Monday, April 20, 2009

The Entrance of the Bees Into Valhalla

We picked up the bee packages last weekend and put them into their new homes after a marathon session finishing up the hive construction. It all went pretty well (only one sting...for good measure) and there seems to be excellent hive activity so far.

The process of installing bees into a hive is unglamorous and un-gentle. You basically shake the bees out of the container they come in, giving it few sharp raps with your knuckle to dislodge hangers-on, and they fall in a clump down into the readied hive box. The queen (assuming you've purchased your bees...I've hived caught swarms on occasion, in which case the queen is just part of the clump) comes in a small screen-sided cage stopped with a tiny cork on one end. You pull the cork, plug the hole with a finger to prevent her from escaping, and then re-plug the hole with a piece of soft candy that the bees can eat through and place her little cage into the hive. Within a few days the bees will eat the candy, free the queen, and set about their reproductive business. Those few days afford all parties the opportunity to get to know each other well enough to avoid conflict or rejection (death!) of the queen.

I've been reluctant to poke my nose in on my hives again so soon, as they no doubt need time to settle. However, temptation got the better of me a few evenings ago and I cracked the top of one hive to see how they were doing. Naturally, the bees were doing their own thing and had decided to hang some comb off of the roof of the hive. I was delighted that they'd built so fast, but the hanging comb will present me with a minor challenge as I'll eventually have to move it when I add the Warre quilt box and roof setup later.

My starting arrangement involved two boxes on each hive with only the bottom box outfitted with top bars for the bees to build comb on. I put a single top bar in the top box, hung the queen's cage from that, and used the remaining space to accomodate the small tin of food that shipped with the bees. As there's plenty to eat now nearby, I elected not to provide them with any additional artificial food. My fruit trees, several maples, and the red flowering currant are within a few feet of the hives.

I'll be adding a hive box to each this evening and removing the temporary food can as well.

It's such a great thing to see the bees at work. Their place in the garden and in the grand scheme of things is so obvious. It's hard to imagine something making more sense.

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