we lost our bees at the house this winter. we knew we wanted to replace them, though i think ma and i had different reasons for wanting to do so, ma cause she actually like taking care of the bees and their fascinating behaviour, and i cause i like watching them go in and out of the hive. really, that’s my favorite thing about having the bees nearby. the honey is good too, and the mead we make from it, but really the focus of my desire is just watching those little fuzzy ladies going in and out of their hive.
so this last week we installed a couple new packages. it wasn’t without it’s issues, for what ever reason the packages had a higher than normal number of dead bees, making their presence a bit smelly in the front hall. it was sort of hard to drift off to sleep with you nostrils filled with the scent of rotting dead bees. ma got worried that she had obtained crappy bees for us and several of our friends whom she convinced to buy the bees from. this was not without reason, for one the large number of dead bees, for another, the fact that the bee company was going out of buisness. it wasn’t when she ordered the bees, but was announced some time after. i suppose only time will tell.
we invested in what is called small cell foundation bees, meaning that they have been raised on foundation that is smaller than the currently popular beekeeping foundation. what does this mean, only that the size of their comb is a couple of tenths of a millimeter small, but when we are talking bees that’s significant. the idea is that these smaller bees take less time to complete there cycle in the brood chamber, and are better adapted to the oh so dreaded varroa destructor mite. possibly even more important to ma is that they are smaller than regular bees, which means they are even cuter than regular bees.
bees as you can see come in a little screened box, often called a package. inside the package is about 3 pounds of bees, a can full of sugar water to keep them alive while they get transported, and queen in a seperatare “queen cage”. the queen that is in the package is not the same queen as was in the hive that all the bees in the package came from. so they don’t like her, and will kill her, and so she comes in her own little cute box. called a queen cage.
while they are all trapped together in this horrible screen box they get used to her scent and are pretty unlikely to kill her, but except her as their queen. that is unless they organize and decide to form an autonomous collective, which would be the death of them all, what we won’t do out of principle.
the little queen cage is removed, the can of sugar water removed, the lid slapped back on and then the real fun takes place. everybody gets sprayed down with sugar water to keep them from flying away. the hive is opened up, a few frames are removed from the hive they are going into to allow enough space for the bees, and then you dump them in. really, you just dump them.
you would think dumping the bees in would be a terribly scary thing, dumping thousands of bees, but really don’t seem to mind, or at least they don’t act like it. at this point they have no hive to protect, and most of them are hosed down with sugar water, which makes it hard to fly, and preoccupies them with removing sugar water.
with the bees in, the queen is carefully place in the hive still in her little queen cage. she has a little sugar candy plug thing at one end of her queen cage. the idea is the bees will gnaw there way though the sugar, but it will take a couple of days, during which time they will get used to the queen and accept her as their own. not only will they accept her, they will be greatly relived, as they have been without a queen which they need for their survival. the can of sugar water get throw in the hive as well, gives them something to eat on until they start pulling in nectar. and then we slap the lid on it and call it done. ma went back to check on them a few days later. queen is released and laying eggs, and the bees are building up comb and bringing in honey. happy day.