Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"Don't Stop Bee-lieving..."

"...hold onto that feeeeelin'."  Sorry about the lame bee pun.  My husband has decided I should have a bee pun in the title of all my bee posts.  Silly husband.  I'll try to humor him.  And now you're going to be singing Journey all day.  Ha.  Gottcha.

Anyway...  So, I DID IT!  I successfully transferred the bees from their temporary "nuc" boxes into their permanent hive.  And no, I did not freak out and no, I did not get a single sting.

My beekeeping jacket and veil, smoker and hive tool arrived last Thursday.  When the UPS man dropped it off, I was so nervous about dealing with the bees that I didn't even open the package.  Finally, on Friday, I decided it was time to get over my fears, so I donned the jacket and veil, pulled on some food handling gloves (because I was too cheap to buy beekeeping gloves),  fired up the smoker and headed out to the bee yard with my hive tool.  I made my husband take photos to prove that I actually did it!

Me, trying not to look nervous

The smoker is basically a small can with bellows attached that you fill with a combustible material.  When you approach the bee hive, a few puffs of smoke at the entrance of the hive will cause the bees to halt their work and hunker down.  Apparently the smoke does two things:  One, it interrupts the bees communication.  They communicate using pheromones and the smoke interferes with the pheromones, essentially cutting off their ability to send messages to each other.  Two, the presence of smoke causes the bees to go into evacuation mode.  They think that the hives is on fire, so they they gorge themselves on honey, supposedly in an effort to gain strength to help them survive the exodus of the burning hive and the rebuilding of a new hive.  This gorging, as you can imagine, makes them sluggish and docile. 

I walked over to the beeyard and first opened up the hives so I could quickly transfer the frames from the nuc boxes.  After a few short puffs into the entrance of the nuc box, I mustered up all my courage and with sweat rolling down my back, I lifted the lid with shaking hands.  And then I was hooked.  It was a mix of pure exhilaration and awe.  I was still trembling, but I wasn't scared anymore.  Seeing all those bees was absolutely breathtaking. 

Prying the frames apart with the hive tool

Then I had to get down to business.  Bees are not especially fond of being disrupted, so I worked as fast as I could.  Each frame needed to be pried out of the box and transferred to the hive.  The hive tool, which is essentially a small pry bar, is needed to lift and loosen the frames, since bees produce a sticky substance called propolis that they use to fuse the frames together.  After the frame was loosened, it went into the hive.

"Killer boots, man!"  It's a good look, don't you think?

Holding a frame covered in a writhing mass of bees is a pretty incredible experience, I must admit.  However, in my excitement, I forgot to do a very important thing - examine the frames.  I'm not exactly sure what I'm supposed to be looking for, but I know I should have been looking for eggs in the frames, which would tell me that I have an active queen who is doing her job.  I was so focused on my task of moving them that it completely slipped my mind.

That's a LOT of bees

After all the frames were in the hive, I was left with a nuc box full of very confused bees.  I turned the box upside down over the hive and did my best to get them to fall into the hive.  I don't think they liked it very much.

Dumping the bees into the hive

I repeated this whole process with the other colony and it became apparent to me, even with my untrained eye, that there is a problem with the second colony.   When I lifted out the frames, I noticed significantly less bees.  And instead of nice, even cells in the comb, I spied some funny looking "growths" attached to some of the frames.  It almost looked like a peanut growing on the frame - it's hard to see it in the photo, but it's on the bottom right corner.

Frame from the second hive - notice less bees and funny growth on bottom right corner

After finishing up, I went inside to consult my bee books and the best I can figure, the presence of those kinds of cells indicates something is up with the queen.  Either she's not doing a good job or she is gone and the bees are trying to create a new queen.  Whatever is going on, it seems like this colony will not be as successful as the first.  And I have no idea what to do about this, if indeed there is anything I can do.

While I was inside researching, my husband noticed some strange activity on a tree limb about 15 feet from the hive.  He called me out to look at the hundreds of bees gathering on the limb and we both said "Crap. They're swarming".  Swarming is when the whole colony leaves the hives and looks for a new home.  They do this for several reasons, but mostly because they need a larger home.  Had I waited too long to move them to the hive?  In a slight panic, I called up Zeb, our bee guy, and he assured me it would be very unusual for them to swarm right now and if it was a swarm, the mass of bees would be the size of a football.  After a few tense hours, we noticed that the small mass of bees (it never got larger than baseball sized) was dissipating.  A few bees lingered for 2 days, but then they were all gone.  Whew!

Again, I went back to the books and I happened to stumble across a page that talked about how when a new queen takes over the colony, she flies out of the hive a very short distance and the drones (male bees) follow her out and mate with her.  When mating is complete, she flies back into the hive and the drones all die.  Were we in fact witnessing a new queen mating, not a swarm?  That might explain things, such as why the colony seemed so weak. So many questions!!!  I really need a mentor to come help this "new-bee".  In the meantime, I'll just keep muddling my way through it and consulting my handy books. 

In other news, the blackberry and raspberry bushes on our property are in full bloom right now and it makes my heart sing to see my lovely honeybees doing what God created them to do, pollinating so that we can reap the harvest of those delicious berries in late summer.  I hope that we will be able to collect a bit of honey from our bees this year, but even if we are not,  it's still awesome to have our own Pollination Team.  I beginning to see how this whole beekeeping thing can become such an enjoyable hobby!  I'll be checking in on the hives later this week to see how they are doing since the big move.  More updates later! 


  1. From what Ted (my stepdad) told me, if you want to keep the bees over the winter you can't collect honey this year because they need to build it up to live through the winter. Obviously I am not an expert, but you may want to check into that. I hope your hives thrive! How cool to have your very own bees!!


  2. Me thinks Ted is a smart cookie and is probably right. I've been reading that the bees need about 60 lbs of honey to survive the winter. If there is any extra, then we can take it, but that may be highly unlikely in the first year.

  3. you look super "fly" ;) seriously though, I love that you guys got bees! how cool!

  4. Glad your first adventure "handling" them went well. Sounds like a very interesting process. You're going to learn a lot I'm sure. I will say though that the outfit is a little...well...creepy. Kind of like the outfits the scientists wore in E.T.:)