Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Bees have Arrived!

One nuc (short for nucleus) anyway. The other will hopefully be ready within the next week, depending on the weather and how the queen is laying.

The install went really well, all things considered. Of course, my bee brush has gone missing, and I had a bit of trouble keeping the smoker going. I'm going to need to practice on that one. So there were the inevitable snags. (Jules is taking the photos with the zoom lens.)

Above, I'm smoking the nuc's front entrance slightly to settle the bees before moving them to the ground. The box sat on top of the hive overnight with an open entrance so the bees could orient and explore the area in the morning. Bees will actually recognize their own hive based on visual cues, so giving them time to associate with this new location is important.

Although I look a bit squeemish in the photo to the left, I'm actually searching for the queen and trying to get in the habit of holding the frame carefully. I'm hoping eventually to move to foundationless frames, which require more gentle handling than hives with an anchored installed foundation (i.e. the beeswax/ plastic sheet that establishes the pattern for the honeycomb, which you can see in leaning against the hive in the lower right corner of the photo below). I was able to find the queen on this frame before I inserted it into the hive.

All together, the nuc was 4 frames full of bees, brood, and honey. The idea behind a nuc is that it basically is the nucleus of an active hive, giving the new hive a leg up on a package of bees who will still need to build comb, lay eggs, etc. The downsides of nucs are that they are a bit more expensive, and they have a greater risk of bringing along infestations and diseases.

After installing all four frames and knowing the queen is already in the hive, I dumped the remaining bees into the hive much as one would install a package of bees. There were many, many bees, but I still have no sense of just how many. I imagine I'll get better at estimating that over time.

Once everyone was either in the hive or at least out of the box, I installed the remaining frames on either side of the brood nest and used my hive tool to gently slide the frames together to preserve bee space, or the space which bees will respect and neither seal up because it's too small nor build comb in because it's too big. By this point, there were several bees flying around though none seemed particularly aggressive. Mostly they seemed curious, checking me out definitely, but not attacking.

Throughout the install, the bees had only the initial bit of smoke because I wasn't going to stop in the middle to work on the smoker. I just concentrated on moving smoothly and slowly, being as gentle as possible with the bees. Jules had found a soft paintbrush for me that worked in a pinch, and I was able to use that to brush the bees out of the way as best I could so as to injure as few as possible. I will definitely need to find that bee brush or order a replacement! Here they are on the hive immediately after the install. While it looks like a lot, it's really not.

I really liked my suit, and that definitely helped me to feel relaxed while working with the bees. The hood stood off my face nicely and wasn't difficult to see through at all; having my hair up, though, was essential. I was able to use some Christmas money from my mother-in-law to purchase mine. Jules has already said she wants to order her own suit so she can come out with me, and Em and Sam are considering doing the same (G.W.'s spending incentives at work!). Sam kept telling me how proud he was of me because I was so brave to work with the bees. What a sweetie! Emily hung back a bit, armed with the binoculars so she wouldn't miss anything and quite interested considering her fear of bees.

What I really want to get... but not until next year... is an observation hive. Maybe we'll even get confident enough to try our hand at building our own top bar observation hive.


Christy said...

Oh how cool! Congratulations. You'll have to tell me what suit you got. Bee supplies will be my Christmas present from everyone this year so I can get them next spring. The one I wore when I was at my uncle's didn't have a hood that fit me so it kept falling in my face.

Laura H said...

I really want to get started with bee's but I have no idea how? Did you have a bee guy help you or did you order everything on the internet? It looks like from what I have been reading that you want to have a used brooder box? But where would some one find something like this. Also do you think its too late to get started this year?

El said...

Yay! (I'd say suits were a better use of that money than a Wii but...I'm no kid.) I tried to get a nuc last year from my bee guy but they'd vanished but one hive. Poor man. It's the major way he makes his money. I called him this year and he still needs another year of rebuilding before he's ready to sell. Just as well considering how many irons I have in the fire right now ;) So: do you need to paint the hives white, or are they okay (not going to broil) in that MD heat? I'm otherwise really interested in your newest endeavor so please keep us updated!

Verde said...

All Right! I'd love to get bees but I suspect it won't be this year. I'm trying to learn the language and tool for now.

It looks beautiful. How far are you from the house? Do you have bears in the area?

Danielle said...

Christy, I went with the master bee suit from Brushy Mountain, and I really like the hood. They also do just a jacket rather than the whole suit.

Laura, I took a beginner's course through the local bee club, though I ended up not going to all the sessions. I'd definitely recommend hooking up with your local or regional club, though I've found that there's not a lot of local knowledge or support about organic beekeeping. So, all of that is coming from books and online sources for me.

I wouldn't recommend buying used equipment unless you're very, very sure it doesn't come with any diseases. Some diseases like American foul brood, can't be eradicated and the equipment needs to be burned. The top bar hives are more economical if cost is a factor, and some argue that they're more "natural" as well because they mimic the wild hive structure.

El, I'm inclined to agree with you about the $$, but the kiddos get to choose. I think they'll have loads of fun with a Wii, but I think it's cool, too, that they want to spend it on other things as well.

I stained my hives rather than painting them. I just like it better aesthetically. No, the bees should have no problem with the heat. Folks paint hives all sorts of colors and even do murals on them. Some are quite lovely.

Verde, the hives are located far out on the edge of our pasture. We occasionally have bears in our area, but our perimeter is fenced pretty well. I don't think we'll have bear issues, though we could have skunk or other smaller predator issues.

Vicki said...

You are awesome! DH has done all bee things around here but realizing we are behind with expanding the hives. I know it's my turn. As a matter of fact I told DH that's what I want to do this weekend.

I don't have a suit but do have the hat. It looks pretty good.

We've got 3 hives to expand. We lost one this winter due to the lid getting blown off despite that fact we had a rock on top. Before we knew what had happened, the hive got wet inside and froze.

Ren said...

Yay!! I'm so glad you got them up and feels so good doesn't it?:)
I need to add to mine but it will have to wait until we get back home from Boston. Congrats!

Jenny said...

We got two top bar hives complete with bees last week as a trade for stud service from our ram. Today I spent the morning at a friend's house learning all about how to manage them, so tomorrow I'll get into our new hives to see how they are doing. We've already been seeing the bees in our garden and pasture!

Teri said...

How soon after establishing a bee colony can you expect to start gathering honey? We're eager to start bees but wonder how much we need to provide enough for our family of 6. We need to begin our research... BTW- we did have a HUGE Africanized colony removed from one of our outbuildings last year. The beekeeper who removed them said he'd never seen one so big. Quite an adventure.

Teri said...
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