Monday, April 8, 2013

Oh What a Day

It is one of my favorite days of the years, a day I wait for with unbridled enthusiasm. It is to me the mark of spring. The day our new bees arrive.

Our first year of beekeeping we ordered bees from a local beekeeper who ships thousands of packages in from California every year. I love Jim and I love supporting his business, Natures Nectar. He is generous beyond measure. However his bees always come in late April and three years ago we wanted to get a jump start and package our bees early in April. Waiting until the end of April meant missing the apricot and apple tree bloom. Catching these blooms is good for the bees and good for our landowners fruit crop. So We started ordering bees from Walter T. Kelley in Kentucky. I must admit we get more fun out of going to the US Post Office to pickup the bees than I ever imagined possible. This year didn't disappoint.

The call comes early, usually before the Post Office is even open, you can hear the plea in the callers voice, "Your bees are here, please come pick them up". Usually I wait by the phone, anxiously anticipating the call but today I stuck with my LAF routine and the call came while I finishing up my workout.

When we arrive at the Post Office it took longer than usual for the bees to appear. As we were waiting Paula and I reminisced about our previous Post Office pickups. There was the first year when the postal worker was actually too frightened to get the bees and bring them to the front desk. He led us through a labyrinth of assembly lines and work stations to a large cage with a long chain lock securing the bees. The cage wasn't fit for anything smaller than a dog, with holes so large a small dog could get loose. He unlocked the chain and let us collect the packages. Last year we were mightily impressed by a female who simply brought the packages right up to the front desk without missing a beat. This year a crew of workers rolled the cage holding the bees right up to the front door all the while calling out warnings, "live bees, live bees" they shouted. Paula and I had to laugh, once again the cage couldn't contain a dog let alone loose bees if there were any.

 Paula grabbed the packages which were secured together with long pieces of plywood on the top and bottom of each package and we headed to the car where Paula's grandchildren were reluctantly waiting for the arrival of the bees. The girls were eager and yet concerned about the potential of loose bees flying about in the car but were easily convinced the bees were indeed secured.

Once we reached the bee yard we took time to get everything set up and in place before we split apart the packages. Each hive was set up with a feeder, two frames of honey on the outside of each side of each box with four frames of comb in the center of the boxes for the brood nest, the inner lid, pollen patty and telescoping outer lid in place. We filled the feeders with syrup and then started to pry the packages apart.

You can see the long strips of plywood holding the packages together on the top and bottom of all three packages. It was a good thing we were totally ready because what ensued was a near calamity. While prying off one of the top strips the corner of one package tore apart and we had a large gaping hole in the box with bees escaping by the handful. I quickly put the soft and thick pollen patty over the hole to contain the bees. We had to move quickly. We still had three strips of wood to release which was cumbersome to do with the hole. We worked quickly, releasing the boxes and then focused on the package with the hole. We quickly removed the Queen cage and can of syrup hanging in the box, spayed the bees down with syrup, and shook them into the hive. Whew, that was some quick thinking and working and a good save. As my friend Patty said "Such a perilous wonderful time, hiving bees."  All three packages went in without a problem, Queens included although we didn't actually see the Queen in Katrina's Drone Den once we released her  but were are confident she got in. The hives will say sealed up over night and tomorrow we will open up the entrance reducer so they can come and go as they please. In the mean time they are hunkered down getting cozy with their Queen and getting used to their new digs.

The weather here continues to suck, seriously suck. It isn't going to be warmer than the high 30's all week long which means the bees won't do any foraging this week at all. That's o.k. with us, we have ample honey in each hive, pollen patty's for protein and frames of comb for the Queen to start laying. We expect these first boxes to fill quickly and be ready for second brood boxes before the 1st of May, mostly because everything is combed out. We expect another new package to arrive early in May when we will hive Colleen's Royal Ruckus. In the mean time The Turquoise Bee, Patrick's Pollinators and Katrina's Drone Den and off to a good start.

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