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.
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.