Our honeybees arrived in Connecticut just in time for Earth Day. I picked them up on Saturday afternoon, two 3-lb packages, each containing roughly 20,000-30,000 honeybees! I was very excited to meet them, and to see exactly how loud 40-60k bees would be in my car. I have to report that they were astonishingly quiet – aside from the occasional fly-like buzz, you would never have known I had so many bees sitting in the car right next to me!
Our honeybees are 3-banded Italians, that made the trip up from Georgia. This is one of the most common honeybee varieties, is well suited to our northern climate, and is also one of the more docile honeybees. Having made a grueling journey, and with no home to protect, these bees were docile indeed. My husband and I were able to get them into their hives with out getting stung a single time! The experience was still slightly nerve-wracking, as dozens and dozens of bees flew around us, and it was hard to suppress that natural reaction to flinch.
Sunday was installation day, and to start, we brought the bee packages outside (they spent the night in my basement where it was cool, and then the morning on my dining table so I could watch them) and sprayed them with a good amount of sugar syrup. This causes the bees to stop and clean themselves, making them even less likely to get upset and sting.
We gathered our supplies – hive tool, one pair of bee-suit gloves (just in case!), bee brush, pollen cakes and two feeders with quart jars of “bee food” – a sugar and water mix with an essential oil blend added in that they just love (based off of the popular, but more expensive, Honeybee Healthy).
We did one hive at a time, popping the lid and removing the queen cage. We removed the cork at the candy-end, and rubber-banded the cage gently to one of the hive frames. Then came the hold-your-breath, here-we-go moment: Dumping out the bees. We replaced the frames around the queen and shook out a good amount of bees, right on top. These bees will immediately start working their way down between the frames, eager to protect and release the queen, as well as to start drawing out honeycomb cells to begin building their new home up.
Next we gently brushed bees from the sides and added the top cover, and then the feeder and half of a pollen cake to each hive. Since I used quart jars instead of just a pint jar for the feeder, we actually had to add two medium-hive bodies on top to cover it, and then the outer cover. We decided against putting the feeder in the doorway of the hive, as we didn’t want to cut and mess around with the entrance reducers. Maybe this was lazy, maybe it’s genius. Everything appears to be just fine so far! This extra space allowed us to put the bee packages inside as well, since many bees still remained in each one.
Once the outer covers were on, our first bee adventure was over. We now have to leave the hives alone for the first 5-7 days while the queen gets out of the cage, and the bees settle into their new home. On Sunday, we’ll go in, remove the packages, and ensure the queen has gotten out of the cage and is doing fine. The honeybees should have started drawing out comb to store their pollen and nectar, as well as making brood cells for the queen to lay her eggs. After that check, we will leave them alone for another 2-weeks, then check to see if they are ready for another box worth of hive frames to build on!
Despite the unsettling feeling of having so many hundreds of bees flying around, crawling on our clothes, and I even had some in my hair, we did goo controlling our reactions to flinch or swat. All of our research and conversations with experienced beekeepers had encouraged us to install the bees without wearing any protective gear (aside from the gloves, which popped on and off both of us and ended up laying on the grass), and this proved to be worthwhile advice. It would have been unnecessary to suit up, as the bees were tired and hungry from their long journey, and had no home to be territorial about protecting. Their only thought was to stick with the queen, without whom they knew their colony has no chance.
I loved watching them buzz around and crowd the entrances on the first day. It’s rained since, so we haven’t seen much activity, and thus haven’t had a chance to gauge how much activity will be “normal” for them. I do love that the hives are visible from our living room and sun room windows, so we can sit in the mornings with our coffee and watch them buzz around.
My husband and I are both so excited about the honeybees, that we are both impatient for Sunday to come so we can take another peek and see how our bees are doing!