A Most Apiaristic Experiment

In “An Overture to Proliferation,” I mentioned that Eric and I had been experiencing a (pardon the pun) swarm of difficulties with receiving our package of bees. Between then and Easter, we heard nothing but bad news concerning the arrival of our hive; so, thanks to a tip from a friend at the Lancaster County Beekeeping Association, we pulled our original order of bees and placed an order with an apiary that was still taking last-minute requests. Before I continue my bee-themed tale, I want to make sure everyone understands that Bjorn Apiaries, the company with whom we placed our first order, was in no way at fault for the delay of our bees-the people at Bjorn’s were extremely helpful during every step of the bee-ordering process (including the cancellation of our order), and the last thing that I want to do is cast a negative light on their operation.

Well, after finalizing our second order of bees for our first year of beekeeping, Eric and I only had to wait two, nerve-wracking days for our swarm to arrive. On the morning of the bees’ arrival, I was up early scouring bee forums, memorizing every “How to Install Bees” guide I could find, and carefully preparing our bees’ first meal in their new home.

In case you’re curious, new bees, due to their lack of food stores from the previous year, need to be fed a sugar-water mixture until they can sustain themselves on their own carbohydrate-laden honey and protein-rich pollen. To make your own batch of bee food, all you need to do is bring 2.5 quarts of water to a rolling boil and stir in 5 pounds of sugar!

After the bee’s first meal had sufficiently cooled, my beekeeping cohorts and I piled into my car and drove to the pick-up spot on a small farm nestled deep in the heart of central Pennsylvania. When we arrived, we were a tad surprised to find the place deserted, save for five, buzzing boxes in the pack of a truck. Once we had selected our package (we chose the swarm at the bottom-right of the picture to the left, the “M” on the box denotes that our queen bee had been marked, so that she’d be easy to spot), we were faced with the stark realization that someone had to drive for a little more than a half-hour in a small car with a box full of several thousand bees on his lap. Since I was driving, and Tyler was simply visiting the hive, it was decided that Eric would be lucky enough to be the first person to really bond with the bees!

Even with several bees becoming free from their encasing, our car ride was surprisingly calm. Apparently, due to their not having a home to defend, uninstalled bees simply will not sting, a fact that was (thankfully) proven true during our trip.

The actual installation of our bees turned out to be infinitely more difficult than our journey from farm to hive, however. With quick bursts of rain continually interrupting our work, we had to kill most of the day simply waiting for the rain to let up before our tired and hungry bees could explore their new home.

When, at long last, the weather radar indicated that we would have at least twenty dry minutes, the three of us ran down to the hive (as well as one can run in a bee suit), and quickly set up shop. Although my research on bee anatomy had revealed that these little girls had some pretty impressive feet (capable of cleaning, grasping, pushing, carrying, and more), we didn’t quite expect them to be able to hold onto their mesh box as tightly as they did. With “pour and shake the bees into the hive” being the extent of our instructions, we quickly learned that bees don’t exactly form a pourable mass on command. So, we were forced to resort to, rather violently, agitating the box until most of the bees let go of their temporary home and entered into their awaiting hive. Just as the queen had been placed between two of the frames (she’s in the gap in the middle of the picture on the right), the first few raindrops began to fall, signalling that our time in the hive had run out. Careful not to crush the bees under the now quite heavy, hive-top feeding trough, we closed up the hive as quickly as possible and made a hasty retreat home.

An entire, agonizing week would have to pass before we could reopen the hive, but that’s a perplexing story that will have to wait until my next post!
In the meantime, I hope that everyone’s gardens and Spring endeavors are flourishing (despite this never-ending rain)!

Until next time, happy gardening!


One response to this post.

  1. I had no idea so much was involved in setting up a hive–too many websites and blogs give the impression that all you have to do is buy stuff and walk away. The day-by-day you’re giving is really enlightening. Hope the bees have settled in! And Eric is a lot braver than I would have been…


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