Friday, May 20, 2011

Package Installation 101: The Hivening

For many, hiving a package is their first real solo experience working with bees.

And it’s scary.

Don’t worry.

You can admit it.

You’re in a safe place here.

I mean, I was terrified the first time I installed a package! I was wearing thick canvas gloves, a full bee suit, and still I almost dropped the package as soon as the first bee landed on my arm. The entire time, I was holding the thing at arms length (so quite far away) and thinking to myself, “Are you fucking mental, Tim? The hell have you gotten yourself in to? SHIT, SHIT, SHIT! BEES!”

At least I didn’t pee myself, right?

Myself, my apprentice Emily, and 6 pounds of bees!

ANYWAYS… the real important thing to remember is that installing a package is an experience like no other. Bees in a package have been cooped up in there for at least a couple of days, even up to a week, with no chance to fly, a queen that they’ve never met before, and nothing to eat or drink but a can of high fructose corn syrup.

They’re essentially an artificial swarm and react as such. The bees are ready for you to introduce them to their new home. They’re desperate for the chance to start their work; building comb, raising brood, gathering food, and storing it all away to prepare for the long cold winter to come. You’re their hero, (wo)man!

Before you start throwin’ around the bees, you should make sure that your hive is set up properly:

1 - Bottom board
1 - Entrance reducer
1 - Hive body with all 10 frames
1 - Inner cover
1 - Top/bucket/quad feeder
1 - Outer cover

You'll also need enough 1:1 sugar syrup to fill the feeder, a pollen patty or other protein supplement, your trusty hive tool, a veil/jacket (better safe than sorry), a bee brush, a flat-top thumbtack, and a flat card of some sort. A used metrocard works perfectly.

Hives set up, and everything else ready to go.

Once you’ve gotten everything set up and ready to go, here is a step by step guide to what you’re going do. Don’t panic if the directions you’ve found elsewhere vary from mine. There is a huge amount of variability when it comes hiving packages. They all work fine. This is just my personal favourite way.

1.) Spray the mesh sides of the package with sugar syrup. This both calms the bees and distracts them by giving them something to eat. They're hungry.

A spray bottle with 1:1 sugar syrup mixed with Honey-B-Healthy, an essential oil mix.  This stuff serves as both food and  a calming agent, as it is strongly scented to help cover up any alarm pheromones released during the hiving process.

Freshly sprayed package.  All the bees are running over the mesh sides trying to suck up as much of the syrup as possible.  So good!

2.) As they're gorging on the syrup, open the empty hive, remove the cover and feeder and take out 3 or 4 frames on one side, and make a small gap between the middle (5th and 6th) frames. Put the entrance reducer in.

Frames removed to make space for the bees.  I haven't made the gap between the 5th and 6th frames yet.

3.) Pry off the small wooden cover on top of the package and, using your hive tool, gently pry up and lift out the can of syrup within the package. Use the thumbtack to make sure that the queen cage attached to the plastic strap doesn't fall into the package. If it seems stuck, rock it gently from side to side as you pull it up.

Poppin' the top.

Pulling out the feeder can.  The white stuff stuck to it is wax that the bees had started to attach to the metal.  Coop a package up too long and they'll start to build comb!

4.) Gently remove the queen cage and shake off any hanger-ons into the hive. Gently set the wooden lid back on top of the hole where the can was, and look inside the queen cage to make sure that she and her attendants are healthy.

Here queeny, queeny, queeny.

See her?  Bottom left, long, fat, and light brown.

5.) Using the corner of your hive tool, remove the cork from the end of the queen cage that has the mass of white candy/fondant in it. If you have a small nail handy, you can gently poke a SMALL hole most of the way through the candy to make the queen release easier. Using the thumbtack, attach the card to the side of the cage so that if the card were laid flat, the cage would be laying on its long skinny side.

Attaching a small stiff card.  I had metal screen handy, so I used that.  A business or metro card would work as well.

Cork in.  The bee on my finger was CHEWING on me.  It's a funny sensation.  I probably spilled some sugar syrup on it earlier.

Cork out.

6.) Hang the queen cage by the card you tacked on in the small gap you made earlier between the middle frames and gently push them together. Neither entrance of the queen cage should be blocked, and the side with the mesh should face the frame next to it.

Queen cage hung between the middle frames.

7.) Using your hive tool, start prying off the bottom and sides of one of the mesh walls of the package. If the bees get active, spray them with some more sugar water. When you're done, you should be able to lift away the mesh on three sides, like a screened door.

Emily opening the second package.

8.) Open the side, hold the package over the space in the hive that you created by removing the frames earlier, and give the package a good firm SHAKE. You won’t hurt them (bees are strong!), but avoid hitting the package on the sides of the hive. The bees should come out in one great blob and fall directly into the hive.

Shaking out the bees.  We may have missed the gap, but it doesn't really matter.  The bees will immediately start moving down into the hive.

9.) There will still be some bees in the package. Shake those remaining bees out directly on to the queen cage, vigorously.

Shaking some leftover bees from the first package right onto the queen cage.  PAY ATTENTION TO THE QUEEN, GUYS!

10.) Give the bees a couple minutes and slowly reinsert the missing frames as the bees spread out over the hive. Set the pollen patty on top of the reinserted frames and poke several holes in it with the corner of your hive tool to help the bees access it.

Reinserting the frames.

Putting on the pollen patty and pushing the bees out of the way so we can replace the feeder.

11.) Briskly brush any bees out of the way, put your feeder on (how you do this will vary according to what sort of feeder you have) and fill it with syrup. Remove any bees that have flown into the feeder as you filled it, put on the outer cover and seal the hive.

Fill 'er up!

Kamikaze bees flying right into the syrup.  Lucky for them, I'm a trained lifeguard.

Ratchet straps prevent the hive from getting knocked over by the wind.  You should use them.

12.) Shake out any stragglers onto the front porch of the hive and leave the package to the side of the entrance so that any remaining bees can find their way in.

Hooray!  All done!

13.) Check yourself and any helpers for bees (they're curious!), take off your protective gear, and have a beer.

Meg Paska loves bees, and they love her.

They also like my head.

You've got bees! Mazel tov!

In a couple days (5-7ish, depend on your timing), you should do your first SHORT hive inspection to check if the queen has been released.

If she is still in the cage, pull it out and observe any bees that come with it. Are they acting aggressive, running over the cage and biting at the mesh protecting the queen? If so, they may not have accepted the new queen yet and you should give them a couple more days to get accustomed to her scent. If the bees hanging on the cage are calm, sticking their tongues out and trying to swap food/pheromones with the attendant bees, they’ve accepted the new queen and you can release her by using the corner of your hive tool to gently pry out the cork on the non-candy end of the cage. Make sure you do this low over the hive so that you don’t drop her on the ground or force her to fly, and she should scurry right out.

Once she’s loose, close the hive back up, fill up the feeder and leave them alone for at least another week or two. Fill the feeder with fresh sugar syrup whenever it gets low, but keep any other interactions to a minimum. This is a busy time for a new colony as they are scrambling to build comb and raise enough bees to replace the old and dying ones that came in the package.

When you check back on them in two weeks, you should see a large amount of capped brood with a solid laying pattern and plenty of freshly drawn comb starting to be filled with gathered pollen and nectar.

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