Her Majesty

The most important part of hiving a package is making sure the queen is installed safely in her new home. Before a package of bees is shipped, the queen is placed carefully in a queen cage, so she’s protected on the journey, and so the beekeeper can find her among the two pounds of bees in the package.  Once I had the workers dumped into the hive, it was time to say hello to Her Majesty.

Queen Cage

She was really active, running all over the queen cage as if she was showing off for us.  This is a great sign-you want a queen who is young and sprightly, because she has a lot of work ahead of her!

My next  goal is to get the queen into the hive safely, so she won’t fly away or get hurt somehow.  Most people are pretty experienced when it comes to squishing bugs, but when you have one very special insect that you absolutely cannot squish or allow to get away, but really, really don’t want to sting you, there’s a handy procedure to follow.

opening queen cage

The queen cage is solid wood on four sides, has one open side covered with screen, and one end with a hole drilled in it, and plugged with a cork.  I used a tiny nail to loosen up the cork, waited for the queen to skitter down to the opposite end of the cage, quickly pulled the cork out, and covered it with one gloved finger.  Unlike every other bee in the hive, the queen can sting as many times as she wants, so I don’t want to take a chance with a bare finger here!

Uncorking Queen Cage

Then I took a deep breath, and grabbed the mini marshmallow I’d brought along for the occasion.  With a little squishing, it plugs up the hole perfectly.  The queen is still stuck in the cage, but the bees will eat the marshmallow and let her out in a few hours.

queen cage with marshmallow

We pounded a small nail into the top of one of the frames so I could attach the queen cage with a bit of wire.  I don’t want to take any chances that the queen cage will fall to the bottom of the hive, or that the queen will get stuck inside, so positioning is pretty important.

Inserting queen cage

This might be the last time I see the queen face to face, so I take one last look, and then tuck her inside.

wired queen cage

With the queen inside, it’s time to close up the hive.  I brush as many bees inside as I can, put the inner cover on the hive, and add the pails of sugar syrup, upside down, so the bees will have something to eat right away.

Closing Hive

I’ve already put a specially made piece of wood in the front of the hive to reduce the entrance, so my small colony will be able to defend itself if mice or other bees come sniffing around, and the last thing I do is plug up that reduced entrance with grass, so the bees inside can’t leave right away.  Keeping them in the hive for a while, and keeping the queen in her cage for a few more hours makes it more likely that they will accept their new home, and not decide to vacate the premises and look for a better spot.  The bees will pull the grass out of the way before tomorrow morning, but by that time, they should have decided that this house will be sufficient for their needs, and ready to go look for nectar.

enterance and grass

That’s it! The bees are installed, and I get to go home with a smile on my face.  I’ll come back in a few days to make sure the queen got out of her cage,  but my work here is done!

Next time: Beekeeping tools

Published in: on 7 May 2009 at 2:10 am  Comments (2)  
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Hiving the Package

So I’ve got bees, a hive, and all those supplies, and now it’s time to put them together.

I pull out four of the frames so there will be a place to put all the bees, and spray them really well with the sugar syrup.  This keeps them from flying too easily, and makes my job a lot simpler!

Bee Equipment

The next step is to make sure the sugar can in the package is loose, then take a deep breath, and bonk the package firmly on a hard surface so the bees fall down.

Bonked Bees

Once that happens, you can see the cage holding the queen (it’s attached to the little metal tab to the left of the can in the photo above), but the bees are starting to crawl back up, so I need to hurry.  I pull out the sugar can, set it aside, and wiggle the queen cage free.  I was lucky enough to have a helper, and I handed the caged queen to her.

I’m a little slow, and by the time I had that done, the bees were crawling all over the sides of the cage again, so I bonked them one more time before dumping and shaking them into the hive.

Dumping bees

Shaking a box of bees is a little disconcerting, but they tumble right out and mostly land in the hive. A few of them are flying around at this point, but they’ll find their way home on their own.

Finally, it’s time for the most important bee in the hive, her Majesty the queen.

Her Majesty

This post is getting a little long, so I’ll explain what we do with her next time!

Published in: on 1 May 2009 at 4:52 am  Leave a Comment  
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They’re Here!

The bees made it here yesterday and were installed in their hive without a hitch.  Over the next couple days, I’ll show you what it’s like to install a package of bees in a new hive.

First things first.  Bees need something to eat when they move to a new hive, so before they arrived,  I heated about 2 gallons of water on the stove, then mixed in about 8 pounds of white sugar once it was close to boiling and stirred until everything was dissolved.  This is called light syrup, and it’s what beekeepers feed to their bees in the spring.  If they need food in the fall, I’ll use about twice as much sugar in the same amount of water.

Once it’s ready, the syrup goes into two pails and a spray bottle.

Here’s the syrup cooling on my front steps.

Sugar pails & sprayer Sugar Syrup

The pails will go inside the beehive, upside-down and the bees will be able to crawl under and get a drink.  There are tiny holes in the lids, and the bees can drink from them without the syrup flooding out and getting the hive wet.

Here’s a lid so you can see what I mean.

Pail lid

Once they were cool, I left the syrup pails by the hive, and took the spray bottle along when I picked up my bees.

Tomorrow: picking up a package of bees!

Published in: on 26 April 2009 at 7:41 pm  Comments (2)  
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Ordering Bees

Today I mailed a check for $64.00 to Nature’s Nectar to reserve a two pound package of honeybees. They should arrive in late April, and will go straight into the hive in the garden.  I have plenty to keep me busy before they arrive-I have to check all my equipment, hang the “Warning: Bee Hive” signs on the fence, and buy about ten pounds of white sugar and some pollen substitute so the girls will have something to eat when they arrive.

The bees will be at the end of a long journey when they get to our beehive; days before I see them, the folks from Nature’s Nectar pick up hundreds of packages of bees in California, load them onto a truck, and drive to Stillwater, Minnesota, where a lot of excited beekeepers will be waiting to meet them.

Once we pick up our packages, it’s important to make their transition to their new home as smooth as possible, so most beekeepers will have a spray bottle of sugar water to give their new bees a little extra food to eat while they’re making the last part of their journey home.  When I pick up my bees, I’ll bring them straight to the community garden, where I will have a pail of sugar water and a pollen patty waiting for them to eat once I tuck them into their new hive.

More updates and photos to come as I get ready to bring the bees home!

Published in: on 25 March 2009 at 8:14 pm  Leave a Comment