Welcoming our First Bee Colony
It’s been a little over a week now since we installed our bees, and our ladies are currently working away making comb! Bees are incredible little creatures, and we have been so fascinated by their innate intelligence and their ability to accomplish so much with their tiny little bodies! Our bees seem to love their new home (how could you not…it’s bright yellow!) and we have been seeing them around the farm taking orientation flights and searching for resources like water and flowers to pollinate. We are already planning our second hive (and maybe third?) so that we can compare and learn between the colonies. When it comes to beekeeping, it seems like you can read hundreds of books and take all the classes, but still - each hive and their colony is different and you really have to get to know your bees, their strengths and weaknesses! Another benefit of having a second hive is that if you lose a colony for some reason, you can split your other hive and have a back-up. Later on, we can discuss more complex beekeeping subjects like swarming and splitting hives, but for now - let’s talk about “bee basics” and what our new bees have been up to this past week!
For our first colony, we got one of the super fancy Flow hives (https://www.honeyflow.com/). We like the idea of a less-intrusive honey harvest since you don’t have to remove the frames in the super. It seems like a really cool technology to try out, so we went with it! Our next hives we are going to start as traditional langstroth boxes, and eventually upgrade to Flow Supers if it seems like the best option for the bees!
A 3 lb package of bees contains nearly 10,000 bees and a young, fertile mated queen who is in her separate “queen cage”. The queen’s cage is plugged with either a cork, or a sugar plug that the bees will eat through to release her into the colony. In a package like this, the queen and the bees are from separate colonies, so they will need some time to get to know each other. The queen releases a pheromone that attracts the others (apparently it smells like bananas), and they will always form a large clump surrounding her. Looking at your “ball of bees”, you can generally assume Queenie is smack dab in the middle. We use smoke to mask this pheromone and calm the bees when handling the hive. There are many jobs of worker bees (who all happen to be infertile females). There are the nurse bees, the foragers, honey makers, queen caretakers, security guards, cleaners (or undertakers), and the architects. Then, there are the Drones who are fertile males, and their only job is to mate with the queen. However, a queen only mates once in its lifetime, and stores enough sperm to last YEARS! So, drones are kept around just in case a new queen needs mating, but when fall comes, most of the drones will be kicked to the curb by the worker bees because they are no longer needed.
Installation day was quite exciting! Kara drove all the way to Roswell NM and picked up the bee box (we got our bees from https://beeweaver.com/) in the back of her jeep! Luckily, there weren’t very many stragglers and Kara didn’t get stung on the way! They got to the farm late afternoon and we decided to put them in right away so we got busy making our bee syrup, loading the smoker, and suiting up! We removed the middle 3 frames of our brood box to create a space to “dump” the bees. Packaged bees will come with a can of syrup in the top of the box that you will need to pull out. Once you pull this out, your bees are free! I didn't get a picture of our "package", but this is what it looks like if you order a package of bees!
There is a metal tab connected to the queen cage - pull this out and brush off the bees to make sure she is in there. Set her to the side for a moment. It sounds aggressive, but you literally just dump the bees in the box - give it a few good shakes and tap it on the edges to release the stragglers. Leave the bee box outside the hive for a couple days so the slower few can make their way into their new home, and replace the middle 3 frames. NOW - for the Queen. Usually, you would remove the cork on the cage and replace it with a sugar plug or “queen candy” for the bees to eat through, releasing her into the hive. Our bees, however, got a little too excited I think, and there was no cork in our cage, meaning the queen was released into the general vicinity of the box. When we dumped our bees in, we were crossing our fingers hoping she was part of the mix. We now know that she is in there, evident from the workers bees drawing comb for her to lay her eggs in. Though, she is still being elusive and we haven’t been graced with a visual of her - yet.
Let’s talk about bee food! Since there aren't many things blooming on the property yet, and our nectar flow is still a few weeks out, we have to supply our bees with plenty of food to ensure they have what they need to start building honeycomb. It takes A LOT of energy to make this comb, and they definitely don't spend time waiting around! A bee feeder can help kickstart your honeycomb production and support them a little extra in the initial couple weeks. To make “bee syrup”, dissolve a 1:1 mixture of sugar and water (make sure it’s cool before giving it to your hive). Some hives have a feeding frame made of plastic that you can drop right in with your wooden frames. We drilled tiny holes in the top of a mason jar, and positioned it upside down on the upper platform above the brood box. The bees can access the slow-dripping feeder through the hole, and all of our frames are in place. We have been replacing the feeder every few days! We also set out a pan of water with some twigs and rocks in it, as bees need water to drink and cool their hive!
We’ve been checking on them every few days, careful to not disturb them too much. After just one week we are able to see drawn honeycomb and even some stored pollen. Still waiting to see those brood cells, but I read in a book that it could take a couple of weeks. We will keep doing our weekly inspections, but for now - here’s some really beautiful photos of the perfect beginnings of our new colony!
I have so much respect for these gals, what they do for the earth, our food supply, and the native plant populations. They are such a vital part to our ecosystem, as they forage in a 3 mile radius, and can pollinate up to 2,000 flowers in one day! Imagine what a world without bees (or pollinators in general) would look like. Being that 75% of our top food crops require pollination - how would this affect our food supply? What about native pollinators, native plant species, and herbal medicine? What can we do, as ecological stewards, to support our system as a whole? Here’s a few things.
- Give them space to thrive in a diversified setting where there are NO chemical pesticides and herbicides are in use.
- Plant pollinator gardens and native plant species.
- Live in harmony with them and RESPECT the miracle work that they do every day.
They have already brought so much color and life to the farm! We are excited to grow and learn alongside them - we hope you are too! When you see a pollinator this coming week, I strongly encourage you to just sit and watch them for a while. Not only is it mesmerizing, but they have so much to teach us!
Until next time!