April 21, 2017
I want bees, but I don't have bees...
One of the first questions I had, when Kyle and I starting discussing Brothers In Bees, was, "where do you even get bees?" I mean, do you go out and catch them? Do you order them through the mail? Do you have to pick them up from a beekeeper? Well, as it turns out, the answer is "yes", to all of the above.
When you're starting your hives and need some bees, there are many ways to get them. In general, beginners, like us, tend to buy either a 'nuc' or a 'package' of bees. These typically come from a beekeeper that’s local, or one of the many companies that sell bees. The differences between a 'nuc' and a 'package' are as follows:
- Nuc: (or nucleus) is like a 'mini hive' of bees. It has five frames: one frame full of brood at various stages, a frame of nectar/honey, a frame of pollen and two frames of bees including a queen.
- Package of Bees: is usually just that, a pack of 3 lbs. of bees. In the package you get a queen, a ton of workers, some drones and some food for the travel/shipment.
Now, if you’re the adventurous type, you can go and catch a few thousand bees by capturing a 'swarm'. A swarm is a group of bees that has departed an existing hive with a queen to start a new hive. Swarms occur because the bees use up their space, or the queen is getting superseded (replaced), so they split. These happen most often in the spring and taper off during the summer. Beekeepers that don’t manage their hives efficiently may have swarms and lose some of their investment! Since honeybees are not native to North America, any honey bee you see is feral or from someone else's' hive. Swarms are rare to find and hard to capture, but that, boys and girls, is exactly how we got our bees...
capturing our first Swarm!
Early Thursday night, Kyle got a call from Vince that someone about a swarm in Bridgeport, PA, only 30 minutes from our apiary. In a swarm, the bees group up, surround the queen and send out "scouts" to find suitable locations for a permanent hive. Once a location is found, the swarm moves there to establish their hive. The tricky thing is that they could stay in the swarm you find them in for a day or could leave in minutes, so time is of the essence. We got lucky; since it was sunset, the bees were packing in for the night.
In the meantime, Kyle and I chatted on the phone to determine what he needed. A veil, a smoker, a bed sheet, and a medium super full of frames for our bees. Around 7 pm, Kyle took off and arrived to find a massive swarm of what appeared to be Italian Honey Bees; this swarm was about 10,000 bees. All that was left to do was to get them in the hive...easy, right?
To get the swarm into our hive, Kyle could either cut the branch, and place the it in, or shake the bees off into our hive. Not having anything to cut the branch, and ever respectful of others' property, Kyle laid down the bed sheet and shook the swarm into the hive. Most landed in the hive and a bunch landed outside. One of the coolest thing about a swarm is that once the bees start to recognize that what you put them in is a good location, provided the queen is in there, they simply start marching into it! It's really wild to see. With most of the hive marching in, it was now after dark and there was a storm coming. With still about a thousand bees left to enter into the hive, Kyle decided to set the hive up as best as he could and leave it overnight hoping that when we come back in the morning that they'd be waiting for us.
'twas a Swarmy Morning...
I arrived from NYC late the Thursday night to help Kyle the following morning. We woke up around 5:30 AM on Friday, caffeinated ourselves, and headed to Vince's house for supplies. As we headed for the swarm, it started to rain heavily, and were relived to find that almost all of the bees were inside the hive. After inspecting the hive, we found a few hundred bees bunched up underneath the outer hive cover. We smoked them, brushed them off and motivated them to move into the hive. Once they were all in, we sealed the hive with a screen to prevent these ladies from leaving during transit, secured the hive, and transferred it in the trunk.
While placing the hive in the trunk we pulled out one of the pieces of the hive (a mite board) so that the bees could breath better. When we pulled this board out a few clumps of bees fell to the pavement, maybe 3-4 cups (dry). Well, during the previous night, a good portion of the bees didn't actually enter the hive, but started to nest underneath of it. Unsure of what to do, and with the rain pouring down, we scooped them up and just placed them in the open trunk of the car.
We got in the car and headed back. Shortly into the drive we realized we had some lovely little hitchhikers buzzing around the car. They were very sweet to me as I collected them in a jar.
Setting up shop
We arrived a bit soaked, very excited, and a little nervous about the temperament of the bees that had just been driven a bumpy ride back to our apiary, kidnapped-style. We decided to leave them in the trunk for a good 30 min to relax, and settle, while we prepped the apiary and got suited up.
With the smoker going, we nervously cracked open the trunk to find most of them back on the hive but a few cups clustered on the ceiling of the trunk and on the trunk floor. Our first order of business was to move the hive box to the apiary, and then collect the remaining trunk-bees and bring them to their home.
We finally got the hive to its proper location and began doing some adjustments. We decided to fully remove the mite board, knowing that there were some bees stuck underneath, when our hearts stopped. After removing the board we saw the queen peak out of the little space underneath the hive. While it was great to see her and confirm that she was alive, it was not great to see her outside of the hive. Unfortunately, where she was, she was trapped from moving up the hive. She would have had to walk outside the hive and to the entrance in front to get in. Or, more likely, the colony would have begun building comb under the hive box, which isn't easy for us to manage and is quite exposed to the elements. That was all too risky for us. Instead of hoping for the best, we decided to call in Dr. Vince Aloyo! He said he'd come over to help and also let us know that we were a pain in the A$#! That was fair, we did call him about six times that day. Vince helped us rearrange the hive and shake the rest of the bees into a super with frames. While we didn't see the queen go in, we're confident she wasn't left outside of the hive. It is great to have him on our side! Not only has he given us our first swarm, he's given us the best possible chance of saving our hive and starting off right.
While we are pretty confident that the queen was in the bunch of bees we relocated into the hive, we won't be sure for another week. For now, we need to take a chill, drink a beer, and let the ladies settle into their new home so they can build comb, foraging for pollen and nectar, and fill the hive up with honey and brood! We will know if we have successfully captured and relocated our swarm when we check and either spot the queen, or see brood in the frames. We will just have to wait, very patiently, until then.
Thanks for reading,
Brothers In Bees