Beekeeping How-To: Day 1

Reader Contribution by Angela Pomponio
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You’ve read the Organic Beekeeping book cover to cover, pages dogeared and highlighted.  Your family has tired of watching the Natural Beekeeping documentary on PBS. The phone rings clear and excited, it’s your local post office!  Your bees are here and one has already escaped. Your heart races at the thought of the new endeavor, the science in motion and the honey – oh the honey. Now What?

Step 1: Leave your 4-yea- old at home with Dad for vehicular safety on the windy steep dirt road drive.

Step 2: Pick up your bees and discuss at length with staff and postal customers at the friendly tiny Lenore Idaho post office.

Step 3: Drive home excitedly with screened bee box safely installed in a plastic tote, escapee clinging nervously to the outside of the box.

Step 4: Gather supplies and make 1:1 sugar syrup in a spray bottle. Collect your veil, smoker, gloves, lighter, sprayer, hive tool and instructions at previously set up hive.

Step 5: Gently carry package of bees to hive site.

Step 6: Read instructions 74 times (this number is approximate and should be adjusted according to your nerves).

Step 7: Using your hive tool, pry off the small piece of flat wood covering the round hole on top of the bee box.  Pry sugar syrup can out of the hole and set aside, replacing the wood on top to prevent escape.

Step 8: Remove inner and outer hive covers, make a gap 3-4 frames in from the side for the queen.  

Step 9: Spritz bees and hive frames generously with sugar water.  In the hive this will help the bees acclimate.  For the transition this weighs the bees down and makes it difficult for them to fly.

Step 10: The tiny Queen cage will be suspended in the bee package by an aluminum tab or piece of packing strapping.  Pry this loose and gently lift the queen chamber out of the package, replacing the piece of wood to prevent escape.

Step 11: Make sure your queen is alive!  If she is dead, replace her in the package and immediately call your supplier so a replacement can be over-nighted to you!

Step 12: Follow your supplier instructions on queen installation.  For me this meant prying the cork out of the bottom of her cage and using a small stick to poke a matchstick sized hole through the candy plug beneath the cork.  Make sure to follow the instructions carefully!  Not all queen cages have the candy plug, some must be opened or she will die.

Step 13: Suspend the queen cage candy side down (or per your supplier instructions) from the top of the frames 3-4 frames in from the side.

Step 14: Once the queen is safely installed, light your smoker.  Use dry leaves, grass, pine needles or beekeeper supply smoker pellets (untreated!) and pump the bellows to get a good flame and smoke production.  Set aside in a safe level place.

Step 15: Jar the box of bees down several times to get the bees to the bottom.  Uncover top hole and shake vigorously upside down into the hive box.  Do this a couple of times to dislodge the majority of bees.  Due to lifespan and the stress of shipping, expect a lot of dead bees.

Step 16: Lightly smoke across the top of the hive, the smoke will drive the bees down into the hive and help them establish residence more quickly.

Step 17: Carefully replace inner and outer covers, being careful not to squish bees. Make sure the little notched wood entrance bar at the hive base is in place, with the small opening accessible for the bees to come and go.

Step 18: Lay the transit bee package near the hive entrance so stragglers can join their family.

Step 19: Place a piece of wood and heavy bricks on top to ensure stability and security of the hive.

Step 20: Put out a feeder and keep it stocked for the first 6 weeks. I used a quart canning jar with more of my organic 1:1 sugar syrup on a red plastic chick watering base.  I cut a square of wire hardware cloth slightly larger than the waterer and cut an X in the middle. Stretch the wire over the waterer   to allow the jar to screw in and give the bees perch above the syrup so they can feed without drowning.

Step 21: Ensure that all looks well and walk away. Leave your bees alone for 6 days and let them settle in!  I admit to walking out to the hive vicinity daily and making sure they seem alive and happy – but DO NOT open that hive box yet!

Step 22: Feed your bees for about 6 weeks. After 8 weeks of happy and hearty living, your bees should bee ready to make your honey! This is the time to remove the top cover and add another super with empty frames.  Your bees will be filling these for you.

Step 23: Enjoy the MAGIC!  Honey, pollination, improved garden and orchard yields, bees wax, and did I mention HONEY?!

The simple beauty of nature in action is like witnessing the answer to life’s biggest questions.  You have just become a part of the life cycle of this planet.  Your have increased food security for every person on the planet. Your hand and good intentions have just made this a better place.  Way to go Bee Keeper – You are the change! And did I mention Honey??