Package bee installation

Have you wondered how new beekeepers get bees in the first place? Many people have asked if we just set out some boxes and hope to lure them in. If only it were that cheap and easy!

In previous years we installed nuclear colonies, or nucs, which we can talk about some other time. This was our first time getting package bees. Occasionally you might find a company that will literally mail these to you for pick-up at a local post office. Most likely, the postal workers won’t appreciate it. We ordered these through a local business and picked them up in Canandaigua last Saturday afternoon.

The package bees came in a well-ventilated plastic box. Within this box was a can of sugary syrup, 1 caged queen, and 3 pounds of Carniolan bees.IMG_0031First, we followed the advice of several YouTube videos and sprayed the box down with sugar water. This helped the bees concentrate more on eating and cleaning each other off rather than attacking a potential enemy.

Next, we removed the can of sugar water and searched for the queen cage. This is what it looked like when we found it. The worker bees either really like her already, or they just want to eat the sugar candy.

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We picked out a mostly empty frame from last year and strapped on the queen cage with a rubber band. There is “candy” inside that hole you see at the top of the cage which keeps the queen inside. The worker bees will eat the candy, and will eat their way through it until they come face-to-face with the queen. The idea here is that they are given time to get to know her highness, and will hopefully respect her enough to accept her as their queen.

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Next came the fun part. We turned the box over and shook them out of the package until the majority of them were in the deep super. It took a lot of shaking- you’d almost believe they wanted to live in that plastic box forever.IMG_0040

We plan to quickly open up the hive this weekend so that we can remove the rubber band and queen cage.

Here is a link to a very brief video of the seemingly violent shaking that had to be done to get the bees out of the package.

Shaking in the bees

Interesting fact: Carniolan bees are more prone to swarming, so this should be fun.

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God save the queen

We did the spring inspection before picking up our new girls today. I knew they were active, but I was pleasantly surprised at how well they were doing. Those are some worker cells in the top left of this first photo. Can you find the queen?

fullsizeoutput_a4fThere she is! She is seriously beautiful. Look how all of her workers are doting on her.

fullsizeoutput_a51We had to pick up our package bees this afternoon, which meant we needed to clean out one of our dead hives. I chose this one. This is what it looks like when a colony starves over the winter.

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Starvation causes them to drop directly to the bottom board. What was extra gross about this one, is the hive was tipped back a little due to the ground settling, and water gathered in the back of the bottom board. The scent of dead, moldy bees was absolutely foul. They sure had enough honey- in fact we are extracting honey from a few of the full frames they left behind. This was a weak colony, and I was not expecting them to survive.

Interesting fact: I did not get stung today, but I should have with all the time I spent harassing them.

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Not a lazy Sunday for these ladies

fullsizeoutput_a3fThe weather is beautiful, and I had all intentions of doing a spring inspection of our sole surviving hive today, but I pushed it off until it was too late in the day. They are still flying in and out and gathering pollen at 6:30pm, but it is best not to disturb them after 5. This is advice I was given through books, various speakers, and tested with my own stubborn experience. They just want to be left alone after a hard day’s work.

Aren’t they cute?

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Never ending tribulations of beekeeping

This is a pricey hobby. $3,152.63 has been spent on beekeeping supplies since 2014, and we’ve only made about $220 selling honey.

The summer of 2016 began with 4 strong hives. By November there were 3 weak hives, and now spring of 2017 we are starting off with 1 hive which seems to be doing okay. So 75% of the bees didn’t make it, which sadly, is typical.

I know what killed them. The strongest hive took off, or absconded, in the fall because it failed to produce a new queen after its July swarm. The second strongest hive died from starvation- a brief change in temperature over the winter got them to be more active, and they didn’t have the energy to crawl 5 centimeters up to their stored honey once the cold returned. The weakest hive died because of their strength in numbers. They produced no supplemental honey last year, so this was no surprise.

This beekeeping season begins with a goal in mind. We want to begin overwintering nucs and attempt queen rearing so that we can end the cycle of having to buy new queens each year.

Interesting fact: Colony Collapse Disorder was NOT the cause for any of our hives, ever, to die.