Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bees On Errything.

It's that time of year again; package installs!

We got our packages from Mann Lake this year, as they offered the one of the earliest pickup dates and lowest price. One of the NYC beekeeping organizations did a group pickup, which meant we didn't even have to drive to pick them up! The packages themselves are from California, as I assume the queens are, implying that they were taken from hives intended for pollination. I'm interested in seeing what kind of genetic diversity is shown in the populations of the new hives once a few laying cycles have passed.

Notice that these packages have no piece of masonite to seal in the queen cage and can of sugar syrup, unlike most of the packages we've purchased in the past. This means that they must be transported carefully; if any were to tip over, the can could become dislodged, allowing the bees to escape. Whoops? I can't imagine that a small piece of chipboard would add significantly to the unit cost. On a higher note, the packages themselves looked healthy and many were on the healthy side of three pounds, with very few dead on the bottom.

We picked up a total of 7 packages for both our personal and public hives, as well as a few for other people. It was a Saturday in Brooklyn, so parking was a beast. We ended up carrying the packages about half a mile to the car, which resulted in quite a few stares and selfies.

Arriving at the first location, we decided to try a variety of package install methods. Traditionally, a beekeeper might choose to knock the package firmly down to dislodge the bees and make removing the feeding can and queen cage easier. This requires a bit of finesse. Do it too gently, and the can and cage will come out covered with bees, which might intimidate new beekeepeers. Slam the cage down and the shock might damage the queen in her cage. Remember that bees are remarkably sensitive to any damage the queen may sustain. A twisted leg or bent wing may interfere with the worker bees' recognition of the queen, resulting in a rapid supercedure and a significant delay in colony build up and production. Bad news bears.

Any method that doesn't involve potentially damaging the queen is superior, although it requires you to be more exposed to bees. Is that scary? Don't be scared. You're a beekeeper, remember?

As I mentioned, the Mann Lake packages did not come with any piece to secure their feed can, meaning that Shelly could just use her hive tool to lift it out with her hive tool, bees and all. Easy. Great. Still a little scary that there is nothing securing it in place.

Depending on the number of bees attached to the can, you may choose to plop them into the hive, or leave them be for the moment so that you can get the majority of them in faster.

Then comes the queen cage. In this particular case, the small, California-style queen cage is held in place by a small strip of metal folded through a slot in the top of the package. To remove it, just slide the cage out and gently remove it, bees and all.

When you pull the cage, it will most likely be covered with bees. This is where an assessment needs to be made. The bees on the outside of the cage are strongly attracted to the pheromones released by the queen, but they may not have accepted her yet. Remember that the queens shipped with packages are likely as not from the same breeding stock, let alone the same hive. When the packages are assembled, preproduced queens are inserted into the boxes of bees shaken from any number of strong hives. The queen is completely foreign. If they let her loose, the workers would likely reject and ball her to death.

Take a close look at the bees on the cage. Are they gently hanging off and attempting to feed the queen through the screen? Look for their dark red tongues darting through the cage. They're small, but if you spot them, it means they have likely accepted the queen and you can release her right then and there, eliminating a later trip to release her or remove her cage.

Do they look agitated? Are they running around? Biting the cage? If so, you might want to consider leaving the queen protected for a few more days until the workers become accustomed to her scent. Better safe than sorry. For the most part, these bees seemed quite accepting of their new queen, which makes sense considering they had a couple of days to become accustomed to her face on their trip from California.

In this case, the bees seemed a little tetchy. It's easiest to wedge the queen cage gently in between two frames in the middle. If the cage has candy, the bees will chew through it to release the queen. If there is no candy, you will have to leave the cork in.. In either case, you will have to return in a couple of days to either remove the queen cage, or release the queen.

Once you place the cage, we gently shook the majority of the bees out into the hive. Again, there are a few methods of doing this. The easiest is to shake the bees directly out through the feeding can hole. If you're feeling fancy, you may use your hive tool to remove one side of the package entirely, letting you get all the bees out in one quick shake.

In either case, the bees are shaken directly into the hive and allowed to settle for a few minutes. This is an enjoyable process and you should treat it as such. Watching the bees pour out of the package is an awesome experience, especially if you're the one doing it.

Alternately some beekeepers suggest merely opening the package and allow the bees to migrate into the hive naturally as they are attracted to the queen pheromones. If you have a lot of time, this might work, but I think it is much more efficient to get them in the hive quickly so that they can get to work. The chances of injuring any particular bee when you shake them out is very low; just remember to do it gently.

With that in mind, there will always be a few (or a lot) of stragglers left in the packages, depending on how aggressively you shook them. In this case, the man lake packages came with a wooden reinforcement baffle on one side of the can cut-out, making it difficult to shake the bees out. Place the package directly next to the entrance and the bees should move into the hive relatively quickly.

Be careful when you put your hands in your pockets. If there is a bee in there, you just might get stung.

Like me.


The hives in Red Hook went in quickly. In both cases, we let the queens out immediately. They were eagerly being fed by the workers in the package. Bees remaining in the package after the initial install were shaken out onto the front porch of the hives before we left.

Kim's hives had a wide variety of honey left over from the year before. Take a look at the almost water white honey in the upper left and compare it to the dark amber stuff in lower right.

Kim's first install went quickly, and the bees quickly moved into the hive. Notice the number of bees spraying Nasonov scent into the air, marking the hive as their own.

For her second install, she opted to remove a few frames, making a space in the middle for her to pour the bees into. This gets them deep in the hive faster, making it easier to close them up when you're done.

Once the majority of the workers were in, Kim released the queen directly into the mass of workers. It is easiest to do, not by removing the cork and trying to shake her out (don't do this), but by removing the screen holding her in gently with your hive tool. Be sure not to poke her.

Once the cage is open, the queen will eagerly run down in with the workers and disappear from sight.

Kim shook out the remaining bees and then gently inserted the previously removed frames.

Notice the large amount of pollen remaining in the frame; this will be a major boon to the developing colony as it grows up their brood.

Putting a few undrawn frames allows the new colony to put their young workers to good use, building up fresh comb. They like doing this. Drawn comb is a great advantage for a new colony, but new hives are remarkably adept at building up new comb. Take advantage of this if you have any frames that are ready to be recycled.

Once the bees were in, Kim closed up the hives and we were done for the day.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting this, its a great reference for me as a newbee as I prep for my package this weekend. Love the many, many pics.