Did you know that...

  • ...about 90 U.S. crops depend on bees for pollination?
  • ...many hives are trucked from region to region for pollination purposes?
  • ...honeybee health is threatened by, among other things, mites?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bee Day!

Wow! The time: She goes by!

The past two days have been overflowingly full. As projected though, Global Warming kicked in and what had started off as a gray, cold day turned into a fairly warm afternoon complete with...you guessed it...hints of sun and suggestions of blue sky.

Since I knew that the prime portion of the day was going to be taken up with herding bees, I didn't even start stressing over all the other things that I knew wouldn't get done. It was actually a bit refreshing.

I did some work in the office for most of the morning, fed Beth at lunch time and went next door and talked with the folks (Yep, Mom and Dad live next door and we have lots of fun!).

Finally, along about 1:30 the time had come. I piled in the van, stopped by the local latte stand for a Mocha Grande, extra hot with whip and headed down along the River Road to Snohomish.

What a pleasant drive. No rush. Good coffee. River running past me on the left heading the other direction. Farmland. Asking God for just a little more heat.

Rachael had orchestrated a very organized, low key, even-paced process out at the Beez Neez. Apparently, she had done some calling earlier in the week letting folks know that if they paid for their bees in advance they'd be able to get in the short line come Bee Day. That, coupled with the fact that she's just plain good at what she does seemed to keep the whole "Snohomish County-come-pick-up-your-packages-of-bees" thing chugging along very well!

So before I knew it, I'd stood there and watched a couple people pick up their packages, chewed the fat a little with Rachael, picked up my own three boxes of bees, chewed the fat a little with Jim and was headed along the River Road for home. River on the right, going my direction.

I arrived at home just in time to meet the folks returning from a walk, so I enlisted the Poor Old Man to take some pictures of the bee herding process so I could prove to anyone reading this that it actually happened.

Following a few preliminaries, like making sure all three hive bodies had good drawn comb frames in them and that I had plenty of syrup on hand for the California girls to haul down into their new digs, I began to commence to begin.

My neighbor, Jeff, was out in his back yard (taking advantage of Global Warming) and I thought he might get a kick out of watching so I let him know what was about to happen. He and a couple of his cohorts were eager to watch...from their vantage point on his side of the fence.

Got the first box ready to go by using my Leatherman needle nose pliers to grab the rim of the syrup can that shipped with the bees and easing the can up out of the package for just long enough, I removed the queen cage with its pheromonally potent resident.

With Miss Queen removed from the masses, I set about to ready her for introduction to her new domain. We don't just turn her loose in the hive, you know. There's protocol to be followed. This one is called the old marshmellow-in-the-queen-cage trick. You see, with every package of bees comes a queen bee. And every queen bee ships in her own little "Queen Cage." That cage is first removed from the package so that a very important detail can be addressed.

During shipment, it is undesirable to have the queen escape from the queen cage, so the escape route is blocked with a cork. Once placed in the hive, however, it's not only desirable, but critical that the queen escape into the hive itself, there to rule and reign over the kingdom. So we use a timed-release method of sorts. Before placing the queen and her cage in the hive, we remove the cork and replace it with an obstruction her Retinue will eat through within a few days: a mini-marshmellow. I know, this is a nasty picture, but you get the idea. By the time the bees remove the marshmellow, the queen's pheromone scent will have permeated the hive and colonization will have begun! Long live the Queen!

With the marshmellow in place, I inserted the queen cage between two of the frames in the hive and snugged them up against the cage.

Now this is where the fun was to begin. With Miss Queen ready to receive her many subjects, all that was left for me to do was deliver them, quite unceremoniously, to her.

I've tried this particular step both with and without beekeepers gloves. Given the fact that in each package there is a population of about 15,000 bees, and given the fact that in order to remove them from the package a fair
amount of shaking is required that seems to exasperate them to no small degree, I've pretty much adopted a policy of always using gloves for this task along with my usual Square Folding Veil and Vented Helmet.

And so I let the festivities begin.

I removed the syrup can from the package, opening up a four-inch hole in the top.

With great dispatch I turned the package upside down immediately above the queen cage and gave the box a couple good swift downward thrusts, depositing the bulk of the herd in a pile altogether on the tops of the hive frames.

Funny. They all seemed to know exactly what to do. Many were airborne immediately. Most stayed on the top bars of the frames and many began filtering down onto the sides of the drawn comb in the hive.

That queen pheromone is truly an amazing regulator!

Well, since I'm a day and a half late getting this posted (Blogger.com was having some internal problems uploading images last night.), I think I'll let this portion rip and come back shortly with the end of the process.

Signing off,

Bees Keeper

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