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Posts Tagged ‘Package Bees’

Male, Drone bees have large eyes and no stinger.

This weekend at Smoke Farm, with rain showers passing through and a steady plopping of spring droplets, I watched bees from the newly introduced Italian colonies emerge from the hive, perch momently on the edge of the bottom board, turn slightly and  look out into the vast world.  A sudden burst of vibration emanated from their body, and they were off, into the rain drops, the overcast, the unknown perils.  Such bold, willing sacrifice, I thought.

Initially, I took the naming of hives very seriously.  My first three hives were named Republic, Kingdom, and Rogue.  I wanted to evoke well-ordered, prosperous colonies as well as leave room for the rebels.  Republic and Kingdom did terrific for two years, and Rogue, although never growing out of one super, was always good for a frame of honey now and then.

Last year, I dedicated hives to the people who lived near those bees.  One for Matt, for all the work he put into building hive bodies with me, and one for Asha, my god-daughter.  One for Michael and Kelle, and one for myself.  Matt’s bees took on some obvious attributes of his–they worked incredibly hard, made a lot of honey, and they had a bad attitude once in a while.  Asha’s just did their thing, developing normally, making it happily through the winter, there to say “hi!” when I appeared.  Michael and Kelle’s were the most gentle bees, very productive too, and they had a penchant for swarming.  My bees died, and I wonder if there is a connection to all the changes I went through last year.

Temporary Swarm Housing at Michael and Kelle's.

For commercial beekeepers, as well as the literature that informs us enthusiastic hobbyists, bees meant for keeping should have certain attributes.  They should be gentle.  No one wants to open a hive that is constantly banging into your veil and pressing their stingers through your shirt and gloves.  They should also be productive, making an abundance of honey for the keeper to harvest.  Many commercial people look for a lack of propolis in the hive (a collection of resins from trees the bees use to seal the hive) because it is so sticky, and most honey producers will tell you that swarming is bad.  When the hive swarms, half the colony leaves with the old queen, and the laying of eggs and development of worker bees can be set back nearly a month, rendering the hive too weak to make the beekeeper honey.  And recently, universities and commercial beekeepers have been trying to breed or select bees that are resistant to varroa mites because untreated, a colony will eventually die.

The Longfellow Swarm's old home in a hollow Alder by Longfellow Creek.

To me, every colony is different, and rather than name or dedicate a hive, this year I want the bees to teach me who they are.  The colony at Michael and Kelle’s house that swarmed twice this spring left a whole box of pollen and honey-full frames.  I get the feeling they are geared toward swarming, but I also have a hunch that after this first impulse, they are going to settle down and produce a lot of honey this summer.  The queen of the Longfellow Swarm had just begun laying eggs, about a week after swarming, and the workers had set about filling the second box with new comb and honey.  These gals are going to be robust, and I have no idea what to expect from them later in the year.  Asha’s Carniolans are awaiting some attention from me, as I suspect they might swarm in early summer.  But before I get too bold and decide the fate of their stock, I want to get to know them better.  And besides, for many centuries the best way to expand your apiary was to catch swarms, which is incredibly fun and challenging every time.

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Bee on the Wing in Blue Rosemary.

Last week began with the discovery of a new obsession–photographing bees on the wing with a macro lens.  The super-narrow depth-of-field of the lens made it difficult to catch a bee in focus, but in this image she is moving too fast for my shutter speed.  Still, after 75 shots, I think this one is a keeper.

Then it was off to pick up package bees on Friday morning.  The second and third week of April should be considered a national holiday, as every beekeeper in the King and Snohomish counties of Washington seemed to be as eager as Rachael and me to pick up their bees.  Our unintentionally extended adventure turned into a beautiful day together.

Rachael Poses with 4 lb. Packages of Bees.

The next morning I was up early and on my way to Onalaska, WA, to pick up Carniolans from Jason and Heather Sherwood.  A lot of people ask me where Onalaska is, and all I can say is it’s rural, southwestern Washington.  I was there at 7:30 and back on the road by 8:30.

Package Bees Awaiting Pick-up at the Sherwood Apiary.

Saturday, Sunday, and Monday night were dedicated to the introduction of package bees.  We welcome back colonies to the Central District and Capital Hill in Seattle, as well as Smoke Farm.

Throughout the weekend, just when I thought I might take a break and have lunch, my phone would ring.  Hives were swarming!  Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, as well as last night (Thursday 4/22), were filled with swarm catching.  Michael watched one form from his window on Saturday, and together we caught it without any protective gear.  Kelle helped me catch the swarm on their Blue House and temporarily introduce them to a nuc (a small, five-frame hive for rearing queens and keeping a small swarm).  But the swarm story to be told comes from West Seattle, where Rachael and I found a monster-sized swarm:

The Longfellow Creek Community Garden Swarm.

The call came in on Friday from Jayne.  Jayne Simmons, co-founder of Good Food Gardens, plants lavish healthy gardens in your yard, maintains the Longfellow Creek Community Garden, and makes salves, tinctures and infused oils as Sister Sage Herbs.  She and I had spoken earlier in the year about introducing bees to the Longfellow garden and even teaming up to introduce bees to her garden projects, but I just didn’t have the money to prepare the equipment and purchase bees.  The bees, however, had other intentions and came to her.

I asked Rachael if she would like the honor of catching this swarm, introducing it to a hive, and maintaining it at the Longfellow Garden.  Since my Valentine’s Day post, a lot of people have been wondering if I have introduced Rachael to the bees and if they approve of her.  Well, this was the weekend, and the answer is decidedly yes!

Rachael, aka Lady Awesome, Catches Swarm!

Later that evening, Rachael and Jayne introduced the swarm to a beautifully exposed corner of the Longfellow Garden.  This week ends with three new Women of the Swarm, Kelle, Jayne, and Lady Awesome!

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Package Bees Ready for Introducing (2009)

I must confess, my favorite event of beekeeping has got to be opening up a successfully wintered colony in early March, but running a close second is introducing package bees to their new home.  It’s one of those rare moments in life when the counter-intuitive is actually the thing you want to do:

  1. Put Bees in Your Car. Yes.  Find a local supplier of bees (or have them shipped to you), wake up early and be the first person at their shop, pay the remainder of your balance and then put them in your car.  Here in Seattle I visit Jason and Heather at Sherwood Honey and Rachel and Jim at the Beez Neez to get my bees.  Don’t let them get too hot, as that happened to me last year and it stressed them out.  Drive home with the windows open.
  2. Put a Package of Bees in Your Friend’s Hands. Once they realize what is happening, it’s usually too late.  They’ll stand there with out-stretched arms for a few moments and then ask you to do something with them.
  3. Put Bees on Your Kitchen Table. Packaged colonies are usually introduced around dusk, so put them someplace where you can admire them until it is time.  It needs to be cool, so if you plan on holding the package for a couple days, put them in your basement or garage.
  4. Entertain the Idea of Letting Them Escape. Bees travel a long way to get to Seattle.  Some come from California and some come from Wisconsin.  There is a little can of sugar-syrup in the top of the package.  Turn the package over, letting the can slide out part-way into your hand, and feel the weight of its contents.  You are so close to liberated bees!  If it’s empty, drizzle some sugar water on them through the screen.
  5. Tell Your Friends NOT to Wear Protective Gear for the Introduction. It’s definitely a time to celebrate, so call your friends over and kids love it.  I wear a veil and give one to whomever is actually doing the introducing, but everyone else will be just fine.
  6. Put the Queen in Your Pocket. When the moment comes, and you have your bottom board, hive body, frames, inner cover, feeder jars, and cover exactly where you intend to keep them, gently bang the bees to the bottom of the package.  Turn the package on its side and remove the syrup can.  The queen is in the little box hanging from the center.  Take her out, admire her, and put her in the pocket over your heart so she doesn’t get chilled.
  7. Bang on the Package! Remove four of the frames and spread the remaining six to each side inside the hive body.  Vigorously dump the bees into the hive, shaking them, even banging the side of the package to get them to roll out of the hole.  Don’t worry; they’ll be fine, and you won’t get stuck there wondering how to get all the bees out.
  8. Introduce the Queen. Take her out of your pocket.  Give her a good look over because unless you go looking for her, the next time you see her will be a real gift.  Notice how slender she is… pretty soon she will be royal and matronly.  Holding her over the mass of bees on the bottom of your box, remove the cork from her mini package, and let her crawl out and join the colony.  Sometimes she won’t go through the little passage, and you’ll have to pop off the screen with a knife.  Don’t let her fly away….
  9. Let Them Do Their Thing. Close up the frames gently around the bees, adding the others to the outside of the cluster.  Put on your inner cover and feeding jars, put a hive body around that, and then put a lid on it.  Wish them well.

Introducing the Queen (2009)

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