Friday, January 25, 2008

Lesson 24: Spring Management & Preparation Of Packaged Bees

A warmhivesquat welcome to all our new subscribers! Nice to have you with us for these online beekeeping lessons. When I first started keeping bees in 1994, I called a large company that sold beekeeping equipment. I was intimidated by the way they assumed I knew everything there was about keeping bees. They rattled off sizes and names of different boxes and frames and foundation that made me think I neglected to press 1 for English.
We don't mind when you call us and say, "what are those thingies that hang inside a bee box" because we know that you mean frames. We don't make you feel stupid if you pronounce a honey super like supper. We expect new beekeeper to be on a big learning curve. Hey! We're still learning ourselves. So do not be intimidated by getting your feet wet in beekeeping. Keep learning.
Ready, set, go, spring is around the corner! I'm anxiously awaiting the first warm spell that comes along because I'm going to place pollen patties in my hives. It looks like Sunday afternoon may be the best day. This will help the queen begin laying some early brood. It can be a little risky this early, because colonies could wind up with more brood than they can keep warm, but it's a risk I'm willing to take for early spring build up of my hives.
Which brings me to today's lesson about spring preparation and management. First, there are two groups of beekeepers headed into spring. Those who do not have bees but will be getting packages or nucs this year, and then there are those who have wintered bees and are looking forward to seeing how well these over-wintered colonies survived the winter.
A first year hive is just what it sounds lie. It is the installation of a package of bees or a nuc. A second year hive means the colony has overwintered one winter and is now in its second year. After that, we just refer to hives as established hives.
Let's talk about the first year hive first. Even though in the north we'll still have one more month of off and on brutally cold, snowy weather, spring is coming, and it is coming faster than most beekeepers can expect and prepare adequately. You cannot wait until winter is over and warm weather is finally here to begin beekeeping preparations. By then you'll always be trying to play catch-up.
In my early years of beekeeping I was shocked when I called in April to order bees only to be told that they sold out in January. It depressed me to think I would have to wait another year. So, get into the mind set that you must prepare now!
1) All equipment must be in your possession soon, so that you can become familiar with it and paint it if you need to.
Unless you live in the deep south, you need these hive components:
a. Screen bottom board
b. 2 Deep brood hive bodies with frames/foundation
c. 2-3 Medium supers with frames/foundation
d. An inner cover
e. An outer cover
f. An entrance reducer cleat
g. Either a top feeder or an entrance feeder
h. A hive tool
i. Protective clothing
j. A smoker
That's your equipment checklist. Do not improvise. Keep bees the right way with the right tools. Do not use a screw driver instead of a hive tool, or a trash bag instead of a hat and veil. Do it right if you are going to keep bees! We have several online options if you still need to order your hive, bees or equipment:

If you are rusty or unfamiliar with hive components, please review Lesson One (and following) which explains the various components which make up the beehive.
2) Prepare you mission of installing your bees by reviewing Lesson Seven which explains in detail with pictures on how to install your bees. Go over and over this lesson until you can do it in your sleep.
3) Build up your confidence. Installing packaged bees is very simple and enjoyable. So do not give in to your fears or reservations.
4) On a descent day, before your bees arrive, place your hive in the spot of your choice. Block the entrance with your entrance cleat to prevent mice from making a home prior to your bees arriving.
Once your preparations are made, now you're ready for your bees to arrive in the spring. Once we inform you of an approximate date your bees will arrive, call your post office and let them know too. Tell them the approximate date and give them your home phone number and cell phone number if you have one. Ask them to call you immediately when your bees arrive. Mix 1:1 sugar water in a clean spray bottle and have it ready to take to the post office. Once you receive a call from the post office, grab your spray bottle and head out. Spray the outside screen of your package of bees at the post office. They need that sugar water spray! You cannot over spray them. The spray will go through the screen and provide nourishment for them.
You will notice lots of dead bees on the inside bottom of your package of bees. This is normal. The packages are packed with this in mind, allowing for those that die. However, if you have more than 1" of dead bees, call us as this might mean the bees were over-stressed in shipping.

When you transport your bees, keep them covered up, but allow air for them to breath. Keep them out of direct sunlight as this will excite them. Your package will be dripping with sugar water, so don't ruin your car's upholstery. Take a plastic tub with you so that you can carry the package in your car. If you put packages in the bed of a truck, keep them from being wind burned if you are driving at interstate speeds.
There are usually bees on the outside of your package. This does not necessarily mean the box is leaking bees. It just means some didn't make it inside, but they are hanging on for dear life to stay with their sisters, clinging to the gage.
Since package bees have no queen (she is in a separate cage), no brood and no honey, their morale is low. They are not aggressive. They are a bit confused and so you will become more confident once you see how calm they are.

What if the weather is cloudy and rainy on the day you pick up your bees? No big deal. DO NOT INSTALL THEM IN BAD WEATHER! Spray them completely with sugar water every four hours in the daytime, and before you go to bed and when you wake up. Keep them in a dark cool place above 55 degrees. You can keep them alive this way for another couple of days or longer until the weather breaks.
Next, follow my lessons on installing a package of bees. AND, get this! YOU MUST PLACE ALL 10 FRAMES IN THE HIVE AFTER INSTALLING YOUR PACKAGE. If you fail to do this, the bees will attach comb in the blank space up to the inner cover or top cover and you will not be able to open your hive without destroying the nest. ALL TEN FRAMES MUST GO BACK IN THE HIVE AFTER INSTALLING YOUR PACKAGE!
You must install your bees, as I have pointed out in Lesson Seven, in only one deep brood box. Do not put your second brood box on yet, nor your honey super. You will not need to add these until later. The general rule is to wait until about 7 frames are drawn out in your first box, then add the second. When seven frames in the second box is drawn out, add your honey super. Always use your inner cover over your last box, even at first when you only have one deep brood box. And your top cover goes on last. Weigh down your top cover with a heavy rock incase you have a nasty spring thunderstorm with high winds. I've lost hives due to severe thunderstorm winds. This new hive is very light in weight. Once it matures, it will way over 100 pounds. But for now, keep it weighed down.
Once installed, stay out of the hive for 1 week, at least 5 days. No peaking! On day 5, 6 or 7, gently smoke the opening of your hive, wait a minute, open the lid and inspect the queen cage. Pull it out, as she should not be in her cage. Usually there is a small amount of comb on the bottom of her cage. Be sure she is not on that comb. If she is, gently shake her onto a frame. Save the cage as a souvenir that YOU DID IT!
Continue to feed your bees either with a top feeder or an entrance feeder. But, remove the entrance cleat at this time to allow the bees full access in and out. Save that cleat for fall though! Don't lose it.
Close up the hive and wait another week. Around day 14 from your original installation date, smoke the entrance and inspect the hive. Pull out a few frames and see if you can see tiny eggs in the bottom of the cells where the comb has been drawn out. You might see if you can find your queen. If you spot your queen, good for you! Now, be careful. If she is on the frame you are inspecting, hold that frame over the hive incase she falls off, she will fall safely back in her hive. If you hold your frame over the grass and she falls off, it is unlikely that she will find her way back in. Maybe, but let's not see how good she is with directions.
Careful with that queen. When you place the frame back into the hive, in the same orientation before you took it out, make sure that you do not smash the queen. Watch her as you lower the frame down into the hive to ensure she is not wedged between combs or the wooden ware.
Now that it's been two weeks, and the queen is laying good, you can rest comfortably knowing that all is well. Continue feeding your bees, at least 2 weeks after installation and longer if they seem to be consuming a lot! Once real nectar can be found in your area, your girls should forage for nectar rather than drink from your feeders.
Now, you will need to simply enjoy beekeeping. Inspect your hive briefly every two weeks to make sure you see the queen or that you see freshly laid eggs. Then you know all is well.
Take a moment now that you've experienced bee and decide if you want more hives. Believe it or not, it is not too late. Say it's May 15, and you installed your package and have shown off to all your friends and relatives how you can open a hive and live. Maybe you find that you thoroughly love keeping bees! Your girls (the bees) have really brought you a lot of enjoyment and peace. Well, go ahead and order another hive or two. All through the month of May you can continue to install packages. Call us to see if we can provide you with packaged bees. Last year we shipped out way into July!
Keep our number handy: 217-427-2678.
Last year, we had many customers purchase hives from us, and then asked us to install their bees for them. Once installed they came in a week or two to carry home their hive with the bees installed. We seal it off with screen wire and staple the hive together temporarily for travel. Perhaps you will want us to do the same for you. Just remember, when purchasing a hive in their own box, you must make sure you have proper permission to transport the hive across county and state lines. This does not apply for packaged bees, only an established hive.

If you are thinking about starting with one hive, please review my lesson on why you should start with two hives. It is Lesson 18.
In our next lesson, I'll look at how to manage a second year hive, meaning a hive that made it through their first winter!

We appreciate those of you who spread the word about this beekeeping online resource! You'll notice information at the bottom of these postings where you can send this to a friend. Help us spread the word!
Until next time, remember to Bee-Have yourself!
David & Sheri Burns
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms