Bee day

Four months ago, we made the decision to get two hives of honeybees, and ordered all our equipment and the two packages of bees. Three months ago, the equipment came, and we spent many hours building deeps and supers, painting the hives, and assembling the frames.

The bee packages in the truck -- two for us, two for our friend Linda

Yesterday, we picked up our bees.

Thanks in large part to the Barnstable County Beekeepers Association, Cape Cod is crawling with amateur apiarists, and our hives were two of hundreds that came en masse to the Association, to be picked up by members. To help those of us who’d never installed bees before, BCBA veteran and accomplished apiarist Claire Desilets demonstrated her technique, honed over decades of beekeeping, for getting a nascent colony of bees out of the package and into the hive.

Basically, you dump ‘em in.

I had a strong suspicion that getting bees into the hive was one of those things that looks easy when pros do it but prove to be really, really hard when I do it. I’ve encountered a lot of those things since I left the city, so I wasn’t sanguine as we left Claire’s house with our bees.

Amazingly, it was as easy as Claire made it look. You make room in the hive by taking out a couple of frames, spray the bees with sugar syrup to keep them busy while you work, open the package and dump them into the hive. The queen is in a separate cage with a piece of candy that has to be eaten through before she can escape, and you attach her to one of the frames you took out (Claire uses a rubber band, but there are other ways). You put the frames back in the hive, cover it, and add a pail of sugar syrup to feed them while they establish themselves. And you’re done.

We have two hives, which we’ve named Big Bee and Little Bee. This came about because we were afraid our identical hives were too close together for the bees to reliably tell them apart. Although bees are very good at finding their way home, they will occasionally go to the wrong hive if it’s very close and it looks just the same.

It was too late to paint them. Bees hate the smell, so painting has to be done well in advance. Claire told us that, if the hives faced in slightly different directions, that would help because one of the ways bees orient themselves is by the position of the sun. We adjusted them so that one pointed just south of southeast and one pointed just east of southeast.

But Kevin wasn’t content. He wanted to give the bees a visual clue, and his clue of choice was bee stickers. We bought one large bee sticker for one hive and several small bee stickers for the other, and Kevin stuck them on. Hence, Big Bee and Little Bee.

(Putting us to shame in the beekeeping sophistication department is Kate at Living the Frugal Life. She painted her two hives in lovely pastel shades and named them Izhevsk and Foligno, for her Russian and Italian bees, respectively.)

We installed Little Bee first, and the only hitch was that we forgot a tool to get the cork out of the queen cage. (It’s put there so the workers won’t eat the candy and release the queen while they’re in transit.) The whole process took about five minutes.

We videotaped our installation of Big Bee, and I’m posting it here, unedited, so you can see just how straightforward a process it is. It’s a boring video, though, because nothing goes wrong.  (Plus there’s that part where I have to leave to get the tool we forgot.)

After we installed them, we stood there, just watching, as they familiarized themselves with their new home. Kevin saw one of the hives evict two drones. We imagined what they must be doing inside – drawing out comb, eating through the candy in the queen cage, assigning guard duty. We watched them come and go and circle, willing them to live and thrive.

We’re beekeepers.

21 people are having a conversation about “Bee day

  1. Very cool. You made it sound like you know what you’re doing. Kevin, with his bare arms and no gloves, make it LOOK like he knows what he’s doing.

    Congratulations on becoming beekeepers! I’m so gonna do this. Next spring.

  2. Hey Tamar,
    What a great video!!!
    You two must have sat in the front row at bee class. I guess I didn’t pay very good attention. As fun as the class was, I sure looked forward to going out with you two for a bit afterwards.
    If you hadn’t signed up for the class back in January, we wouldn’t have known about it and would never have two new sky blue bee hives sitting at the bog waiting for the cranberries to bloom. (not that they are waiting or anything).
    Anyway, thanks for all your help picking them up for us and doing all you do on a weekly basis.
    The first jar of cranberry honey has your name on it. If we end up honeyless, we’ll buy the beers when we finally all go to the Beehive Tavern in Sandwich…..
    Thanks again!
    PS Not for nothing Kevin, I do remember the class where the teacher got stung over 40 times and was only wearing a TEE SHIRT eeekkk!

  3. and pants of course! Kind of a twisted image of bee keeping if you took the “only a tee shirt” part as ONLY a tee shirt….

  4. Oh wow, wonderful video! Not surprised all my bees died their first winter, even though I took the class given by the CC Beekeepers Assn. back in the 1970’s. I was still a rank novice, and also recall no detailed instructions for getting bees/queen into the hive. I also hated getting stung, which happened more than I cared for. Kevin is brave indeed, yet I saw no swatting at bees on his arms; either he is immune, or the bees are still so disoriented by what has happened that stinging takes a back seat . . .
    I wish you good luck, and to Linda too, as I still love the idea of keeping bees.

  5. Hello Tamar,
    I just found out about your website through your brother-in-law, Jerry Flaherty, while having lunch with him and his girlfriend, Holly, and I rushed home to check out your work and I am impressed!
    Jerry asked me what my goals were with my blog and I said, “I want to be The Pioneer Woman”, and he told me that all I have to do is write good content and the followers will flock to my site. He also told me I needed to look at your amazing website because he said your writing is captivating and he was right! Now I can say, “I want to be the “Starving Off The Land lady” in addition to aspiring to be “The Pioneer Woman” which means I have my work cut out for me, I’d say!

  6. Not a bad B Movie! LOL. Actually it was great fun to watch. Best of luck with the hives. You’ll have to try a batch of Honey Mead.

  7. What a great “Bee Day” you had! The idea for the big and little stickers is probably going to work well, also. Paint vapors do seem to irritate the bees, but spraying small spots of colored paint on the landing board (especially with an entrance reducer in place) does not seem to get noticed much by my bees. If you try it, remember that bees perceive color differently than we do due to their visible light spectrum extending into UV and not going as low into red as ours. It really is not much of an issue until you get more than a few colonies in one apiary anyway. Enjoy the girls as much and as often as you can.

  8. Paula — You SO have to do this. We’ve only been beekeepers for about 24 hours, but we think it’s the coolest thing ever. Sure, the honey’s great, but bees are fascinating. I can see you doing this. In fact, I can’t really NOT see you doing this.

    Linda — Your hives looked great this morning when we went to check, so we’re hoping for a great crop of cranberry honey. We were very glad bees were on your agenda this year — it’s great to have friends and neighbors to compare notes with. It’s going to be an interesting summer.

    Mimi — Sorry to hear that you had a bad beekeeping experience. I’m certainly not crazy about the getting stung part, and I hope to keep it to a minimum with proper clothing. Kevin, as always, is willing to take a risk. It’s not too late, though — you could try it again!

    April — Welcome to Starving! I really appreciate your kind words. And tell Jerry thanks for such an enthusiastic recommendation. But you’re better off wishing to be Pioneer Woman — she does this whole blog thing WAY better than I do. But I hope you’ll stick with me anyway!

    Rick — Now how did you know mead was on my mind? I seem to be in the business of turning unlikely foodstuffs into alcoholic beverages. First dandelions, then sassafras roots, and soon (with luck), honey.

    Greg — I’m very glad to have experienced beekeepers reading and commenting, since we need all the help and advice we can get. If we hadn’t decided on stickers, we probably would have used a magic marker to do some kind of identifying stripe, but the stickers seem appropriate and are very kid-friendly. We’ve only had the bees a day, but we’re already spending a lot of time hanging around watching them. I understand how people get hooked on this.

    Fiona — Thanks! We know it’s unlikely we’ll get honey this year, but hope springs eternal. If not, we’ll settle for next year.

  9. Congrats on your new bees. We added bees this year as well. We had a bad first go due to a very cold sping in the Pacific Northwest and the wrong kind of feeder for our climate – poor little bees starved. Our second roung of bees came this week and are going great. I watched them flying in and out all weekend, lots of pollen packs on their legs.

    I look forward to hearing more about how your bees go this year!

  10. Rick beat me to the B-movie joke…

    I loooove the stickers. If you get a third beehive, can you ask Kevin if he would use unicorn stickers on it?? Preferably the ones with glitter, riding a rainbow?

    Can’t wait to see what you do with the honey in your “Starving” challenge

  11. Mindy — So many people seem to have had tough first experiences. Sometimes I think all we can do is keep our fingers crossed. But I’m glad your second round is going well. Keep me posted!

    Jen — I know I can always count on you for constructive suggestions! Kevin says, “ha ha.”

    Kate — I’m hoping for four thriving colonies between us.

  12. Congratulations and welcome to the wonderful world of Bee Keeping! I belong to a yahoo group, Sonoma County Bee Keepers, that is a fantastic resource for newbies. You will receive lots of help and answers to any questions you may have.

    Have fun, be prepared to live some tough lessons, and remember…bees have been doing this for a very long time. You just have to figure out how much you want to “assist” them.

    Best of luck,
    Susan aka Chicken Mama

  13. My partner’s got the chickens, maybe I should get the bees. You’re very inspiring, and I love bees, even though I was stung just running past a hive about 15 years ago.

  14. Loved the post and the video! Wish for bees but live on a suburban lot and figure I am lucky the neighbors don’t mind the half dozen chickens, so will live vicariously through you!!

  15. Susan — Everything I’ve read indicates that one of the big mistakes new beekeepers make is checking the hive too often. As you point out, bees have been doing this for millennia, and most of our job seems to be just letting them do their thing.

    Kristin — I’ve only been a beekeeper for three days now, but I highly recommend it. I’m not looking forward to getting stung, and I’ve now made a mental note to not run past the hives.

    Tracy — I hear suburban bees are gaining popularity, so don’t write ’em off quite yet! A steady supply of honey might go a long way toward placating the neighbors …

  16. Glad you are enjoying your bees. So far they have been one of my favorite hobbies. Part of my garden sits like five feet away from my hives so as i’m working I enjoy just standing there watching the bees come and go. Since i’m so close to the hives occasionally one of the guard bees will fly over and see what i’m up to. Usually I will just wander away a little till she becomes disinterested. Or will even let her land and check me out for a minute. They also perfume the area for me, A beehive aroma is deffiantely a unique experience. A mixture of the wax, propolis, honey and pheromones produces a sweet perfume in the area that non beekeepers will never get to experience.

  17. Rodney — It’s only been a few days, but I already understand your fascination (in fact, it’s fodder for the next post). I look forward to the smell!

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