Bees are fascinating. Before we got them, we were fascinated in the abstract. Now we’re fascinated in the backyard.
When you first install a package of bees, the colony is very vulnerable. You begin with ten or twelve thousand bees with a queen in a cage. The queen has already been mated, and is ready to lay eggs. It takes a few days for the bees to release the queen from the cage (by eating through the candy that blocks the entrance), and then it takes a few more for the queen to begin laying.
From there, it’s twenty-one days before the first new bees emerge. That means there’s a good month when bees are dying but not being born, and the population of the hive steadily decreases. Since there’s a great deal of work to be done – comb to be drawn, pollen and nectar to be gathered, brood cells to be capped – it’s a bad time to have dwindling numbers.
Kevin and I worry. We worry that the bees won’t like their hives, or that they won’t take to their queen, or that they won’t find sufficient food, or that they’ll simply fly away.
We also wonder. We wonder whether the queen has been released from her cage, whether the hive is coming together as a colony, whether there’s sufficient comb for eggs, pollen, and nectar.
We’re planning to open the hive for the first time tomorrow, to see if the queen is out. We’ll lift out at least one frame (to remove the queen cage), and we’ll get some idea whether everything’s going smoothly. In the meantime, we find ourselves spending a great deal of time standing by the hives, watching.
We’re reassured by activity, and try to make sense of just what the bees are doing. They fly up, and then out to forage. They seem to be evicting the drones (the male bees, who don’t do any of the hive’s work and whose upkeep is a drain on the colony). We were delighted to see that they’re coming back to the hive loaded up with pollen.
We’re determined not to make the amateur’s mistake of going into the hive too often, but we see how it happens. You want to know. You want to watch. You want to see how a colony forms, check the brood pattern on the frame, gauge how much honey they’re making.
We think a lot of our experiments have been interesting. Chickens are interesting. Mushrooms are interesting. Lobsters are interesting. Even tomato plants are interesting Bees, though, bees are fascinating.