A bit about us...

We are a modern family of three, living on less than two acres with a 3,000 square foot garden that meets our produce needs and allows us to share with friends and neighbors. Our laying flock of chickens seems to expand each year as we raise chicks each Spring to replace older hens. This blog is more of a journal, if you will, for us to chronicle and share our experiences in the yard, garden and kitchen. It is our hope that along the way a few folks might learn something, be entertained, or simply enjoy sharing in our stories and the lessons we learn on a daily basis. I named the blog after the times when I am the happiest, when I am elbow deep in earth.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Welcome home, honey(bees)!

I was super sad to hear that the hives at Zilke Vegetable Farm did not make it through the winter.  The good news is that Vicki has absolutely no intention of giving up on them.  She placed an order for three new colonies of bees to get three hives up and running once again this year.  I begged to be a part of the hiving for a couple of reasons.   First, I have had a totally irrational fear of bees that has been almost uncontrollable.  I am embarrassed by the way they've made me shake and run as though they were going to eat me alive.  As totally non-threatening as honey bees are, they terrified me.  I've wanted to get over that so I don't teach Lexi to be a crazy person over insects.  Second, I am a firm believer in documenting things that we are involved in (obviously, since I am always writing about it here...)

When I found out the bees were coming, I got excited and hopeful that they could be hived when I was out of work so I could photograph the process.  By a stroke of luck and some planning, they were!  The evening they arrived it was too late and cool to hive them, so we brought them into the house and gave them all a meal of sugar water that is applied directly to the bees.  It seems counter-intuitive to spray bees to calm them, but with sugar water, it does the trick! After a light soaking with the syrup, they audibly calmed and began cleaning one another to nourish themselves after their journey.  They spent the night in the Zilke house, receiving a couple more "meals" before it was time to take them home to their new hives.  It was incredibly cool to hear the sound of 30,000 bees whirring about in their shipping crates.  They keep the hive a consistent temperature year round by the beating of their wings and this temporary home was no different!  I could fee the warm air wafting off the crates like a soft breeze as they held tightly in a ball near their new queen.

Friday (April 27) after work, the temperature was the warmest it would be for the day, so I headed straight home to change and then to the new location of the hives.  One had already been done at the farm and two were waiting on me to get going in another location.  The setting is just perfect for bees.  There is a small pond to provide water, trees to block extreme wind and extreme weather, and plenty of plants to gather pollen from.

Vicki helped me suit up and we were ready to go.  Well, she was.  I stood there trembling for a few minutes trying to look relaxed.

She put the base together, topped it with a super (the box that holds it all) and added the frames, arranging them so that there was a gap to pour the bees into.  Yeah, you read that right.  She was going to pour the bees in.

The idea is to set the queen in one area, pour some bees in around her, and then place the remainder in the larger area  left free of frames, in order to get the vast majority of each colony directly into the new hive.

Before that could happen, Vicki first had to unseal the crate they came in by lifting the metal lid that covered the can of syrup "food" they were transported with.

Once the can was out, she carefully removed the queen from the carrier crate by pulling on the metal tab she was hanging from.  This was when the bees started to really realize their container was open and they began filing out to fly around and explore.

She showed me the little tiny "cage" the queen is kept in during shipping. This keeps her safe and allows the colony to get used to her, and her to them, through the use of pheromones (natural chemicals they produce).

The entrance to her little space is blocked with a sugar cube that she will eat her way through to join her colony in just a few days. I suspect her caregivers help her with that process once they are all hived together.

I got brave enough to step a little closer to the hive to get a good shot of the queen hanging in her little gap.  (Her cage is hanging between the third and fourth frames from left to right. See her?)

Then the excitement happened.  Vicki picked up the buzzing box of bees and dumped them, just as she told me she would.

First, a bunch fell around the queen.

Next, she actually tapped the box of bees to get them to fall into the main cavity. They rolled out into it, a bit like marbles.

At this point, I froze in my spot trying very hard not to cry or wet my pants.  I was so afraid I would move and smash bees between my thighs that I just locked myself in place.  My fear began to dissipate as I realized how calm and gentle the bees actually were.  They landed on me, exploring my gloves, the camera, my sleeves, and the like.

I relaxed a little and watched as Vicki topped the hive with a feeder tray and poured her homemade sugar syrup food in for them. This served as their "jump start," providing meals until they could begin to locate natural sources of food for themselves.

It's sort of a "housewarming gift" for their new home. :-)

On top of that, she placed the lid.

The last step to complete the hive was to insert an entrance reducer.  This makes the hole they enter and exit a bit smaller so that they have less area to defend against wild bees and other insects that try to enter and molest the colony.  At this point in the setup, the larger part of 10,000 bees were flying all around us in a cloud, checking out their new surroundings and taking some much needed "cleansing flights."  These would equate to the bathroom run we take after a REALLY long car ride.

As she began setting up the second hive, my nerves got the best of me and I asked to be escorted out of the area quietly so I didn't have a little freak out.  I wasn't scared, but I also wasn't sure I would stay that way when she dumped another 10,000 bees and they all began flying around with their new neighbors.

She helped me gently brush off my hitchhikers and kindly walked me out of their main range of curious flight to observe from a distance.  I took a few more pictures of the sweet little honey makers landing on me, taking baths and deciding whether or not I was food.
Once the hives were in place, Vicki set the crates they were shipped in near their respective hives, as it contributes to the sense of familiarity with the space for them.

It was truly a life changing experience.  Not only did I get to see some really cool stuff that most people never even contemplate, let alone see, and learn a bit about bees, but I am no longer afraid of one little buzzing critter as it joins me at a picnic looking for food. I guess when you stand in a cloud of thousands of them, one doesn't seem all that scary anymore! They were gentle and docile and, remarkably, NOT agitated, even though Vicki dumped them out of their travel box and banged them on the super to do so! I can honestly say, my view of these little fuzzy buzzers is forever changed and I am incredibly grateful for that.

When it is time to harvest their remarkable honey in the fall, I hope to have the opportunity to document that process as well.

Until then, "Welcome home, honey(bees)!"

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