Last month we took our hands-on bee class from Bee Friendly Austin. Chuck and Tanya are so knowledgeable and helpful. After the class I felt very comfortable, and confident that I could do it.
We also had Chuck build our top bar hive for us.
On May 17th we picked up our package of bees from Beeweaver.
That was an adventure in itself. Beeweaver is northwest of Dripping Springs. I drove past the place a few times, as it is unmarked, with only a mailbox, with very faded numbers. Once you decide to just go for it and turn down the driveway, it’s probably a quarter mile in before you see any signs of civilization.
Once I got the bees home, I put on my suit and did all the prep work. I made up the sugar water, added the divider, set the queen excluder, and attached some old comb to the first two bars with some fishing line. I then took out the queen cage and laid her back under the combs. Next, I took the cover off of the package and set it in the hive. I then closed everything up.
The next day I freaked out! I opened up the observation window and saw tons of dead bees and a completely empty quart of sugar water. I ran to the house to put on my suit, grabbing another quart of sugar water while yelling to my family “I’ve killed all my bees!!!”
Well it turns out I didn’t kill all the bees, but probably at least a thousand had died. When I did some research on beeweaver and other websites, it seems this is common. You are expected to lose a large number of bees. I’m surprised I hadn’t read this before, when I’d been doing my research.
After my first scare, things didn’t get easier.
The fourth day, the queen still had not gotten out of the cage. I had to poke a hole in the marshmallow, being very careful not to poke a hole in the queen.
That evening, I came home to see the hive in disarray. It appeared that all of the bees were on the outside of the hive! The queen excluder was still on, so only worker bees can get in and out. I frantically called Chuck and Tanya. They suggested that there was a traffic jam and the bees could not get in and out. I should put a box under the hive and push all the bees into it, then dump that box into the hive.
Well that is not what a new beekeeper wants to hear. It was getting dark at the time, so I waited until morning. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well that night, anxious about the task ahead. It went pretty smoothly, and as you can see, by morning the number of bees had dropped significantly.
After getting a good amount of bees in the hive, I decided (foolishly) to open up one of the corks so more bees could get in and out. I then headed off to work.
Chuck checked in on me to see how the bee wrangling went. We talked and he mentioned that the queen was probably a little unhappy with her new home and had most likely blocked the entrance, keeping the worker bees from getting inside. Oh no! I had just opened up the cork, allowing my “unhappy queen” access to the outside. All beeweaver queens have clipped wings, so Chuck said the worst case would be that a cluster of bees would be on the ground when I returned home that evening.
Well as my bee luck has been so far, there was a large cluster of bees on the ground when I got home. The only positive, was that the box was still under the hive. The majority of the cluster was on the box, so I was able to dump the cluster into the hive (I already had practice with this task). The ones on the ground I stirred up a bit, to make them fly. I then scanned the ground to see if any bees were left crawling around. I couldn’t find any, so had to hope that the queen was in the original cluster and had been dumped back into the hive.
Since the queen does not go out at night, I closed the cork, but opened the queen excluder to allow drones through. I didn’t want them all stuck outside. After dark I turned the queen excluder back on and crossed my fingers.
I decided to leave everyone alone for a few days, meanwhile having no idea whether or not I had a queenless hive.
One last bit of drama occurred on Sunday. We threw a pool party and I don’t know if it was the noise, the smoker or what, but suddenly it looked like the bees were swarming. There was a huge tunnel of flying bees. I was convinced that the queen was gone and that they were all flying away. About 15 minutes later they settled down and were back on the outside of the hive.
This afternoon I decided to check the bees. I didn’t get far enough in to see if there were eggs (the sign that the queen is in there — aside from actually seeing her of course). The bees looked happy. They were clustered on the 1st though 4th bars, which means they are frantically building comb.
I’m hoping to be through with the first round of drama. I’ll go looking for the queen and eggs in a few days to know for sure. Wish me luck!
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