The Bees Are Settling In

The 24,000 honey bees that I picked up and put in the two hives Saturday seemed to have settled into their new homes on this Easter Sunday.

Now, it’s a battle to survive the next month.

Twenty-four thousand bees may seem like a lot — the buzzing they made in the back of the car was a bit unsettling. But a strong colony has twice that many bees. And mine are young and struggling at the moment.

The bees I picked up were probably about a week old. They had been taken from established hives and put in boxes with queens whose scents were unfamiliar. They were then trucked several hundred miles. Their tightly ordered, social lives are in disarray as they attempt to start anew.

Plus, there are no honey stores from last year to draw on and no nectar or pollen yet to make new honey.

It will take several days for the queens, assuming they’re accepted  by the colonies, to start laying eggs and then three weeks for those eggs to hatch and new bees to replace my original bees, who will then be approaching the end of their lives.

They’re racing against time now, and I’ll do all I can to see them through it.

The bees arrived from Georgia in three-pound boxes. About 12,000 bees were in each box. The buzzing coming from the back of the Subaru was constant as I drove home from the pickup point. Very eerie.
Each package of bees comes with a mated queen — she’s the big bee on the right with the red dot — in a separate cage along with a few nurse bees. The white substance on the left is a hard sugar candy that plugs an escape holes drilled into the end of the box. The bees in the package, drawn to the queen, will eat the candy to release her. In the process, they will get used to her scent and accept her as their queen.
I’ve suited up in a protective coat and veil to insert the first be package in the Calabria hive, which is two boxes separated by a wooden divider. The deeper, bottom section is the brood box. That’s where the queen will lay her eggs, about 2,000 a day, and where the bees will raise their young, store pollen and nectar and make honey to get them through the winter. The shallower top box is a “super,” or surplus, where eventually the bees will make honey for me.
For the foreseeable future, the supers will be chow halls for the bees. I’ve filled four, one-quart Mason jars with equal parts water and sugar. I’ve punched small holes in the lids that the bees will use to suck out the solution. It will have to hold them until the nectar starts flowing in a couple of weeks.
This is one of the frames that are the guts of the hive. There are 10 in each brood box. The wooden frames hold a sheet of beeswax. On this foundation, the bees will build comb where the queen will lay her eggs, where forager bees will store nectar and pollen and where workers will store honey.
Bees are methodical planners. I’ve numbered and marked each frame so that I can replace them in the right order and orientation after inspections. Putting them out of place seems to be doing a disservice to the orderly bees.
Here’s the open brood box of the Calabria hive about 24 hours after I installed the bees. I had to remove five of the frames to make room for the box that contained the bees. I also removed the queen cage and left the top of the box open before closing up the hive.
That brown substance on the top of the frames is a pollen patty that you can buy from bee-supply stores. It will also help sustain the bees. I removed the now empty bee cage on the right and added the missing frames before closing up the hive.
I tacked the queen cage to one of the frames. It’s suspended from that yellow ribbon and the clump of bees on the left are busily chewing away at candy to release the queen. I’ll check on their progress in a couple of days.




Author: Frank Tursi

Author, Journalist and mayor pro temp of Swansboro, NC

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