Thursday, April 30, 2009

The queen bee

It's been 1 1/2 weeks now since we installed our bees. By all accounts I'd say we have a healthy hive that is going like gang busters working on their comb. Our queen - pictured to the right - can be seen overseeing the work. We topped off their sugar water on this visit and also pulled out one frame to take a look. Their cells have been drawn out quite a bit on at least 4 frames and appear to be getting filled with sugar water. Pollen can be seen on the legs of many of the bees in and around the hive and some of the cells also appear to have pollen in them.

So far we have not noticed any brood being formed. However we also did not look that close at the center frames. We have been reluctant to fire up the smoker and are thus being cautious (especially after the sting last time).

This Sunday, May 3 will be 2 weeks from installation. I'm hopeful that we'll pull the sugar water at that point and put in the last two frames. If we do this I imagine we will fire up the smoker and also take a closer look at the cells. It'll be nice if we see brood in the cells and know that the queen is doing her job supplying the hive with new busy bees.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Family Beehive after one week - OUR FIRST STING!

It has now been one week since we installed our bees. We haven't been back to check on them for five days. It is cool today (50 ish) with some recent rain and wind.

Each time we go to the hive there is a slight paranoia that the bees will all be gone. When we first pull up no bees are visible. As we walk up to the hive we do finally see one or two enter the hive. I snapped one picture as we opened it up but then my batteries died. We did have the video camera though.

As we lift off the lid we see plenty of bees so the paranoia is quickly gone. The feeding frame is mostly empty of sugar water and in fact we see they have even started putting some comb between a few sticks. My wife (with only a hooded sweatshirt for protection) starts pulling out a few frames to take a look at how they are doing.

I am amazed at home much comb they have drawn out!!! We pull out three frames, all with substantial comb on them and even see some pollen being stored. Then, we even spot the queen bee at work.

My wife has been working for a couple of years with an observation hive at her work. In all that time she has NOT yet been stung. That changed today (watch the video below). When you watch make a note of the bees right after we highlight the queen. You can see several bees fly off the frame and at my wife. I'm not completely sure, but I don't think they were flying off to go sting her, but rather were fly off in response to another bee stinging her. From what I've read when a bee stings a pheromone is given off which stirs up the other bees to also attack. This is what I believe we are seeing; a response to the pheromone given off from the sting.

We made a mistake I think of not firing up the smoker. The sting wasn't bad or anything, but doing this with the family we should take better precautions. If one of the kids get stung the pain will of course go away, but the fear may be instilled and hard to overcome. I think we'll be getting those kid's bee suites ordered soon.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Two days since installation

We made another trip to the hive tonight. The wind was not nearly like last night and we could see bees flying as soon as we got there. They seemed to be coming in and out of the hive without problem. We noticed this time several dead bees on the ground in front of the entrance. Bees remove their dead from the hive and apparently our hive at least just deposits them right outside the door. Dieing is natural so we are not concerned with seeing these. It's actually probably a good sign that they are taking care of their home and removing them.

You can also see in this first photo the size of the opening we had in place. As I mentioned in the last post we have that entrance reducer to help preserve heat and keep the bees inside getting used to their new home. Today, we removed it. You can see the larger opening now to the right and the entrance reducer sitting on top of the box. It will probably not be needed again until it starts getting cold in the fall.

Now that the full entrance is open we have to worry about critters like mice getting inside. Usually people will put a mouse guard in place to keep them out. For us this is a piece of wire cut to size and stapled in place. If you look closely at the staple gun you might be saying, "isn't it being held upside down?". Yes, in fact it was and the first staple ended up in the wrong place. That was easy enough to fix though.

We also gave the bees a little more food tonight since we were there. We didn't make a new batch of sugar water, this was just left over from when we first installed them two nights ago. I was amazed at how much they had gone through already. When this picture was taken many of the bees had gotten out and started flying around. When we first lifted the lid there were many more hanging out on top.

The last piece of maintenance we did was to turn over the top board when we placed it back. You can't see on this picture but on two sides there are small cut outs which we had turned up. Like with the entrance reducer the rational was keeping the heat in the hive. With things warming up the notches are now facing down to provide a little bit of air circulation.

So that's it for now. Two days down and I think the bees look great. At this point we are probably not going to check up on them again until the weekend. We'll add more sugar water at that point and possibly pull up a few frames to see how they are doing at creating comb on them. Once they have gotten a good amount created we'll pull their sugar water food source so that the honey produced it actually from "nature".

Monday, April 20, 2009

1 day down

We went back to the hive today to see how the bees were doing after one day in their new home. We didn't see many outside, just an occasional one or two going in the hole. But it was very very windy out. Taking the lid off though here is what we could see. Lots of bees on top of the frames and especially over at the feeding frame on the far left. We assume this is a good thing!

The bees were very calm when we took a look. I'm guessing the wind made them just want to hunker down in their home and eat that yummy sugar water. We didn't pull any frames out to see if comb had been drawn out at all. Perhaps next time we will take a look. I'm really curious about how fast they will get that going.

We did perform one tiny bit of maintenance to the hive. The picture on the right is from yesterday when we installed the hive. On the lower left side of the hive box if you look closely you can see a very small opening for them to go in and out of the box. Normally the opening runs the whole length of the hive body and is about 3/4 of an inch tall. We put on what is called an Entrance Reducer to limit the opening on the first day. This was done for two reasons. First, it's still a little cold out and these "ladies" just came from California. Reducing the opening helps keep the cold air out. But the main reason is to help keep them in the hive as they acclimate. That small opening is only big enough for one bee at a time to enter or exit. Preventing them from leaving in mass seems like a good idea when trying to introduce them to a new home.

So back to the maintenance... we didn't remove the entrance reducer completely yet, but did turn it so that the opening is about 2 or 3 inches wide. Or about 5-6 times as big as we had it to begin with. They seem to be happy with their home and it is going to get warmer in the next few days. In another few days we'll probably remove the reducer completely but at that point need to put some wire up to keep other pests out. Stay tuned for that adventure.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Installing the bees

Our bees finally came in. After an hour drive to go pick them up we were ready to put them in their new home. The first step was placing the hive body.

The spot where we placed the hive was not completely level. Plus the area is mowed by a commercial service who we really didn't want messing with the hive. So first we did a little digging and raking to level the dirt out some. Then we placed a weed barrier down and put 8 brick things down to form a base. The picture show what one of the bricks looked like. I'd guess they were about 4" by 8". On top of the bricks we used a couple of 2x4s and then also wedged bricks on two sides of the box. After all of this we then used 4 bags of mulch around the area to keep the grass/weeds down and keep the mowing service from needing to get too close.

The bees come in a box that is about 12" by 6" by 6". In the picture you can see them hanging down almost like a curtain of bees. That metal can in the middle has been their food source for the trip. Some kind of syrup that they seem to like. To keep them happy and calm we have been spraying them with sugar water from time to time. This really calms them down quite a bit.

Here is a shot of the box as we first take the can of food out. You can see a few of the bees getting out and starting to fly around already. Prior to doing this we had sprayed them quite a bit with water which helps to calm them down. If you look inside the hive body you can see that we have removed a few frames from the middle to make a space to put the bees. There is also a feeder insert on one side of the box which contains about 1 gallon of sugar water (1 to 1 mixture). We'll keep that food supply in for a week or so to help get them started at building comb. Then we'll remove it and put a frame back in it's place.

Here are the bees just after being put into the box. The way we did this was to first bang the travel box to get most of them all on the bottom of it. Then you turn it over and drop them out through the hole where their food can was. It took a bit of slamming it against the hive body to get them all out and they were just kind of a clump. A few were flying around but none really bothered us.

Also of note in this picture is the small group of bees on top of the frames on the right. At this point the queen is still in her cage hanging right below that spot and some of the bees are sticking close. After getting the main bunch of bees in we released the queen from her small cage and dropped her down into the hive body before putting the rest of the frames back in and closing it up. The picture below is us opening the queen cage.

The whole process went fairly smoothly. I avoided freaking out while my wife did all the real work. We still do not have bee outfits for our kids so they remained back up in the van watching from a safe distance. Eventually we will have them down by the hive working with us too.

Our plan is to try and check the hive again tomorrow night and see how they are doing. Hopefully we will not find an empty hive body. We were not able to get all of the bees out of the travel cage so we left if sitting next to their hive body hoping the remaining bees will find their way over to the hive. We'll also remove this cage when we check back tomorrow.

OMG we now have a real live bee hive to take care of!!! This could get interesting.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bee shipment delayed

Well, there will be no bees for us on Friday. Apparently the shipment (from California) is delayed and we'll have to wait until Sunday. :(

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Putting the hive together

We are starting with a very simple hive consisting of a hive body (box) with 10 frames. There is also a bottom board and lid that we had to put together. From what I've read most producing hive will have two of these body boxes with 2 more "supers" on top of them. The supers are not as tall as the hive bodies and used mainly for honey gathering. A "queen excluder" is placed between the hive bodies and supers to restrict her access to just the hive bodies, keeping the supers egg free. Below is what our hive body looks like prior to being painted.

The assembly of the body was quite easy. There were just four boards with dove tails cut in the sides. Some say to glue and nail them but we just used nails. The person we bought it from suggested this so that if you ever need to replace one of the boards you can just take the nails out (for $13.00 I'd just buy a new box kit). There are 10 nails on each corner; one in each side of each dove tail.

The top board with the hole in it was also easy with just four screws to put in. Everything was pre-cut and ready to go. We could have bought pre-assembled and even painted bodies but chose to assemble our own for the experience. This is a family project for us so having a hand in creating the hive is important. We also debated getting plans and building the box from scratch, but for our first time just buying it unassembled was much easier. Especially to make sure the spacing is correct.

Apparently there is something called "bee space" ( which is important in hive design. If you have things too close the bees will fill the space with propolis. If the space is too big they will fill it with honeycomb. Having the correct spacing on your hive components is what allows you to remove the frames and harvest the honey without destroying the hive.

I just mentioned "frames" above. These also had to be assembled and are what the bees will build their comb on to store honey and baby bees. The frames consist of a wood rectangle and a foundation in the middle to get them started making comb. There are already little hexagons all over the foundation. Ten of these frames will hang inside the box once complete.

At this point we have finished painting everything but still have about 7 more frames to put together. Our bees come in on Friday so we are getting kind of excited. Then we get to INSTALL THE BEES!!! (that phase always makes me laugh).

Monday, April 13, 2009

Our new beehive

So, our family has decided to start a bee hive. We are not farmers. We live in a smaller town but consider ourselves to be city folks. Living in the city, small as it is, we don't feel comfortable with it in our yard. So we have some family friends with an acreage where we will be putting it. Hopefully the bees will like all the fruit trees!

Why are we setting up a bee hive? Well, for fun I guess but I'll share more about the reasoning with future posts. My wife actually has a little experience with this by having an observational hive at her work (in her office even). This will be our family hive though and as such we get to keep any of the spoils (honey!) Our bees will will be here on April 17th. We've started putting together our hive body and will paint it later this week. Pictures to follow soon!