Friday, June 25, 2010

Ummm... Never Mind?

So, yeah.
I have some good news, and some weird news:

The good news is that when I returned to the hive yesterday, I found a queen! Hooray!

The weird news? Well, it's the original queen. Oh... Kaaaay...

I was checking to see if the queen cells that I found last week were empty, and in doing so, she made her appearance as though nothing had happened. "Oh, hey, Jay. How's things? Just laying some eggs, you know. What's new?" Didn't she know that I had been worried sick?

So I may have been a bit hasty in my previous determination that she had died. I swear that I checked every bit of comb for her, and she wasn't there. I swear. It's possible that she was out of view on the bottom board, though that would have been unusual. Did she leave the hive and return? Also unusual. Either I have a crazy queen, or possibly, just possibly, I'm new at this.
I vote crazy queen.

Needless to say, I was both relieved and confused. If there had been a queen all along, why did the workers decide to construct emergency queen-rearing cells? Upon closer investigation, it seems likely that the queen cells may have actually been clusters of drone cells, stacked very close together. Because drones are larger than workers, cells containing drone brood are larger than those containing worker brood, and appear as lumps among the otherwise flat landscape of capped comb containing pupal workers. Queen cells are likewise larger than drone cells.
One of my two tentative theories is that my queen had planted drone eggs in three or four adjacent cells, and, once capped by the workers, they appeared to my novice eyes as one large capped cell, which, judging by its size, could only house a queen. This, compounded with the fact that I couldn't find the queen, led me to the conclusion that my queen had died and the workers were taking steps to replace her. If these were actually drone cells, I won't be making that mistake again.

However, there is another possibility, though more remote. The queen may have actually left the hive to mate a second time. This happens if her first mating flight was not as successful as she would have liked. Usually, queens will take only one nuptial flight, mating with several drones in succession, and returning to the hive with her spermatheca full. The spermatheca is the organ in which the queen stores sperm, releasing it to fertilize only those eggs that will produce workers. Unfertilized eggs produce drones, and the queen decides which eggs will be fertilized and which won't. She knows what she's doing. A full spermatheca from a single mating flight can last a lifetime of egg-laying, up to 5 years.
But if the amount of sperm stored in her spermatheca from her first nuptial flight was running low due to a small number of drones encountered, she may have taken a second flight to replenish it. This occurrence is uncommon, but it can happen, especially if the queen has been artificially inseminated by the apiary in which she was raised. (Yes, bees can be artificially inseminated, and it's done to ensure that the apiary is selling "mated" queens.)
If she did leave the hive to mate again, the workers, having discovered her absence, would have immediately begun to prepare her successor in the event that she didn't return. So I may have correctly identified queen cells after all. Upon her return, having successfully mated, the queen would have torn open the new queen cells and killed the young queens inside. During this latest inspection, I noticed that the "queen cells" that I saw last time were still capped, but much smaller. This could indicate that they were indeed queen cells, and that the queen returned and dispatched the pretenders within, and the workers then patched the comb where the queen had damaged it.

The first theory is probably more likely, but the second is not outside the realm of probability. I can't be certain what actually happened, but either way, it really doesn't matter.

So, all in all, a good visit. My queen, "Steve," is still present and doing her job.*
I also noted that many of the capped cells that I saw last week are now empty, meaning that the young bees within have since emerged. The colony's population is increasing.
Having removed the entrance reducer, the guard bees are now visible, and the foragers are coming and going much more freely. (The entrance reducer is a wooden dowel with a 1-inch space cut out of it, blocking most of the entrance and making it easier for small colonies to guard. Now that their numbers are growing, I decided that it was time to allow them unrestricted access to and from the hive, which will improve the foragers' productivity. The entrance reducer can clearly be seen in pictures from previous posts.)
The second brood chamber that I added to the top of the hive is mostly empty, though some workers have begun building wax on the frames within. The vast majority are still concentrating on the frames in the lower super, which is still not full.

My inspection visits will now be less frequent. I'm going to let my girls do their thing undisturbed for a while. My next visit will probably be in mid-July. By that time, I expect to see many more bees, comb drawn out in the upper super, much more pollen and brood, and lots of capped honey. I'll still keep a-bloggin', though, so don't change that channel.

* Steve theQueen! Get it?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Queen is Dead. Long Live the Queen!

June 16, 2010: Ginny and I took a trip out to the hive today, and we made some interesting discoveries.

Firstly, the top feeder was empty, so it could finally be removed, forcing the bees to now forage for all their food. They had already been doing so, as indicated by the amount of pollen stored in the hive, but it's time to get this colony motivated. No more free rides.
Also, as I had predicted last week, there was comb built on 70% of the frames, so I added a second super with eight new frames on top of the first. The colony now has twice as much growing room, and will surely be glad about that.

Last week, I was unable to find any eggs. I had hoped that this week's inspection would reveal some new brood, and I was not disappointed in that regard. After six days, the larvae spin a cocoon around themselves and begin their pupal stage. At this time, their caretakers will build a wax cap over the cells containing the pupae, which will chew their way out through these caps twelve days later as mature adults. There was a good amount of capped brood cells, and their presence was an encouraging sight. I was also able to see some larvae as well, but not as many as I had hoped...

...and I couldn't find the queen.

This was not as encouraging. A productive, egg-laying queen is essential for the survival of the colony. Without her, this generation would be the last, and as the adults die off, the colony will not be able to support itself and there would be little hope for its future.

After removing each frame in turn, and with no queen in sight, I began to despair. My first hive, it seemed, would be a failure. I would watch my bees decrease in numbers over the next couple of months, until finally there would be a pitiful few left in the hive, exposing it to infestation from pests, such as mice and wax moths. A grim prospect indeed, and another setback for my colony, which has already suffered through the stresses of shipping and a late hiving.

However, while I was searching for the queen, I noticed something else: a small, peanut-shaped lump protruding from the comb on the center frame -- a queen cell. When a queen dies, the others in the colony usually notice her absence quickly (within 24 hours), and a general state of emergency is declared. In such circumstances, the workers will designate a new queen from among the larvae already present in the comb, and that's what exactly they did. One of their sisters will soon become their new queen, and she will likely emerge within the next week.

One question remains, however. How did the queen die? Did she succumb to disease or parasites? It's possible. Was she assassinated by the colony? There's a chance. Did I accidentally crush her in my fumbling as a novice beekeeper? Though I hate to admit the possibility, it can't be discounted. Or did she simply abandon the hive? Unlikely, but not unheard of. The answer, unfortunately, will remain a mystery, but I take no small amount of comfort in the fact that the bees know what to do. I'm learning from them with every visit to the hive.

While reviewing the pictures that Ginny took, I noticed that there are, in fact, at least two queen cells, not just one. The workers are hedging their bets. There are a couple of ways this drama can unfold, depending on how close the two (or more) potential new queens are in age. If one emerges first, she will announce her presence to the colony with a loud "piping" sound, which is also a battle cry, challenging her rivals. The other, immature queen(s) still in her cell will "quack" in reply, before she is stung to death within the cell. If they emerge from their cells simultaneously, however, this vocal argument will be followed by a fight to the death, with the survivor becoming the colony's new mother. She will be accepted by the rest of the colony unconditionally, by virtue of her victory, and because she is one of their own. She was elected to the position by her sisters, and raised especially for that purpose.

(Want to hear what that sounds like? Here's a recording of queens vocalizing to each other):

The first sound is a queen "piping" a challenge, and it is answered by another's "quacking."

In either case, the new virgin queen will take her nuptial flight as early as a week after her emergence, mating with up to 15 drones before returning to the hive. Afterward, she will continuously lay eggs for the remainder of her lifetime, picking up where the former queen left off.

I'm looking forward to further inspections. I'm hopeful that my next visit will show evidence of a new queen -- and with good timing and some luck, perhaps we can even record her emergence. Check back soon for updates.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Beehavior: The Jobs Bees Do

Honeybees are synonymous with tireless industry, and with good reason. The chores in a hive are many, and bees seem to learn these without being told what needs to be done, or even how to go about it.

Once a honeybee has been born and crawls out of her cell, she becomes a productive member of her community, instinctively knowing that she is expected to do her share of the work required of each for the benefit of the whole.

Here's a general overview of hive chores as determined by the age of the workers:

  • Cell cleaning: Honeybees are incredibly compulsive about sanitation. Empty cells are thoroughly cleaned before they are deemed worthy of receiving either food or brood. A productive hive's queen can lay up to 1,500 eggs a day, and since cells are reused, they must be cleaned before a new egg can be deposited. If, in the course of her egg laying activity, a queen finds a cell that has not been cleaned to her satisfaction, she will skip it and move to a cleaner one. Workers will clean and polish the cells until they are about 3 days old.
  • Feeding larvae: After hatching, all larvae are fed royal jelly for about three days. Royal jelly is created by the workers themselves - secreted from a gland in their heads - and is comprised primarily of water, simple sugars, proteins, and fatty acids, with trace amounts of antibiotic and antibacterial components. After these three days, the larvae will no longer be fed royal jelly; their diet is switched to pollen, nectar or diluted honey. Queen larvae, however, will be fed royal jelly exclusively until she pupates and emerges from her cell. Workers aged 3 to 7 days are responsible for feeding the older larvae, while those 7 to 14 days old will secrete royal jelly and feed the younger brood and developing queens, if any.
  • Comb building: The structure on which honeybees' entire lives are spent is a network of hexagonal wax cells. These cells are used to store food and to raise young: honey and pollen are stored in some of these cells, and eggs are laid in others. (While many animals will construct shelters made from materials that they find and collect, honeybees are the only ones known to build their homes from substances produced solely by their own bodies.) The wax is secreted from glands on the underside of workers' abdomens, then chewed until soft and pressed into place on the comb. Workers aged 7 to 14 days are at the peak of their wax production. Additionally, if a bee should die within the hive, its body is dragged out and dropped off the edge of the landing board. Diseases can spread rapidly, and bees understand that one instance of illness can mean the death of the entire colony. The undertaker duties are... undertaken... by workers in this same age group.
  • Defense: At around 14 days of age, honeybees begin to become curious about the world beyond the confines of the hive. They will take their first steps outside the entrance and onto the landing board, where they can observe their older sisters coming and going. They become the hive guards, taking position near the entrance to ensure that any foragers attempting to gain access are authorized to do so -- their scent must be recognizable. An invader, such as a predatory hornet or a bee from another hive with designs on their honey, will be dealt with quickly and lethally, though sometimes the guards will allow an unknown honeybee to enter, if she bribes them with a bit of nectar.
  • Foraging: At about 21 days old, workers have graduated from house duties to fieldwork. These new foragers will take their first orientation flights, guided by those with more experience. Once familiar with the location of the hive and its immediate surroundings, they will search for flowers to visit, and will collect pollen, primarily. Having gained some experience, the foragers will collect nectar. These older bees will forage until they die. It's not uncommon to notice bees with tattered wings within a colony. These are the oldest of the workers, and may have flown up to 500 miles during their foraging flights over the course of their lifetime.

Other tasks include honey production, temperature control, and water collection. These do not fall to workers of a specific age (although it can be assumed that water collection must by necessity be carried out by foragers who know their way to and from the hive), but are shared by all the bees in a colony. Honey production and temperature control are similar tasks: the water must be evaporated from stored nectar in order for it to be transformed into honey. This involves many bees rapidly beating their wings while standing in place, to fan the nectar and allow it to thicken and ripen. Likewise, when the temperature is hot, some bees will collect water and moisten the comb, and this same fanning will cool the interior of the hive through evaporative cooling.

There is some overlapping of the age ranges engaged in these various duties. If, as can happen under certain circumstances, the age groups are not in normal balance, bees of any age can do the work necessary, though with less efficiency. Field bees and those under 3 days old can feed a queen and raise brood, or secrete wax and build comb as need dictates, even though their glands may not be fully developed or have degenerated from lack of use. Similarly, very young bees can forage for pollen and nectar when there are no field bees of normal age to do this work.

Honeybees demonstrate remarkable versatility and adaptability in dealing with unpredictable situations, to which we can credit their success on earth during these past 130 million years.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

First Inspection

June 9, 2010 - It's been one week since Hiving Day, and it's time for the first inspection of the hive. It took a lot of effort to resist the temptation to check on the bees during the past week, but I had to give them some time to release their queen and start building the comb. If the bees are disturbed too soon after hiving, they may blame the queen and become regicidal, killing her and essentially dooming the entire colony. Although the queen doesn't actually "rule" the hive or give orders, she is, like all human politicians, monarchs or figureheads, at the mercy of the capricious mood of the populace, and can become a convenient scapegoat for events that are out of her control.

Once I got the hive opened, I was surprised at how industrious they had been in only a week: they had drawn out an impressive amount of wax and had built comb on about 30% of the available frame surface. I could see nectar and pollen in many of the cells, meaning that they have begun foraging in earnest. This, clearly, is a colony with its priorities in order.

The queen cage was empty, indicating her successful release. This was a good sign, but it was important that I locate her to be sure that she was still alive and present. It didn't take long to find her. She was right where she was supposed to be -- on the center frame, where the greatest amount of comb had been built. The next thing I looked for was the presence of eggs. A productive queen can lay up to 1,500 eggs a day, which when first deposited in the cells, are very tiny, smaller than the head of a pin. Unfortunately, I didn't see any eggs, though there may have been some. It may be too soon, or they may just have been too small for me to see. I'll return next week for another inspection, and will hopefully see some then. A productive queen is essential to the survival of a colony, as an adult honeybee lives only a few weeks, and the population of a colony must be maintained and increased.

The life cycle of a honeybee worker, from egg to adult, is 21 days -- 3 as an egg, 6 as a larva, and 12 as a pupa. If the queen has been laying, I should see some nice, fat larvae curled inside their brood cells next week.

A future visit will see the addition of a second super, with more empty frames, to the top of the hive, doubling the bees' living area and making room for much more comb, which means more food storage and more space for the queen's eggs. The guideline that I'm using is that a new super should be added when 70% of the frame surface has been drawn into comb. Since this is an 8-frame hive, that means 5 and a half frames. If my bees keep working at this rate (and I fully expect that they will), I may need to install the new super as early as next week. We shall see.

Until then, enjoy the pics and the video (as always, thanks to Ginny for the excellent photos and to Sanchez for the video):

On YouTube: First Inspection


Monday, June 7, 2010

Beequipment: The Smoker

One of the most frequently-asked questions about beekeeping is "what's the deal with that smoke thing?"

Well, simmer down, and I'll tell you. The smoker is an essential part of the beekeeper's toolbox. When working a hive, it's necessary to do as much as possible to make the process as easy for the bees as it is for the beekeeper. Bees don't much like it when someone decides to poke around in their business. They've got brood and a queen to protect, not to mention their home itself and the final product of their labor: all that sweet, sweet liquid gold. When a hive is opened, the bees will instantly attack en masse, resulting in a bad day for the intruder, and a lot of dead bees. But if the bees are distracted, the hive can be opened for inspection or honey removal much more safely.

For millions of years, bees have made their homes in trees. Before they became beekeepers, ancient humans were honey hunters, climbing trees or cliffsides with rickety rope ladders in order to raid a hive and collect the honey -- a practice that still exists today in some parts of the world, most notably in Nepal. It was discovered thousands of years ago that smoke will "calm" the bees, making them much less likely to become aggressive toward an invader.

Bees aren't stupid, and they know that they can't defend against fire. Instead, when they smell smoke, rather than becoming enraged at a possible threat, they quickly retreat into the hive and begin sucking up as much honey as they can in preparation to abandon the hive for another, more preferable location, i.e., one that isn't on fire. This contingency plan is deeply ingrained in their behavior. So in effect, the bees aren't "calm," they are actually engaged in a vigorous act of coordinated self-preservation in the face of a catastrophic emergency, and they become much too occupied with the relocation of their colony and their food stores to worry about who else might be in the area. Since the "emergency" passes quickly when a beekeeper smokes his hive, the bees do not actually leave, and the honey is replaced in the cells of the comb. (Another benefit of this behavior, as far as the beekeeper is concerned, is that when the bees gorge themselves on honey, whether in the case of a fire or when about to swarm, their abdomens become distended, making it difficult to flex the appropriate muscles required for stinging.)

Honeybees have a highly-developed sense of smell. A significant part of their communication relies on pheromones, and because their food derives exclusively from flowering plants, they use scents as landmarks and navigational tools. A healthy colony always posts guards at the entrance of their hive, to keep watch for intruders, whether it be a predator, a bee from another colony trying to rob them, or a human or animal that wants to get at their honey. If a threat is detected, guard bees will release a pheromone that incites the bees within the hive to attack. It's also believed that smoke will mask the scent of this pheromone, so that when the guards attempt to rally the colony in defense, their sisters are unable to smell it, and therefore oblivious to the intruder's presence (or, at the very least, to the release of the guards' pheromones).

For these reasons, the smoker is the single most important piece of equipment available to beekeepers, and they have been in use in some form or another for millennia, since at least ancient Egypt, and probably earlier. Not only does it protect the beekeeper from stings, but it also protects the bees by preventing a sudden decrease in their numbers by an act of mass suicide in their own defense.

Smokers are very simple and effective in their design: a cylindrical chamber contains the burning fuel and is topped by a hinged lid with a cone-shaped spout with a hole, to channel and direct the smoke for easy application. A pair of bellows that doubles as a handle blows puffs of air through the fuel and out the spout. The fuel itself can be anything that burns, but to avoid harming the bees, a cool smoke is far preferable to smoke which is hot. Pine needles, burlap, hemp twine or sisal are excellent combustibles that burn slowly and produce a thick, cool smoke.

I'll be inspecting the hive in a couple of days, to make sure the bees are hard at work building their new home. Check back soon to see the smoker in action.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Bee Informed, Part 4: The Sting

Sooner or later, if you're spending time with bees, you're going to get stung. In my case, it happened sooner.

Bees don't "bite," but they do sting. The stinger, arguably the most famous feature of members of the order Hymenoptera (which includes bees, wasps and hornets), is located at the tip of the abdomen, and is believed to be a modified ovipositor, the organ responsible for depositing eggs. In the case of worker honeybees, which (except under very unusual circumstances) do not lay eggs, the stinger is a pair of hollow, barbed spears through which the bees' venom (apitoxin) is pumped into the wound from a gland in her abdomen. The stinger, in conjunction with a large population of honeybees in a colony, makes for a very effective defense. Queens have stingers as well, but use them only against other queens, in their dramatic battles for supremacy of the hive. The drones, the males of a colony, do not have stingers at all.

It's well-known that once a honeybee stings, she dies. The reason for this is that because her stinger is barbed, it becomes lodged in the thick skin of humans and animals, making it impossible for her to pull back out. Instead, in trying to do so, she tears away part of her own abdomen and leaves the stinger, along with the still-pumping venom gland, behind. She then flies off and dies within a few minutes. However, if a honeybee stings another insect, such as another bee or a hornet attempting to invade her hive, she can sting repeatedly, without sacrificing herself in the process. Their stingers have adapted primarily for defense against other insects, and from a certain point of view, still have some catching up to do in order to be a non-suicidal defense mechanism against mammals. Wasps and hornets, on the other hand, are more fortunate, in the sense that their stingers are smooth rather than barbed, and so can sting an animal's skin with impunity, and as often as it chooses. This, along with the fact that wasps and especially hornets are much more aggressive than honeybees, makes them as dangerous (or even more so) than honeybees, even though they lack the bees' sheer numbers.

Allergies and Reactions:

There are basically two types of reactions to a bee sting in humans, depending on the severity of the sting and an individual's resistance to the venom. The most common, a local reaction, is the initial pain, followed by swelling and itching that lasts for a few hours. Another common reaction is called a "large local reaction," in which the swelling, redness and itching in the immediate area of the sting can last for about a week (as in my own experience). This is not indicative of an allergy, it's just a case of the symptoms lasting a few days longer. Local reactions are suffered by the vast majority of people.
The more serious type, in people who are allergic to bee venom, is a systemic reaction, which affects the entire body and can be very serious and potentially life-threatening. Allergy to apitoxin is rare, occurring in less than 3% of Americans.
The symptoms of a systemic reaction are generalized itching, hives and swelling (not only in the area around the sting site), fever, nausea, difficulty breathing, and in extreme cases, anaphylaxis (also called anaphylactic shock), which can include all of the above symptoms, plus rapid pulse, wheezing, abdominal pain, slurred speech, confusion, and even cardiac arrest, respiratory arrest, and renal failure. Symptoms of a systemic or allergic reaction can appear within minutes to hours after a sting, but can be treated effectively in a hospital with epinephrine, antihistamines and corticosteroids, among other procedures.

Thankfully, anaphylaxis occurs in less than 1% of bee stings. But if you know you're allergic to bee venom and are stung, or develop shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, or swelling in other areas, you should call 911 or get to an emergency room immediately. It's important to note that if you're unlucky enough to suffer many stings from an angry hive, you may experience more serious, even systemic symptoms, even if you're not allergic -- due to the large amount of apitoxin in your body from multiple stings. If this happens, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
...And it goes without saying that if you have an allergy to bee stings, or have experienced systemic reactions in the past, beekeeping may not be for you.


The first thing to do if you've been stung by a honeybee is to remove the stinger. You'll see the stinger, looking like a tiny thorn, sticking out from your skin, with the venom gland at the top. The longer you leave it there, the more venom will be pumped in, and the deeper the stinger itself will work its way into your skin.

In order to avoid squeezing more venom into the wound, DO NOT pinch the stinger or use tweezers to remove it, as you would a splinter. Instead, scrape it out with a fingernail, credit card, or knife edge -- or better yet, a quick, sharp, sideways flick with your finger should work.

  • Aspirin: For the initial pain, take some aspirin, or rub a wet aspirin on the area of the sting. This can help neutralize some of the inflammatory agents in the venom. Obviously, if you're allergic to aspirin, don't rub it on your skin.
  • Meat Tenderizer: Yes, that's right. Adolph's, McCormick, or any other brand that contains papain (papaya proteinase I) will do. Papain is an enzyme that breaks down the proteins in the venom. Make a paste with meat tenderizer and water, and apply it to the site.
  • Ammonia: Dab some household ammonia on the site with a cotton ball. This can help with the pain and inflammation.
  • Antihistamines: Over-the-counter antihistamines such as Benadryl will reduce swelling and pain in adults. For children, an antihistamine cough syrup like Benylin is preferable.
It's been shown that increasing your zinc intake can actually prevent insect stings, possibly by altering body odor. If bees, wasps or hornets seem to like stinging you more than others, try 60mg a day.

If you're allergic, it's not a bad idea to keep some epinephrine (adrenaline) around, especially if you engage in a lot of outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, etc. or if you live in an area where there are a lot of bees and wasps. Epinephrine helps to slow and reduce systemic effects by constricting blood vessels, and is available in an autoinjector delivery system under the brand names EpiPen and Twinject, among others. And always get to a hospital as soon as possible.

Remember, bees don't want to sting, except in defense of their home. Don't bother them and they won't bother you.
Now go outside and play.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Hiving Day!

June 1, 2010: I officially became a beekeeper. My bees arrived at the post office in good condition. There had been a few casualties during transit, but that was to be expected. The three of us (Ginny, Sanchez and I) got to the empty hive with the bees at about 7:30 pm. It was a hot day, but the sun was setting and there was little wind, so conditions were more or less ideal for hiving. (Some clouds would have been better, but the bees really wanted to go home, and after several weeks of delays, I was impatient to get them there.)

Having read several books and watched dozens of videos, I felt fairly confident that I knew what to do and how to do it. With the bees' cooperation, Hiving Day would be a successful little adventure that would finally start me on the road to a fulfilling and enjoyable activity for years to come. When it came time to do it for real, it was not without some measure of trepidation on my part. This was, after all, my first attempt at interaction with thousands of confused, traumatized, and possibly aggressive animals that -- let's face it -- have inspired a deep, instinctual fear in human beings for a hundred thousand years. I had never experienced a bee sting in my entire life, and I didn't even know if I was allergic.

Despite the inherent risk, I decided to wear no protection while installing the bees in their home. I'd seen it done without protection more than a few times, and I wanted to force myself to develop a comfort with and trust in my new friends, and to circumvent the irrational fear of bees that many people have. Hubris, you say? Perhaps, but many beekeeping books and manuals say that the bees, once sprayed with plenty of sugar water and released from the shipping cage into a brand new hive, are at their most docile, and with no honey to defend and relieved to finally have a real home, are very unlikely to sting. They also especially encourage the novice beekeeper to work without gloves, which cause the movements of your hands to be awkward and clumsy, further disturbing the bees. I put my faith in that reasoning and took my chances.

Once the feeding can is removed from the shipping container and the queen cage installed in the hive, the only thing left to do is to dump the bees into the open hive body, set the feeder on top, and close it up. The purpose of spraying them with syrup before shaking them out is to keep them occupied with licking the syrup off themselves, and to inhibit flying by sticking their wings together. Maybe I didn't use enough, or maybe my bees are just powerful fliers, but once I began to shake them into the hive, I immediately found myself in the midst of a noisy cloud of bees. That primal fear took hold, and it didn't take us long to decide that the suit, which I had brought along just in case, would be preferable after all.

Beekeepers like to say that you're not a real beekeeper until you've been stung. Luckily for me, I became a real beekeeper on my very first day. My ungloved hand, which was sticky with syrup, attracted the attention of one of my flying bees, and instead of just allowing it to harmlessly land on my hand, I subconsciously kept waving it away, resulting in my first bee sting ever, on the side of my left thumb. (Ginny called it my "bee mitzvah.") And for a special bee mitzvah gift, one of my girls sacrificed her life in sharing with me the knowledge that I am not allergic to bee venom, and in so doing, dispelled any worries about anaphylaxis I may have had, forever. Of course, there's also the added bonus of swelling and discomfort, but that's the badge of a real beekeeper, isn't it?

Other than that, the hiving went quickly and smoothly. The bees are in their new home, with a good supply of syrup in their feeder, and when we returned the next day, Ginny and I spent a few minutes observing them happily taking their orientation flights, slowly circling the hive and crowding around the entrance, learning their surroundings in preparation for foraging. These first couple of days in the hive will be the laziest of their lives -- a brief holiday during which all they have to do is to fly freely and enjoy their new environment.

It will take a few days for the queen to be released from her little cage. The sugar candy plugging the exit will be eaten from the outside by the workers in the hive, and from the inside by the queen and her attendants, until she is freed. During that time, the rest of the colony will grow accustomed to her scent and accept her as their queen, even though she is not their mother. The rest of the workers will be busy for the next couple of weeks secreting wax from glands on the undersides of their abdomens and shaping it into the comb, building the cells that will house the colony and the brood, and in which they will store their food supply. They'll all spend the rest of the summer working hard to ensure that they have enough honey stocked for the winter.

Everything is a learning experience. Aside from a little sting, it was exciting and we all had fun, and I look forward to working my first hive this year, and starting new ones again next year. Check back for the bees' progress. We'll be posting more next week when we open the hive for the first time!

And here's the video:

Trouble playing it, or just want it bigger?
Here's the video on YouTube: Hiving Day