After last week’s split, this week it was time to install new packages of bees into Sarah’s and Duncan’s (Hello Kitty) hives, as well a new hive (for me) on someone else’s property. We bought 3 pound packages for each of the hives from Miles McGaughey (President of the Boulder County Beekeepers Association) who went out to California to pick them up from Koehnen’s Bees. Miles (and his buddy Tom Theobold) do the shaking and packaging to get the best bees and queen. (Cool video of the shaking process).
Bringing bees from California to Colorado is always a dicey proposition. Care has to be taken to make sure the bees don’t overheat or freeze to death on the trip. This year, a large winter storm was supposed to hit Colorado on the day the bees were supposed to arrive. Luckily, Miles was keeping an eye on the weather and was able to make it back a day and a half early – so the bees arrived a day after they had been put in the packages. Sometimes they will arrive 3+ days after they are shaken into the packages, which adds stress to the bees, so having newly shaken bees was awesome!
Miles arrived home late on Thursday, and I went over to pick up the bees around 9pm. I ended up being the first one there, so got first pick on the bees. I picked up 5 packages – 3 for me and 2 for my friend Lucia and put them in my garage overnight until we could install them Friday before the storm.
There are always some hitchhikers on the outside of the packages and in the morning, they were buzzing around the garage. Patrick went into the garage, heard all the buzzing, came back in and said, “That’s one of the most frightening sounds to hear in your garage first thing in the morning!”
Normally, when I install packages, I like to do it late in the day so there is less chance of the bees absconding since they’ll want to stay inside for the night. I initially planned to do that this time, but given that the weather was supposed to turn bad at 3pm, and the bees were starting to get a bit agitated in their boxes, and I had to be somewhere at 5pm, I decided to install them earlier. I figured the cold temps and rain would keep them in the hive.
The first year I did a package install, I was covered completely with a full bee suit. The next year, I just had a long sleeved shirt and a hat. Last year, I was in a short sleeved shirt and joked that this year, I could do it shirtless. Luckily for me (as you’ll see below), the weather precluded that.
First up was Sarah’s hive. Sarah had moved her hive next to the garage which will help protect it from the weather a bit more. It’s also easier to get to from her driveway so I don’t have to cart tools so far. We also had lots of comb (some with honey) left over from last year, which gives the bees a nice start.
It was a bit chilly and Sarah was smart to have a cap on. I was less nervous than in past years – maybe too complacent.
Everything was going well, until I shook in the bees. There were two problems. First, they were so tightly clustered from the cold, that they didn’t really shake out of the box very easily like they do on a warm day. Second, they really didn’t like being dumped out and were pretty aggressive towards us. The nerve!
After lots of swatting and swearing, we managed to get them in and the hive closed up. Sarah ended up with a sting to the eye and I got nailed in the left side of the neck. Sarah was worried about the bees left in the package box, but I was tired of trying to get them all out and didn’t want to get stung anymore. On a warm day, they can take their time getting in, but all we could do was put the box under the entrance and hope they would fly up and into the hive. Those that didn’t get the Darwin Award.
Left Hand Hive
A couple of years ago, I helped a friend of mine and his son set up a Langstroth hive at some property between my house and Boulder. That hive only lasted one season and sat empty all last year. The man that owns the property wants to keep bees when he retires and his wife has a small orchard and beautiful gardens, so I said I’d start up the hive for them again and teach him a little about beekeeping in the process. It would also be my foray into managing a Langstroth hive. I don’t have a permanent name for the hive yet, but for now, I’ll just call it Left Hand Hive (after nearby Left Hand Creek and Left Hand Brewery here in town).
I picked up the hive a couple of weeks ago to see why the colony had died (looks like starvation) and to salvage what equipment I could still use. Some say you should never put bees in used equipment that you get from somebody else, but I had been helping to manage this hive so knew a bit of its history and didn’t see any signs of disease. I may regret this, but that’s just part of the learning. I cleaned up the boxes and frames (scraping and torching) and set the hive back up using some of the best frames with comb.
After leaving Sarah’s house, I was a bit worried about the sting on my neck. I was driving out where there was no one around and what would happen if I had a reaction and my throat swelled up? Sarah gave me some Benedryl and I put some ice on the sting and off I went. As I was driving there, it started raining (just what I didn’t need), but as soon as I arrived at the hive the rain stopped and my throat was fine.
Again, the bees didn’t want to come out of the box easily and were pretty agitated, but I got most of them in and set up the package in front of the entrance. I hung around for a bit and once the bees at the entrance started fanning, I saw some of the bees in the box move into the hive. I stopped by a couple hours later and most of the bees had crawled in.
Hello Kitty (Duncan’s) Hive
I was hoping to wait for Duncan to get home from school so he could help with the install, but given the state of the bees and the weather, I did it earlier with help from his dad, Gary.
When I installed the other two hive, I had my yellow Honey Honey hat on and thought maybe that was attracting them to me. So I switched to the hat I’d used in previous years, but that didn’t make a difference. These bees were just as pissed off at me as the others.
For hanging the queens in the top bar hives this year, I took a tip from my friend Julie, who drills a hole in one of the bars and hangs the queen cage from there. It was a brilliant idea and one I’ll use again! The queen hangs from an empty bar between two full combs where the bees can cluster around her and release her from her cage, right on to comb. The bar can be put back into the hive and the bees will plug up the tiny hole.
Gary got a video of my shaking in the package which when I watch it now makes me laugh (it wasn’t as funny at the time). I like where I say that I don’t know why they are so agitated as I’m shaking them violently into the hive.
I ended up with a sting on the other side of my neck from this one and since I didn’t get the stinger out for a while, it was worse than the first time (but no ill effects from either today). It’s all fun and games until someone gets stung!
The snow has started falling this morning and will continue through the weekend. The bees have lots of honey and/or sugar water, so they should be snug in their hives until the weather improves (should be near 80ºF by next Saturday). Once it warms up enough for me to look in the hives (Tuesday?), I’ll check to make sure the queen has been released and is still alive (i.e. they didn’t kill her). If everything goes well, we’ll be all set for another fun year of beekeeping!
miles mcgaughey · April 17, 2016 at 3:19 am
oh my!!! no face net?
Don · April 17, 2016 at 1:19 pm
Nope. Sometimes you have to learn the hard way.
Julie · April 19, 2016 at 1:13 am
LOL! Sorry, that video really was funny. Was that Gary laughing? I couldn’t help cracking up.
BTW, I totally sympathize. On bad weather days, beekeeping is the pits. Even the sweetest worker will turn into a fiend from hell when it’s cold, wet, or cloudy. Glad you got every one installed, though. Best of all, I loved all the photos of people that you’ve gotten interested in beekeeping! You’re The Beevangelist! Awesome!
Don · April 19, 2016 at 1:16 pm
I told Gary it’s not nice to laugh at someone getting stung. 😉 I think it was both of us because it was just such a ridiculous situation.
With 5 hives scattered over a wide area, I should be pretty busy this summer running from hive to hive! But it’s all gonna be fun!