a wild swarm last year but they ditched us. Hopefully this year we can try again and maybe be more successful.