Installation Installment

The weather for our bee installation was not quite ideal, or maybe it was. Cool and misty, with intermittent periods of light rain. We arrived at Indian Creek Nature center around noon. We met in one of the smaller buildings there. We were dressed in our white outfits--pants with long-sleeved, over-sized white t-shirts, and carried our gloves and hats with veils. There was a big stack of bee boxes in one corner of the room, giving off an easily discernible hum. At least a dozen bees were flying freely around the small room. Better get used to that, I thought. Bob, our teacher, went through some of the diseases bees experience, describing symptoms and suggesting treatments. He said we would need to get a small packet of medication before we left with our bees. This was to be applied in two parts, right after installation and the other half in 3 weeks. It was treatment for prevention of American foul brood, a nasty terminal disease that is easily recognizable by the odor produced as the larva die, hence the name.

We then went out to their hives. He pulled one apart to demonstrate queen recognition and to examine a healthy hive, with capped honey cells, eggs and capped larva. He smoked the bees prior to opening the hive, and they were very well behaved, though we right away had to get used to bees crawling on us, just being curious I hoped, and crapping. They crap a lot, leaving little brown smears all over the nice, clean white outfits.

After spending awhile examining the hive, he demonstrated the installation. The bees come in a rectangular box, about 18x8x8 inches, with screen on the two long sides. On the top is cut a hole about the size of an 28 oz. vegetable can, with a slit cut in the wood about two inches long going toward one end of the box. Sticking through this slit is a metal tab, attached to the queen cage which is inside the larger box. The can holds the sugar water that has been feeding the bees while it was shipped. Here the tab holding the queen box is being unfolded so you can grab onto it, remove the feeding can, slide the tab to the opening so you can pull the queen box out, then quickly replace the can so the bees do not fly out. The queen will need to remain in this little box, even in the hive, for a couple more days so the bees get used to her and accept her. In one end of her little cage is a hole with a cork. You need to remove the cork, place your finger quickly over the hole, take a marshmallow, then stuff the candy into the hole. This will be eaten through in a couple days, freeing the queen if all goes well. Then, the queen box is placed in the bottom of the hive, after removing about 5 frames, in a back corner away from the opening to the hive. At this point, you take the bee box, smack it down firmly to knock the bees down, remove the feeding can, and dump the bees into the hive. Now, all instructions say to spray the bees down with a sugar water solution before this step. Our instructors did not do that, since it was so cool and damp which really slows the bees down. More on this later.

After dumping the bees into the hive, they spread them out on the bottom, making sure a number were around the queen cage, and then replaced the frames and closed up the hive. They did this demonstration with four more hives. We felt pretty confident about things at this point, went back to the small building where the bees were kept, got our box of bees, chemical and marshmallows, and headed home.

Of course, it didn't go quite as planned. We decided to go right ahead and install them as soon as we were home. We suited up again, got a screw to remove the cork in the queen cage and headed out to the hive with our bees. It was still cool and misting. The queen cage part went flawlessly. We were worried about this since one queen temporarily got out while making the cork--marshmallow exchange but Bob was quick and grabbed her bare-handed and got her back in her cage. So we were ready to dump the bees in. I gave them a smart smack down to knock them down, Kathy pulled out the can and I began to dump them. However, unlike the demonstrations, ours did not just fall down into the hive. Many took flight, buzzing angrily as we tried to shake them out of the box. We didn't hear those sounds at Indian Creek, though there were about 20 people around and many bees flying. Needless to say, we got a bit frantic. We decided to quicly close the hive up, let them settle down and try to finish in awhile.

After about an hour, we went back out, this time with the smoker, and tried to get more bees in the hive. There were still about 1/3 of them in the box. No luck--they were still very aggressive. I got one up inside my veil, sounding very pissed. We retreated again. I called Bob. He said smoke will not work since there was no honey in the hive. Just let them chill down some more, then try again. We did but took the sugar water with us this time. We sprayed them down, which immediately made them manageable, and got almost all of them in the hive. We put in a fresh feeding can and closed it up. Success.

The difference between our experience and that of the ones at Indian Creek were that those had been kept outdoors in Bob's truck and were already quite cool and damp and much more easy to handle. Ours had been kept warm and dry in the building and in our car on the way home. Had we used the spray to begin with, I know we would have had much more luck getting them in and keeping our spirits high. Chalk it off to a lesson learned.

The "bee" girl


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