"Installing" Our Packages of Bees

"Installing" is the term commonly used to describe the process of transferring a package of bees (normally a 3-pound box of about 10,000 bees, plus a queen in a separate container) into the hive body in which the colony will live out its life—whether that structure is a top bar hive (shown below) or a Langstroth hive.But "installing" seems like the wrong word—it's so machine-age, so icy. In reality, the process is thrilling, exhilarating, scary, amazing, and humbling, at least for this still-new-to-it-all beekeeper with only two hives to fill and all the time in the world to experience the sense of wonder and awe that proximity to honeybees accords. So let's go with the less automaton-like verb, "hiving"—it's more precise, anyway.

Happy differences between hiving our bees in this, Year 2, as compared to last year:

  • My entire body wasn't trembling with fear;
  • I managed not to drown a million bees in the process of getting them into the hive; and
  • the weather cooperated (last year, a serious nor'easter approached as we raced to get the bees in, fed, and settled).
The other big difference this year was that Wren hived her first package. She did great—very cool and collected, and got most of the bees into the hive very well. Did a better job of it than I did: far more bees in and got them in calmer. (Something about hiving bees scrambles my mental circuitry. That's me below, doing the Etch-a-Sketch Rag—a not-recommended way of getting bees out of the box and into the hive body. I definitely need to work on my technique!)

Still, the bees made it in relatively unharmed, if somewhat "shaken up"....
Earlier that day, we'd left Brooklyn to pick up our two packages of bees from our new friend Andrew, purveyor of Andrew's Local Honey from Silvermine Apiary in Connecticut.A man of many talents and seemingly inexhaustible energy, Andrew's also started a cool new organization called Bees Without Borders, whose mission is to provide beekeeping skills that can help alleviate poverty throughout the world. Check it out and consider making a donation to help this worthwhile effort get off the ground. (Read the Village Voice article about Andrew here.)
Andrew provided all the bee-buyers (most of them totally new to beekeeping) with a great demonstration on hiving a package.
He showed us how to carefully remove the queen cage from the package.He showed us the queen cage, where the queen (the reproductive key to the colony's survival) is cared for by a few workers until the colony accepts her "queen substance" and releases her by chewing through the tiny candy plug that keeps her safely ensconced for a few days.
He showed us how to gently spray sugar syrup to keep the bees calm and a bit distracted prior to the hiving process. ("A pint to a pound the whole world 'round" refers to the syrup recipe beekeepers use: 1 pint water to 1 pound of granulated sugar.)
He demonstrated how to carefully remove the can of syrup that the bees travel with, which leaves a baseball-sized hole through which the bees are then shaken into the hive.

He showed us how to get the bees in.
Lots of bees in the air, lots of excited giggles and nervous questions and awe-stricken expressions and worries about getting stung (which didn't happen). It was great to see so many people taking an interest in bees and taking the plunge into the world of beekeeping—an addictive pastime if ever there was one.

Everyone was blown away by how the bees, once they sense the queen's presence inside the hive—and once some of the bees begin signaling "this is home!" using pheromonic communication, begin to march in the front entrance en masse, as shown here.

During Andrew's demonstration, Wren rescued a honeybee that was having difficulty extricating herself from a little puddle on top of one of the hives.

Inside the house, we got a look at Andrew's impressive honey collection, with samples from around the world.
After he finished educating all us newbees, Andrew was going to hive these packages for his family's apiary. I think he planned to hive about 100 packages after we left. Like I said: a lot of energy in that guy! Thanks, Andrew! May your bees—and all bees—live long and prosper.


Thew said...

Where does he get his energy? The man is obviously honey-powered.

Anonymous said...

===I like the Top-bar design!


Linda T said...

Great job - loved seeing the pictures of hiving the bees as well as the demo. Good luck with the new hives. I hope they stay happy and make lots of honey.