2016-04-21

Bees - A New Bee Keeper - And the Mistakes Made...

Well, I installed bees in three hives today.  It is done.  I am hoping I did not forget some fundamental thing.  However, there is not much I can do at this point other than hope and watch.  So what in the world am I doing messing around with bees?

I actually don't recall what prompted me to start off on the apiary stuff.  As I sit here in the milkhouse (converted to a small living area), eating spaghetti, I have to wonder...  .  I guess it does not matter.  I do recall looking into the colony collapse issue at one point.  Perhaps that got me going.  At any rate, I ended up taking a day long course at the University of Minnesota for beginning bee-keepers.  I was fascinated and impressed with the life-cycle of this little creature.  The way they work together would give Karl Marx a good day.  There is no real leader of the hive.  Everybody just knows what to do when and they go get it done.  The more one learns about bees, the cooler they become.

I purchase a hive, ready to go, on sale to just give it a try.  I then read that it is better to start with two hives.  My wive suggested we just go with three, so that is what we did.  I purchase two more hives in February.  The latter set required some assembly and painting, but nothing involved.  Drive some nails and sling a paint brush was about it.  We also purchased the requisite personal protective gear, and the sundries that go along with taking care of bees.

I went to a couple of the meetings that of the Stillwater Bee Club and found the folks there to be very knowledgeable, friendly and willing to help.  We ordered three 3Lb packages of bees, and wonder of wonders, they showed up on the 18th of April.  I had medical commitments on that day, so the good folks at Natures Nectar were kind enough to let me pick up on the 20th.  That was one of those days.... Dr.s appointment at 10:00AM,  pick up bees around Noon, then drive to Lancaster - a four and a half hour trek.  I was pretty beat by the end of the day...

I slept early and woke up at 4:30AM, putzed around and had a couple of cups of chai.  Fell back asleep for an hour and then got to it at 08:00.  I hauled everything out to the spot at the NE end of the farm where I had determined the hives would do well.  Setting up hives is simple.  One can find instructions pretty much anywhere.  But the devil is in the details.  I forgot my bee suit on the couch up in Minnesota.  Oops!  But here I am with 9Lbs of bees that need to get into the hive.  Well, I guess I will find out if my new, post-transplant immune system still leaves me immune to bee stings.  A funny thing about that... but I will get ot that a little later...

I realized that the bottom boards for the hive had not been painted.  Luckily, I had brought the left-over paint with me.  Weird that would forget the bee suit and remember the paint.... oh well.  I put down the base for the hives, set two deeps on each base, and placed the bee carriers inside.  Mostly so I would not have to haul them around, and I figured they would perhaps start getting used to the location.  Subsequently, I went back up to the main farm and broke out the paint, found an old brush, and painted the bottom boards.  Exterior latex paint skins over quickly on a 70 degree day with a breeze, so I did not have to wait long for the paint to dry.   I fooled around the farm while the paint set up, then loaded back up and went back to the hives.

The hives are a half mile back to the North, way at the end of our land... .  It is a beautiful place, with a forest to the North, and a pasture to the East and the West.  Both pastures have running and standing water in them.  That is good for the bees.  The drive back there is up and down and around fields and hills and swales.  One takes that trip slowly, it is not all that smooth, but it is beautiful all the way.

So there I was with the hives all set, the bees ready to go....and no suit.  I was a bit tentative working that first set of bees.  I got the smoker going and have them a good puff or three then set the smoker on the ground up wind so it would continue to waft burlap smoke over me, the bees and the hive.  Then came the fun part, opening the carrier and literally shaking the bees out of it onto the bottom deep with the frames in it.  Three pounds of bees is a lot of bees, and when they start flying around in a cloud around you, it is a bit disconcerting.   However, they flew about, landing on my bare arms and occasionally on my face or on the brim of my hat.  They would crawl around a bit, lose interest, and fly off.  I did have gloves, so working the queen out of her tiny little isolation cage was not so bad.  The queens care-takers have to be brushed off the little cage she is in, then the plug pulled, and finally the queen shaken down into the deep.  My gloves were literally covered with bees, including up inside the cuffs of the gloves.  I moves slowly and they did not seem to mind me handling them or the queen.  No stings.  Pretty cool!

The second and third hive went a bet faster now that I knew that I was not going to end up being a pin cushion.  Nice slow movements, don't react when they land on you, just let them explore or do whatever it is they want.  They move on after a bit.  One got inside my shirt while was doing the third hive: I had to step back and unzip the shirt to let her escape, which she did without complaint.  No big deal.  I went back and finished the hive.

After all the bees were in their hives and the feeders and pollen patties placed inside the second deep, I hung around to see how they acted.  It was interesting to watch as the cloud of bees slowly but surely found their way to the opening and joined their sisters.  It took about a half hour for them to settle down and just he in, on, or around the hive.  By the time an hour passed, there were only a few outside the hive.

So: my first experience with handling bees went really well, in spite of the fact that I wore dark clothes and had no protection.  Not one sting!!  Beginners luck?  Maybe.  Whatever, I will take it.  I look forward to heading back to the North end of the farm tomorrow to see how they are doing.  I sincerely hope they like their new home.  After all, they did not get a choice in selecting it...  .  It would be good to find that they feel welcome and comfortable here on our Farm....