Friday, May 5, 2017

I Feel Like We Just Brought Home a New Baby

Have you ever brought a newborn baby home? If so, what is the first feelings that you remember as you found yourself totally responsible for this little being for the first time? Excitement? Fear? Trepidation? Help!?!

Who do you turn to? Friends and family? Your online community? Parenting support groups? Parenting books by experts? All of the above?

Clive, the hive. We set him up on a old
carpet to keep the weeds (and ticks)
down around the perimeter of the hive.
Do you wonder where I am going with all these questions? Well, last Thursday we found ourselves driving home with a bouncing... box of bees. And we were soon to find out that those memories of first coming home with a newborn would be triggered by some similar experiences in the next few days. You may think this sounds ridiculous, but let me be more specific. It was the endless flood of advice, and may I say almost always conflicting advice, every time we had a question about the new additions to the homestead.

First off, it was a premature delivery. We were not 'expecting' the bees until 'sometime in May' according to the local apiary we bought the nuc (nucleus hive) from. When we got a phone call on the morning of April 27th asking if we could come pick up our bees that evening you would think we would have everything ready. After all, I had ordered the bees and the hive back in January. But, with the gardens needing to be planted and a strong penchant for procrastination, the hive still needed a coat of tung oil and then had to be transported and set up in the clearing on the northwest corner of the property that we had designated as the bee habitat.

It was a Thursday, there had been torrential rains a couple days earlier and even heavier rains were in the forecast for Saturday. I was thinking that Mark, the bee guy, wanted to get the nucs distributed to his customers in between the storms. That afternoon, we managed to get the hive completed and set up and arrived to pick up our nuc at the designated time, about 7:30 p.m.

This is the flap on the nuc in the
open position. It is closed by
pushing it down into a matching
cut-out, like a puzzle piece, and
only held in place by friction.
A nuc is a small version of a working hive (think mobile home of the bee hive world), which means the bees are going in and out during the day. By waiting to pick it up later in the evening we were making sure most of the bees had returned to it for the night and would not be left behind when we put in in out truck to bring it home.  We took our truck that has the cap on the bed because we did not want the bees riding inside the vehicle with us. It turns out that the nuc, which is a fairly sturdy, weather proofed corrugated cardboard (Corflute) box (like I said, a mobile home - minus the wheels), has a little flap that closes quite securely to keep the bees in for the trip home. I say quite securely but it is just a flap that pushes in flush with the opening and is held by friction, so we were still glad they were in the back of the truck.

As we were getting ready to leave the bee farm, Mark said he would give us the same advice he gives everyone picking up nucs. Here is the gist of his advice, although he did throw in a lot more beekeeping terminology:
1.Feed the bees for the the first week or so. The solution for feeding in the  spring is a 1 to 1 sugar water syrup. After a week, check the brood box (where we transfer the nuc to) to see if they have drawn (made) comb on the new frames, if so add a second brood box or a honey super (has frames just like a brood box, but the queen can't get into it so it only has honey, no eggs, larvae, etc.). If the new frames are not well established with comb, continue feeding the bees and wait a while before adding another box.
2. Treat for mites sometime in August. If you plan on harvesting any honey the first year, treat for mites after the honey harvest.
3. In fall, after the August harvest, have either a second brood box or a honey super in place and start feeding the bees a 2 to 1 sugar syrup so that they can store up food for the winter.

I nodded and asked a couple of questions and hopefully sounded knowledgeable, while the whole time I am thinking how much of this do I really have to do, I want to be a bee haver, not a bee keeper. We are self-reliant and I want our bees to be self-reliant, too. Also I was starting to feel a bit overwhelmed, like when it's time to bring the baby home from the hospital and you wonder if you really know everything you need to know to care for this new addition to the family.

A sample of our road conditions after heavy rains.
When I mentioned bringing home the bouncing box of bees this was not just a cute reference to tie in with the baby analogy. Remember those torrential rains I mentioned? And you may recall that we have been told by some of the county road crew that we live on the worse road in the county. Well, to go pick up the bees we had to go out the north end of our road, which is the longer end to travel before getting to pavement, about 5 miles. The rains had caused quite a few wash-outs along with flooding where the creek ran across the road in several areas. This left the road in worse shape than usual, including rocks up to the size of dinner plates strewn across it as well as dead fall tree branches as large as fence posts washed down from the mountainsides and onto the road.

I was worried the bees would be upset
after  the last 20 minutes of our trip which
was on our washed-out road.
 By the time we ventured out, the worst of the debris had been pushed to the roadside, but it was still rough going. I hadn't thought anything about it until we were on the way back with the bees. As we turned back onto our road ans started bumping along I realized the bees were not going to be happy by the time we got back to our house after about 20 minutes of being shaken up in the back of the truck. Since it was also almost dark by this time, we decided it would be a good idea to leave the bees in the nuc for the night and transfer them to the hive the next morning. This was the first of many decision we had to make for our new addition to the family.

When we got home, we placed the nuc up by the hive but kept it closed for the night, after an in depth discussion on the pros and cons of opening the door of the nuc for that night. My thinking was that, since the nuc was a mini working hive, it would be fine left 'as is' for the night. It had five frames, where a full size brood box has either eight or ten. And, since the nuc was well established, these frames were full of everything the bees needed and they would be fine closed up for one night. Plus, since we had waited for them all to fly home for the night before picking them up we could assume they always stayed in the nuc all night. Nevertheless as soon as we were in the house I google how long can bees stay in a nuc and found all different answers, both confirming and contradicting my thoughts..

Alan and I stayed up googling quite a few things about bees that night. It's not that I hadn't researched beekeeping before this, in fact, I had taken a three month online course. But, just like when you read all the baby books and thought you knew everything, it all seems different as soon as you bring them home. Oh, and the one sure thing we learned that night was a tidbit Alan came across that he shared with me. It said: If you ask two beekeepers a question you will get three different answers.

This is what the nuc looked like when we opened the lid.
A fully established mini-hive with five frames. The bees
had even started drawing some comb on the box lid.
The next morning we lit the smoker, I donned my protective gear and we hiked up to Clive, the hive. I opened the little hatch on the nuc expecting a huge out pouring of claustrophobic bees, but only a few rambled out to look around. I then opened the top flap to view the frames, which were nicely filled with bees, calm bees I was happy to see. I wafted a little smoke over the top of the frames in the nuc to encourage the bees to meander down into the frames so that I could grasp the upper edges.

When you use smoke you do not want to flood the hive with it, in most cases more is not better. I like to think of it more as herding the bees in the direction you want them to go with puffs of smoke. In order to transfer the frames and bees from the nuc into Clive's brood box I wanted the bees to move off the tops of the frame and down into the nuc so that they were on other parts of the frames. If I had blown smoke into the entire nuc box I would have probably chased the bees completely out of the box and I did not want a few thousand bees to come flying out at me (a typical nuc contains 10,000 bees). While smoke is used to calm the bees, too much smoke will actually lead to an agitated hive due to the confusion it causes.

Using the hive tool to loosen the frames from the nuc box.
Before attempting to lift out the frames, I saw there was some cross comb visible between the frames. This is where the bees build the comb as a bridge between the frames. I could only see the top edges of the frames so I had no idea how badly the frames were stuck together. Time to make more decisions. I used my hive tool, which has a sharp wedge, to split the comb I could see between the top of two the frames. As I wiggled the tool down through the comb I could feel the first frame separate from the next. I then grasped the top edge with both hands and lifted. Nothing happened. The frame was still stuck in the box. I again grabbed the hive tool and this time I used the end that is bent similar to a crow bar. I slid the bent end under the lip of the frame that rest on the box edge and gently pried up to loosen the frame from the box. I did this on both sides and then the frame, along with all the bees currently working on it, easily lifted out of the box and I carefully placed it in Clive. Four more frames to go.

Transferring a double set of frames. The white strip closest
to me in the box is the top of one of the new frames. We are
using plastic frames that have been coated in bees wax.
It turns out, I only had to do this two more times because the next time I pried a frame loose, two came up together and I was comfortable supporting both of them together with my fingers under the lips of the frames. Since Clive is an 8-frame box, we had three new frames in the brood box in addition to the 5 we transferred. You always arranged your frames so that the transferred nuc is in the center and the transferred frames are always kept in the same order as they were in the nuc. So our brood box has a new frame on one end then the five nuc frames and then two more new frames. The bees will now get busy drawing comb (building honey comb) on the new frames to fill out the brood box.

This is the feeder I made to hold the
sugar water syrup. When inverted, a
vacuum forms so that it does not
continually drip through the holes.
What's next? We'll check the new frames in the brood box at the end of the week. At that time, I am fairly certain we will see the new frames on either side of the transferred frames have been filled with comb. Soon after that we will add our second brood box. It is a medium sized box, which is shorter than the current (deep) brood box. It will also have 8 frames for the bees to draw comb on, but these are shorter frames designed to fit in the medium sized box. We are thinking of this as an auxiliary storage area (self-reliance) to help our bees get through the winter. While many beekeepers wait to add this on until after they have harvested their honey, we want to let our bees store up their supply before we stake any claim for ourselves.

The honey super, with the
flow frames will be added
to the hive later in the summer.
Once we know our bees are well prepared with food stores we will then add the honey super. The honey super is normally just another box with frames that the queen does not have access to, but in our case it has the flow frames that we will be able to drain the honey from the frames without removing them from the hive.

You keep the queen out of the honey super using a queen excluder, a plastic grid that is large enough for all the bees except the queen to get through. This allows the bees to fill the frames in the honey super with honey while making sure the queen does not lay any eggs in the your honey.

Alan adding the queen excluder on top of the brood box.

The queen excluder can be seen
through feeding hole.
The feeder jar in place over the hole in the top board.
The roof of the hive has been removed in this photo.
One more analogy and then I'll stay away from the topic of bees for a while. Alan made a purchase this week that will serve multiple purposes. It is the Hive Genie. It is a hi-tech device (Purpose #1 a new toy) that monitors the health of the hive in a variety of ways (Purpose #2 aids in the goal of bee haver vs. bee keeper) that even comes with its own solar panel (Purpose #3 solar panel - enough said). Get the analogy? It's a bee monitor (as opposed to a baby monitor).

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