One step forward and five steps backwards

Not again

The bucholic romance of being a farmer is best experienced while sitting in front of a cozy fire, glass of wine in hand, READING and DREAMING about it.  The realities are more of a harsh buzz kill than most would want to deal with.  Honestly, I have to admit, most of my experience falls in the romancing category!  Self awareness is a good thing. When waxing eloquent to a real farmer about planting that huge hedge of pretty lavender or the aesthetic detail of your deer fence or raising angora goats because they are so soft and cute, expect to get a blank stare from them and a look that quite clearly tells you that they think you are mildly DAFT and just don’t understand the first think about what you are getting into!

Yes, the reality is that you quickly learn what matters and what doesn’t.  You also learn that you have to be able to constantly fix things that are breaking down or are not working properly for one reason or another.  Either that, or have gobs of money to pay for constant repairs. So on one recent day, with a limited amount of time as usual, I thought I would do the simple task of mowing about an acre of grass before it become totally unmanageable.  Also, as I’ve mentioned before, if you let it go too long here the Beastly Blackberries will rule and take over the universe.

So, proving things to be as they generally are……this simple task turned into and all day repair session on the lawn tractor. (again). This, along with truck and trailer repairs all had to be done in order to even begin the actual work for the day. The good news is, as other novice  farmers or anyone living in a rural area will tell you, it pays to have good neighbors! In this case our wonderful and mechanically inclined friend next door came to the rescue and saved the day…….(again)!

Now …….what was that I was daydreaming about!

Bee’s arrive!

We finally got our bee’s….it was all very exciting! They came from California and had been cooped up, lierally for days in these cage like boxes.  Our friends and Bee mentors at Ballard Bee Co. had hundreds of these bee boxes ready to go to their new homes. Its is encouraging to see so many people now taking up bee keeping ….it may help off set the colony collapse disorder that’s been happening. Let’s hope more and more people become bee keepers so we can still eat oranges, almonds and all kinds of other things that depend on pollination ten years down the road from now.

Bee's in their transport boxes

Inside each box, is a smaller box holding the Queen. The bee’s all congregate around her forming a hanging clump in the center of the box. The buzzing sound is intense, several of the bee’s had escaped and were clinging to the outside of the box, trying to get back in. We really didn’t want to deal with them flying around our car on the way out to the farm so we had to gently give them the brush off.

Setting up

There are lots of parts and pieces of equipment to set up and have on hand BEFORE you let the bee’s out of their box. Especially because in our location we are positioning the hives up on top of our wood storage barn, away from those pesky honey loving bears.

Donning our protective clothing

The next step is to put on protective clothing that is incredibly flattering and slimming. Ha. The bee’s don’t like dark colors and get less agitated if you wear white.  I did tuck my jeans into my boots but really dont feel that I need an entire bee suit to do this. We also decided to not use the smoker and really, didn’t even seem to need it.

Preparing to open the bee box

Lucky for me, my friend and neighbor is an experienced Bee Keeper.  She was excited to help me get the hives started and as I found out…..this process is really a two person job. The first hive we install are the Cornelian bee variety.

Feeding can

There is a feeding can filled with sugar water for the bee’s to feed on during transportation.  Needless to say, the bees really like hanging out right at this area. This has to be pried out and the left over sugar water can be mixed into their new feeder inside the hive, this way they will sense that the new hive is familiar .

Letting the bee's out

The tricky part is to open the box and by some miracle dump the writhing, swarming bee’s into the hive. Meanwhile they are getting more and more agitated.  There are a LOT more bee’s flying around us than you can see in these photos.

The box is open

For the first hive install, we pried the frame and mesh off of one side of the box and gently talked the bee’s into cooperating. Not a chance! All hell breaks loose at this point but we stayed calm and carried on.

Now the bee's are not so happy

We are shaking the box to try and get the bee’s to let go and move into the box. They are mostly confused and are not trying to sting us at all, however,  it does provoke a bit of anxiety to be in such a buzz swarm.

The Queen in her box

After most of the bees are out we can reach in and remove the smaller box containing the Queen. She is much bigger than all the other bees and we are relieved to find her moving around and most definitely alive. The bee’s have gotten used to her pheromones over the past couple of days, all cooped up together, and they really want to stay close to their Queen. Isn’t it amazing that they just know to do this.

Using the bee brush

As we are installing the Queen, mass chaos is happening and all of the confused bees try and go everywhere. Her small box is attached inside the hive by tacks and will be removed later.

Marshmallow plug

Here I’m removing the cork and then plugging the hole of the Queens box with a small marshmallow. The other bee’s will feed on this sugary treat for a few more days as they try and get closer to the queen. Once they eat it all, they will all be used to each other peace will reign and there will be no rouge disputes with the Queen.

The Italian bee hive

During the second hive installation of the Italian bees, we decided to remove the Queen first and install her in the hive, then shake the others in with her. It makes sense that the other bee’s would follow more easily that way. This was easier said than done but did prove to be the better sequence for us. More of the bee’s stayed in the hive this way rather than when we put them in the hive first and then added their Queen. Although, that could just be a difference in behavior between the Italians and Cornelians. Their entire motivation is to look for the Queen at this point and so if she is missing in action even for a moment,  it creates confusion.

Installing the Italian Queen

The hive has frames inside it we are attaching the Queen in her box between the frames. During this second hive install, the marshmallow plugging procedure went awry.  Two bee’s got inside the box with her as we were replacing the cork with the marshmallow.  Moment of panic ensues because we think they may all kill each other. If you have no Queen, you have no hive. So, we quickly decide to forget the marshmallow and just let them all go in together, rather than trapping them in the small cage. Whew, that was fun.

The Italians go in

This part went smoothly, you can see masses of bee’s falling down into the hive here. It was nearly impossible to get them to all come our of the box.

All done!

The Cornelians on the right as still confused and keep going back into their travel box and on the outside of their hive. We tried numerous times to re-shake masses of them back into the hive to no avail. We ended up leaving them to figure it out on their own, the Queen is inside and when the sun goes down we are hoping they find their way inside. You can see the other Italian hive on the left has most all of the bee’s inside it. They are going for flights, but are less confused about what’s going on.

I can hardly wait to go check on them in a week!