Monday, March 23, 2009

Driving with 6,000 bees in your car is an electrifying experience.

I hived my bees yesterday with much drama and excitement (neighbors and kids in the yard, helpful helpers shouting advice to me from the safety of the porch, my dinner guest capturing it all on film).

Here's the chief point of dramatic tension: when my bees arrived I didn't have my hives ready or much of the necessary equipment. Oh My God. As my neighbor said, this was a beemergency (sorry).

Some weeks ago I had a dream of getting my bees but not being ready for them, so in the dream I put them in my socks and carried them around that way for a while. This is not an option in real life.

The company I ordered supplies from said they'd held up my shipment because they didn't have the kid-sized bee suit I ordered for my son in stock! I called today and told them "but my bees are here!!!!" So they said they'd send everything but the kids suit pronto. Sheesh.

What I did have was the wooden hive boxes and frames that are the shell and skeleton of the hive. But I did not have the sheets of beeswax foundation that go in the frames and on which the bees build comb to store brood and honey. Without these beeswax sheets I might as well keep my bees in my socks.

My ever-supportive husband painted the bee boxes, one light blue, one light green. Then he and our neighbor built and installed the hive stands - basically tables that the hives stand on (check out neighbor Gerry Frank's business, C'ville Construction. Gerry is the best builder anywhere).

Meanwhile I picked up the bees from Glen Clayton in Shipman, VA, a long-time beekeeper and supplier has a delightful sense of the absurd and also, very importantly, had sheets of beeswax foundation I could buy. From Glenn's I drove (with my 6,000 buzzing companions) to my beekeeping mentor, who coincidentally had invited me and two other newbees (sorry) to help her with her hives and learn.

After two awesome hours opening hives and talking through what we saw, the gals and I sat on the porch and finished assembling my frames so that I could put my bees to bed when we got home. Thank goodness for other beekeepers; they saved me. My mentor lent me some critical missing pieces of equipment (clutch: a beekeepers suit and veil to keep the bees out of my ears and from going down my shirt).

Hiving the bees is essentially getting them and their separately housed queen out of their carrying package and into the hive. This sounds so simple. My big learning experience is that you have to bang the package pretty hard to get them loosened up enough to pour them (literally) into the hive box. Another thing to keep in mind is - do not drop the queen's little cage down into the roiling mass of bees in the package or you will have to reach your hand in there and fish her out. That didn't happen to me but I thought about it.

I have two hives. The first package I didn't bang very hard so the bees clung to the screen and wouldn't be poured. I am afraid I lost a lot of them because there were a LOT of bees on the wing after that. The second package went in more smoothly.

I sound really calm about this experience, but I was very aware that a bazillion bees were flying around me and I wasn't at all sure I was going to have any success in getting them into the new home, let alone getting them to stay. When I was done and walking back onto the porch my son asked "was that harder than you thought it was going to be, Mom?" Kinda.

I was impressed at how mellow the bees are; I was in a cloud of bees pretty much all afternoon yesterday and only got stung once when one poor bee got stuck in my boot. These are Italian bees and are generally sweet-dispositioned. Plus bees being hived are not defensive (bees sting to defend their hive and these girls were confused and homeless until yesterday).

As of this morning the sun was on the front doors of the new hives (facing east as they should be); bees were taking little in and out flights from their new homes and seemed to be checking things out.

Now I am worried that they aren't able to access the food (sugar water) I gave them, but I am also worried about taking the top off to check and upsetting them... oh boy. Bee worries.

Wow. Pretty amazing.