Back in Beesness!

It’s the Summer of Bees! Yes, it’s still technically pre-solstice and a windy 65 degrees outside as I write this but that is completely immaterial and beside the point.

The point is, we did it–we finally pulled the trigger and, ready or not (more not), the bees arrived almost two months ago, on April 1.

I wanted to make sure that bee season didn’t pass us by this year so I visited the bee store website in late March and placed our order for a package of Italian bees, which I decided on because they’re popular, they’re available, and also they’re just so darned cute and yellow!

Based on everything I had read online about package bees, I was expecting they would arrive in late April or even early May. As I placed the order I saw no mention of the delivery date but didn’t think much of it, figuring I’d just call them later for the details. When I did, the girl I spoke with cheerily informed me that my delivery date would be the first of April–four days away.

Four days to decide on a final location for the hive, level the ground, buy or construct the stand, assemble the hive, make sugar water, and generally get it together. Four work days. Well, four work days, minus one for mentally preparing. And minus one for taco night with friends at the best little taco place in town! Did I mention I’m a procrastinator? So, two. Two days.

[Cue two days of cold, crappy, rainy weather.]

And that is how I came to spend the least enjoyable lunch hour of my life on Friday, March 31, uprooting pachysandra and digging through mud in rainy, 35-degree weather. In my work clothes. I’m pretty sure my distressed pleather booties were never meant to see that kind of hard labor. Nor my jeggings. Nor ANY jeggings.

Anyway, I ended up with this little patch of level(ish) ground to set the hive base on.

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The following day, with much anticipation, we piled into the car and drove the hour to the bee store to meet our bees, incoming from California. We got to the bee store, presented our sales slip, and were told that we could drive around to the back and pick up our package whenever we were ready. We still had lots of supplies to gather so we spent a while doing that.

When we went to check out, we got the first clue that something more than retail was afoot in this establishment–one of the staff stepped back into the store from outside to take over the cash register and got stung mid-transaction by a bee that had crawled up his pant leg. He barely paused to swat and shake his pants a bit, then went back to his work. I gave Dana a sideways glance. Were we ready for our future as fleshy, pink pincushions?

The back of the bee store was like nothing I’ve witnessed before in life. See, the bee store pretends to be a normal store in the front. Bee-centric, obviously, but fairly normal. In reality it is business up front, beepocalypse in the back. We pulled the car around and parked in the loading area, which was full of clouds of bees, stacked with boxes of bees, and every horizontal surface was coated in a layer of dead bees. I kind of didn’t want to get out of the car.

But we had to. Well, Dana and I had to. Our daughter got to stay in the car to avoid having to describe the scene to her psychologist in thirty years. Also, I had to grab our bee package (the bees not all entirely inside of the package), without looking terrified and attracting derision from the jolly, bee-covered people around me. So I did grab it but I must have been holding it gingerly with two fingertips, because Dana swooped in and took it from me. He placed it carefully in the cardboard box we had ready in the trunk and we drove back home home.

The metal hive stand we settled on was built for an eight-frame Langstroth but it fit well enough and we had the hive ready to go in no time. The weather was still chilly, though, so we took the advice of one of the nice, bee-encrusted gentlemen we had talked to at the bee store and waited until the next day when the temperature was supposed to break 60 degrees. In the meantime the bees stayed on the couch in our garage, like a house guest you don’t want to kick out but don’t trust quite enough to put in the guest room.

The poor little loose bees were still clinging faithfully to the outside of the box, looking very disoriented. I sprayed the sides of the box with sugar water every several hours or so to keep morale up, or whatever. They seemed to have plenty of syrup left in their feeder but the outside bees couldn’t reach it. I tried not to get them wet as I spritzed the box.

The next day, as soon as it started to show signs that it might be decently warm, we prepared to hive the bees. I had watched tons of videos of package bees being hived but the boxes in the videos had all been wood and ours was plastic. Nothing looked the same. I fumbled with the tiny queen cage. Removing the cap seemed impossible. Bees were still clinging all over the outside of it like Velcro, attracted to the queen’s come-hither-and-make-me-a-sandwich pheromones. Dana finally was able to get the plastic cap off, leaving just the candy plug in place, which the bees would eventually chew through to free the queen and her little attendant bees.

Then we introduced the bees into the hive box and that part was exactly like the videos. Shake-shake-dump, shake-shake-dump and the bees poured out like Rice Krispies. But there was no time to celebrate because as soon as they realized which way was up, they began moving in that direction, rapidly! So once we had most of them in, we brushed them away from the sides and placed the bars, the propolis screen, the quilt box, and finally the roof. We set the mostly empty package nearby so that the stragglers could make their way in on their own time.

The next step was to insert the queen cage, which was supposed to fit into a spacer that had been included with the hive for that specific purpose. It didn’t quite fit, though, because this queen cage was a smaller plastic one. We pushed it in a bit too far, at which point it fell entirely into the hive box and we were in no mood to reopen the hive to get it out, so we replaced the wooden plug into the spacer and left it. Spoiler: this would turn out to be a mistake.

At the end of the day, we had a big, wooden box full of bees in our back yard and just one bee sting between us. Dana sustained a sting to the thigh–again, bee in the pants leg! Mental note: elasticized cuffs are our friend. The bees stayed, happily settling in and showing no signs of absconding. I had put a drop or two of lemongrass oil into the hive to make them feel at home and we placed a nice, full bag feeder of sugar water onto their bottom screen on the advice of the hive manufacturer. This, too, would turn out to be a mistake–not necessarily the bag feeder or its placement, but the filling of it. As it turns out, bag feeders should only be filled half-way to avoid leaking, which ours did. But I’ll go into our failures and successes in a later post. For now, the important thing is we have the bees and we no longer have a hive in our living room. Let summer begin!

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What’s it all about?

Amid the craziness of my family’s everyday life–a bathroom remodel that has rendered us showerless, an ambitious social calendar, and a flooded car–two large boxes arrived at our house. At first, the boxes went largely unnoticed (by me, at least).  I just assumed they were the hardware I’d ordered for the bathroom a few days earlier.  They had been carried inside the door by the contractors and nudged to the side, out of the way of the traffic into and out of the house.

They had been sitting there unopened for two days when my husband, Dana, started bringing up bees.

“We’ve gotta order our bees soon,” he said.

“Let’s just see how much the car costs first,” I replied, cringing slightly.  In the year we have had this car, we’ve never made it out of the shop for less than a grand.

“I really want to get them this year,” he insisted.

I wondered vaguely why the subject had come up all of the sudden.  We had ordered our hive, a gorgeous modified Warré, several weeks earlier, just before the maker had stopped taking orders for the season.  I had stumbled onto their site, fallen in love, and decided that this was the only hive for our future honeybees. Then I saw their most recent Facebook post, announcing that they were backed up to March and wouldn’t be taking any more orders for complete hives.  The post was only a day or two old, so in desperation I began the motions of placing an order, sure that at any moment I would be stopped:  “Error: What’s the matter, stoopid, didn’t you see the post? NO MORE ORDERS!”

But miraculously, they had not yet disabled the site’s online ordering capability and it seemed to go through.  For days after, I nervously checked my inbox, expecting to receive an apology and refund at any moment. Finally, an e-mail arrived confirming that our hive was in production, and then, shortly after, a shipping confirmation.

We hadn’t talked much more about it since then.  “We don’t even have a place to put bees yet,” I pointed out. “…I wonder when our hive will get here.”

Dana looked at me as if I had my pants on backwards and said, “What do you think those big boxes in the living room are?”

We paused then to celebrate the arrival of the hive with happy dances and high fives…but the hive remained in the boxes.

It was only this morning, a chilly, snow-covered first Saturday of spring, that the world stopped spinning for a few minutes as I peeled off the tape and opened the first box.  The glorious scent of cedar and honey wafted out into the room as I unpacked each thoughtfully crafted piece.

Each of the three hive boxes contains eight bars, coated with beeswax, and perfectly spaced to conform to "bee space".
Each of the three hive boxes contains eight bars, coated with beeswax, and perfectly spaced to conform to “bee space”.

The estimate for the car was only $700…that is until they found one more bad wheel bearing.  Now it is back to a thousand, just as I knew it would be.  But our will to have our bees this year is renewed.  After all, there are ways to get free bees–we’re a little late to get cheap nucs from the local bee association, and transferring bees from Langstroth nucs to a Warré hive is no picnic, I hear, but there’s always the possibility of luring or capturing a swarm. (I say that as if I have any experience whatsoever doing such a thing.)

I’ve been wanting to do a blog for a long time.  This one will not be solely about bees, since we’re into a little bit of everything.  I want to blog about crafting, photography, gardening, writing, cookingparentingLIFE!!

…But I tend to be a procrastinator.  And I am hoping that the routine, structure, and novelty of beekeeping will inspire posts not just about all things bee, but about all things that BE.

The completed modified Warré hive, from Sweet Valley Hives
The completed modified Warré hive, from Sweet Valley Hives