Toward the end of last summer Toby suggested we get some honey bees for the farm. It made a lot of sense; we both love honey, bees improve crop yields, and I can use the wax for projects at home. Toby organized the whole thing, ordering a nuc for my in-laws (Randy and Deanna) as well. I was excited to have the bees around but admittedly a little (a lot) nervous about actually working with them. So I had imagined Toby would do most of that and I would appreciate from afar! But boy was I wrong! I love, love, love them!
We were lucky enough to join friends of ours (Dan and Janet) for their first hive inspection of the season. This was an incredible experience that left both of us feeling much more prepared! We were both quite nervous (terrified) in the beginning, but after lifting a couple frames without getting stung we started to relax. Things we learned:
- Don’t freak out – Freaking out, flailing your arms and/or running around screaming will stress the bees out and may cause them to sting you. If you are feeling overwhelmed calmly walk away from the hive and take a few breaths!
- They are NOT at all like wasps – The temperament of honey bees is not at all like wasps. They mostly just keep on doing their thing while you check them out. It helps to choose the right times of day/temperatures when inspecting a hive. We have read that late afternoon/early evening tends to be the best time to check on bees.
- How to spot the Queen (and why you should) – Dan, Janet, Toby and I took turns lifting up up each frame and carefully checking for the queen before moving it into a spare super. They told us to look for a larger, darker coloured, speedier bee. Sure enough a few frames in Toby and I exclaimed in unison “There she is! Is that her?!”. It is important to locate your queen when you are doing a full hive inspection so that you don’t accidentally lose or damage her. Dan and Janet told us about a time that they opened their hive to find the queen on the inside of the outer cover. This is a piece you take off first and usually rest on the ground during your inspection, so it would have been really easy for the queen to have fallen off or gotten smooshed. Losing your queen is a BIG deal and should be avoided!
- Move slow, but work fast – It is important to be very calm and careful in your movements to make sure you don’t drop anything or stress the bees out unnecessarily. You don’t want to have your hive open any longer than necessary.
- Keep your smoker puffing – The smoke from the smoker makes it a little harder for the bees to communicate and makes them retreat down into the hive. This can be important for calming down an irate hive and stopping the spread of alarm pheromone after a bee has stung you or been squished. If you just leave your smoker it can go out pretty quickly. To keep the smoker going just give it a few puffs every so often.
So after that wonderful experience Toby and I were feeling much more prepared for our own bees, which were arriving the next weekend.
We had initially planned on making our hives ourselves but that proved to be more difficult than we had imagined. There is virtually no room for error because the bees will seal up any gaps larger than 3/8″. The hives are made to fit the frames perfectly and are not too expensive to buy. I purchased the hives at Propolis Etc. in Carleton Place, one of the only local shops for bee keeping supplies. The store is well stocked and the products they manufacture are reasonably priced. I found some of the other items to be much more expensive than the same or similar items online. The service also leaves something to be desired. The employee we dealt with both times we went does not have bees and really doesn’t know much about them at all. We were sold an in-hive frame feeder and given incorrect instructions on how to use it, resulting in the loss of a handful of bees our first night. I do believe that this is an issue of one individual and not the company on a whole.
What you need to start out:
- At least one deep super (you will need more as your colony increases in size)
- At least one medium super (these also get added later in the season)
- Frames and Foundations
- Bottom board
- Inner cover
- Outer cover
- Feeder (or knowledge of how you can make one)
- Sugar syrup (or other feed)
- Bee suit or veil
- Hive tools
- Entrance reducer
After picking up the hives I did some research on what paints you should use to protect them. I found that any exterior paint will work and not to use dark colours that will absorb a lot of heat.
I went to Home Depot and picked out a bunch of bright, cheerful colours in a high quality exterior grade paint. We spent two evenings painting the hives. It is important not to paint any of the inside parts of the hive. You only need to paint the parts that will be exposed to the elements.
Before going to get the bees Toby and I picked out a nice spot for our hive. It should have some Southern exposure, shielding from the wind, water within reach and access to an open area. Often people will tuck them just at the edge of a tree line.
We then loaded up in the Prius and set off to get our bees. The place that we bought them, Forest Dew Honey, must have had 20+ hives going in the yard as well as 10+ nucs. Mahmoud got our bees together while wearing just shorts and a t-shirt. He clearly knows how to handle his bees!
We put the two nucs in the back of the Prius and headed home. I was a little concerned that the nucs would open and the car would fill with bees. But Toby and I managed to make it home without any bees escaping!
Randy and Deanna were a little less lucky and had a few escape-bees (hah!) on the way to their house. No one was stung and we managed to get them out of the car so they could make their way to the hive and back to the queen.
Toby placed both nucs in the shade while we gathered supplies and made sure the hive was move-in ready. Randy and Deanna came over and we all suited up to move them over. Toby and I took turns lifting out the frames and inspecting them for brood pattern, colony health and of course to find the queen. It all went really well! We got the bees moved in and left them to do their own thing! Then we drove over to Randy and Deanna’s to help them do the same thing.
The next evening Toby went out to check on the hive and noticed the problem with the feeder. The weight of the syrup had caused the sides to gape, allowing bees to fall in and drown. Toby found about 30 bees in the feeder. We did a little research and discovered the pieces I had been told were gaskets were actually meant to hold the sides together. We went out to the hive, fixed the feeder and then did a quick queen check before letting them bee!
Today we opted to only check the bees from afar in hopes of letting them settle in after the excitement of the last two days. Tomorrow we are going to check the hive again and take some pictures of each frame for our records.
All in all (only two days in) we couldn’t bee happier with out decision to get bees. They are truly amazing creatures and I really look forward to learning *everything* I can about them!