A friend of ours contacted us about mid 2015 with the idea of going into together to learn a bit about beekeeping. We have thought about beekeeping for several years, I should say my wife has talked about beekeeping for several years, but I knew I would be the one with the suit and I wasn’t too comfortable with the "being stung" process.
Stepping Over the Beekeeping Myth:
We decided to make the leap and I agreed to being a beekeeper. I started reading about honey bees and the process of beekeeping. I realized my fears were totally due to ignorance on my part. There is nothing like educating yourself with reading, hands-on experience, and wise counsel. There is much to learn from the elders in our communities.
Purchase the Hives
We purchased two packages of bees and two complete hives in the fall from Kelly Bees. Each hive includes a hive stand, bottom board, two standard brood bodies, two standard shallow honey suppers, an inner cover and a top cover. The hives arrived fully assembled, minus the foundation. We painted the outside of the hives and installed the foundation in the frames (instructions for this come with the hive) over the winter and waited patiently for Spring to arrive.
Learning About Beekeeping:
While waiting on the bees to arrive, we started attending the Rutherford County Beekeepers Association meetings once a month. This is a great resource for beginners as well as seasoned beekeepers. We learned a lot over the next few months in preparation for our bee’s arrival. The bees were scheduled to arrive mid-April, so we put the hives out on the farm the first week in March. My thoughts were to give the hives time to air out and become part of the environment.
Arrival of the Bees
Boom, the big day was here and bees were on their way to the farm. We received two separate (three pound) packages of Italian bees. We were told to expect 6,000 to 9,000 bees in one pound, so we expecting about 18,000 to 27,000 bees for each hive. Man, that is a lot of bees and I was starting to get nervous.
According to BeeSource.com, "Italian honey bees, of the subspecies Apis mellifera ligustica, were brought to the U.S. in 1859. They quickly became the favored bee stock in this country and remain so to this day. Known for their extended periods of brood rearing, Italian bees can build colony populations in the spring and maintain them for the entire summer. They are less defensive and less prone to disease than their German counterparts, and they are excellent honey producers. They also are very lightly colored, ranging from a light leather hue to an almost lemon yellow, a trait that is highly coveted by many beekeepers for its aesthetic appeal." This article in it's entirety from BeeSource.com has more information about the different types of bees to choose from and the benefits of each. The two packages come in separate boxes with screened sides so the bees have plenty of ventilation. I am sure the postal services around the nation just love these special deliveries.
The bees arrived and everyone was "a buzz". We read that you can spray or splash water on the bees to keep them from flying around while you are placing them in the hive. This little nugget proved good because you first have to remove the queen in her little cage, then the can of sugar water placed in the box to feed the bees during the travel and finally you can turn the box upside down to dump the bees into the hive. This process seemed like it took forever on the first package. We start out with just one deep brood body with nine frames. The deep brood body will hold ten frames but you have to leave one frame out to make space for the queen’s cage (photo shows the placement of the queen cage).
Before we place the queen’s cage in the hive, we had to remove the wooden cork so the other bees could release the queen by eating away the candy filler.
The video above is on our YouTube Channel showing the queen in her box. Look for the blue dot–she is marked so you can spot her easier. This is just a short video but go ahead and subscribe to our channel–lots more to come!
Beekeeping Mistake #1:
We used a small nail and poked a hole through the candy to give the bees a little help in their efforts to free the queen. This method is good when you purchase a nuc (the bees know the queen) but not a package (the bees do not know the queen). We had a package and should not have assisted the bees with releasing the queen any sooner than necessary because the time taken to release her themselves provides the time necessary for them to get to know each other.
Once we made the modifications to the queen cage, we installed her between two of the middle frames; installed the remaining frames to fill the brood body (the bottom box that is used for storing eggs that the queen produces) and closed the hive. We repeated this process on the second hive.
Forty-Eight Hours Later...
We did not see one bee around either hive. This was kind of weird since the day before there was much activity. There were no bees in either hive! Really, approximately 40 thousand bees left?? Heartbroken, Matt & I started reading into what went wrong and how could we improve the process for another try.
Beekeeping Mistake #2:
We are people who pray. We pray for our marriage, our kids, our church, community, nation, etc. And you bet the day those bees left we were praying, not sure why we waited until then... but we were praying. Our second mistake was that we got all excited about having bees and didn't invite God to be a part. A simple prayer to say, "Lord, we invite you to be a part of this and add your blessing to it." would have been enough. But we didn't pray.
More to come on our second round as beekeepers, so stay tuned…