A New Beekeeper – The First Week

Noticing a burr comb
Inspecting my hives

This week started a new journey for us here on my lil farm. After months of preparation, research and anticipation, I finally got my first two packages of honeybees. I had been talking about getting honeybees for about 3 years, but really hadn’t pursued it with any seriousness. Then last Christmas, my husband bought me a beginner’s beekeeping kit. It came with the two deep supers and a smaller honey super, the bee suit and gloves, a smoker, a bee brush, a hive tool and book. So that was it, I was really doing this.

I had attended a meeting at our local beekeeping club a couple of years before, so I had asked a few questions and knew a couple of key things. One major point was that in order to get my bees in the spring, I had to order my bees in January, so that was my first task. There were a couple of decisions that needed to be made. Do I go with package bees or do I order a nuc? For those who don’t know the lingo, a package of bees is just that, 3 lbs (roughly 10,000) honey bees and a queen. A nuc is about that many bees and a queen along with about 3 frames that already have comb on them. A nuc generally occurs when a hive has outgrown its current living arrangements and the hive splits after growing a new queen. It’s the old queen that leaves. Depending on who you ask, there are advantages and disadvantages to both. For me, getting the packages of bees really came down to not knowing who to go to and finding a name of a company that seemed to be mentioned in a few tutorials that I watched. So I ordered my first two packages of bees with queens that were marked for easy identification and clipped wings, so they couldn’t fly off. After I made the call and ordered my bees, I was shaking. I don’t know if it was from excitement or nerves, but none the less, I really was doing this.

I spent the next 3 months reading blogs like this, books and watching Youtube videos. I also went to Bee School, a one day educational event for new beekeepers at the local beekeeping club. They walked through most of the basics you would need to know to get through that first year of beekeeping. It was also a great place to meet local experts with lots of knowledge so I could ask questions as they arose. I took some time and painted my bee boxes a light yellow and painted my 3 raised flower beds light blue. I was going to nestle my 2 bee boxes in between the three beds and mulch all around it. I had seen so many beehives just set haphazardly in fields, but I wanted my bee garden look really nice.

Then I got the call. My bees were coming! I went to my post office and forewarned the postmaster, leaving my contact information so I could come and pick them up the day they arrived. The day they got there, the post office called and said in a slightly stressed tone, “Your bees are here and they would VERY MUCH like to go home.” I went to pick them up and it was a particularly busy time at the post office. They went to the back and handed me two buzzing, vibrating boxes of bees at the front counter. I was ecstatic!bees shipped

I came home and finished prepping the area I was keeping them in. I had mixed up my sugar water 2 parts sugar to 1 part water. I was all set to spray them down before installing them into the hive, but the mixture was too thick and it clogged up my spray bottle. So that part didn’t happen. My husband and son were right there with me. I was suited up and ready to load them.

Getting started
Getting ready to install the bees
Jake and me
My son with me

Although I had watched a lot of videos on what to do, it’s never quite the same. I first pried off the top cover of the package, flipped it over and laid it back on top. I took a small flat head screwdriver and pried out the queen’s cage and quickly covered that slot back up so the rest of my bees wouldn’t fly out after her. I inspected her cage and saw that she had a few attendants and she was alive and active. I pulled out one frame in my hive and hung her cage in that space. I wasn’t going to release her just yet. She needed some more bonding time with her bees. I took a pair of plyers and pulled out the feeding can, quickly covering that hole back up. I pulled out 3 frames in the hive and I was ready to install the rest of them. I banged the cage on the ground to get the bees all to the bottom, took off the lid, turned the cage over and shook them into the hive, just dumping them all in. I continued to do that, until I had as many as I could get out of the cage into the hive as I could. I replaced the frames, paying attention to not pinch the bees or squish them, just leaving the one frame out to accommodate the queen’s cage. I put the inner cover back on, then the outer cover and used a ratchet strap to secure the whole thing from other critters. I filled the feeding jar full of the sugar water and installed it and that was it. First hive done! I repeated the same thing for hive number two. All in all, the process for both hives only took about 20 minutes. Really anticlimactic, actually.

opening the boxes
Prying off the top
inspecting the queen
Inspecting the queen
pulling out the feed can
Pulling out the feed can
dumping in the bees
Shaking the bees into the hive

The next day, I went out and inspected my queens. They were still alive and I removed the plugs in their cages so they could get out. I hung their cages back in place, so they could come out at will. I closed everything back up, refilled their sugar water, and that was it for day two.

I had decided to leave them be for about 3 days before going back in to remove the queen’s cages. In hindsight, I probably should have done that the very next day. When I went in 3 days later, one of my hives had started making a burr comb. I didn’t know what that was when I first saw it, and actually had to look up what was happening to know what to do. Because there was too much space left between the frames for the queen’s cage, they started freelancing with their comb building to fill in that space. That comb is unstable and makes the hive harder to manage. I had to go back in a 4th time and remove that. A wasted day of productivity, at least, for the bees and wasted resources. I put the last frame back in today, and I’m hoping they stick to the pattern on the plastic frames this time.

close up of burr comb
Burr comb
burr comb removed
Burr comb after it was removed

I haven’t seen any brood yet. Lots of comb and lots of pollen stores. I have two hives, and they both look just the same. So I am guessing at this point that they are doing what they should be.  That’s a huge benefit to having at least two hives for a beginner, having a comparison is truly valuable. I will check on them in a few days to see how they are doing and then leave them alone for at least a month. Something I picked up from bee school was that every time I open the hive, I lose a day of productivity because they will spend a day fixing any changes I made while I was in their home. Really, not so different from my home when I have guests over.

So that’s it. My first week of beekeeping! I am so excited to have started this venture and to have my son along for the ride. We have had a lot of great conversations and educational opportunities as we both learn and I am so thankful that my husband made the decision to give me that little push to get this started.

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