This Spring I knocked off one of my long standing to do's - free range bees! Just kidding well - sort of. We started two hives of honey bees.
My dad has kept bees for the majority of my adult life - sadly a turn in his health has left about 20 empty hives. He was kind enough to let me have two hives, some gear and a good amount of knowledge. I've spent the past year reading and talking to bee keepers.
Bees are amazing little critters. They are smart, organized and most importantly directly involved with pollination for food production. I like to eat and the bees are dying off. So my wife and I decided it was time we did our part to help them out. Even if we never harvest a drop of honey it is worth our time and effort to save the bees.....but don't get me wrong we have full intention to harvest the honey too!
I'm writing this as an encouragement to any who might be considering doing this. I'm by no means an expert and I have many hard lessons to learn but I'd like to share the process of getting a purchased box bees into a new hive. It was very straight forward. Everyone has an opinion on how to do it right. I've found Mr. Bush of Bush Bees Natural Beekeeping site to be extremely helpful resource.
Step 1: Set Up the Frames
Frames are the inserts we put in hive boxes to give the bees a road map of where to put the honey and brood will go. 10 frames will go in the brood boxes - or the bottom two sections of the hive.
We decided to use a wax foundation in our frames. This is a thin small honey comb on a wire frame that is nailed into the frame.
A utility knife is used to remove a pre cut piece of wood that holds the foundation to the frame.
I used small 5/8 inch brad nails with 30# of pressure to knock out the frames.
Step 2: Set Up the Hive
Pre assemble your hive in anticipation of the bees arrival.
Base with landing board goes on the bottom. Notice the wire mesh that helps keep the larger critters out.
Brood boxes are stacked on top of the base with 10 frames each.
The excluder is placed after the top brood box and before additional boxes. This is used to keep the queen from laying eggs in the honey frames that will be harvested. There is much debate on using these. Right now the jury is out for me for long term use. If the queen runs out of room in the bottom brood boxes your bees will "swarm" and find a bigger house.
The inner cover helps in several ways - especially helping your bees manage the internal hive environment.
Additional hive boxes go on top and then we put the metal covered top on.
Step 3: Order Bees
We bough two 3# boxes of bees from Busy Bee Apiaries. They operate over 600 hives and move them across the south east with crop pollination schedule.
My dad picked them up and to my mother's angst drove them the two hours up to our house.
They come in a small wood framed mesh covered box with a single piece of wood nailed to the top. Inside is the queen (in her own box), a feeder can of sugar and water syrup and about 11,000 bees.
It is quite common to see bees being sent by US Mail.
Step 4: Prep Hive for New Bees
Remove the top and the inner cover from your new hive.
Remove 5 frames from one side of the hive. This is where the bee box will go. Be careful of the wax foundation and it will bend and tear easily. Ideally these should be stored upright like they were hanging in the hive.
With the remaining 5 frames make a small opening about the width of two fingers between frame number 2 and 3. This is where the queen will go.
Step 5: New Home for the Bees
Handle the bee box with gloves. Give the bees a gentle puff or two of smoke. Too much will make them confused and attack.
Remove the staples from the top cover on the bee box. It is a good idea to put a clamp or vice grips on the queen box tab. If it falls you will have to retrieve it from the bottom of the bee box....and it will be covered in bees.
Slide the cover of to reveal the feeder can. Remove the can and gently brush off any bees that might come with it. Quickly replace the cover - all while not letting the queen box drop to the bottom.
Some beekeepers like to drizzle the sugar water out of the can over the hive frames to give the bees something to eat inside the hive.
Step 6: Long Live the Queen
Now it is time to set the queen.
Slide back that access wood on the bee box again and quickly remove the queen box by pulling on the tab. Gently shake off any hitchhikers. Put the cover back on the box.
Look in the queen box - she will be longer than the other bees in the box. You will notice that on each end of the box there is a cork. On one side you will see a white sugar based paste. You will want to remove the cork on the sugar side of the queen. This will make the bees have to eat the sugar and work to get to her.
Gently pinch the queen bee box between frames 2 and 3 while holding the tab not letting her fall.
Remove the top to the bee box so the bees can find the queen.
Still holding the tab set the excluder and top cover on the brood box. Ensure the queen won't fall when you let go and then place the top on the hive.
Step 7: Remove Bee Box
48-72 hours after placing the bees in their new home it is time to check to see if they set the queen free.
Time for another gentle puff of smoke.
Hold the tab on the queen bee box and lift the top. Again it might be useful to attach a clamp or pliers here. With the top of the box off see if the queen is still in her cage. She will be longer than the rest. Plus you should be able to see a big hole where they ate the sugar to get to her.
If she is out set it to the side.
Remove the bee box from the hive. This will probably have several dead bees and a few stragglers in it. Set it to the side and the living bees will find their way home.
Replace the 5 frames you removed and close up the hive.
There is much debate on feeding your bees. I chose to do a 1:1 organic cane sugar and water mixture to get them started.
Step 8: Legal Stuff
I live in the city limits. My city does not have an ordinance against keeping bees. You should check with yours as well.
I also decided to buy this very cool sign. I did not actually have a no trespassing sign and now I have a much less threatening one. Plus as an added bonus I'm telling people to please stay away from my hives.
Step 9: Enjoy
Some of my neighbors were really freaked out initially. But to be very honest these guys are docile. I only wore gloves as protective gear. I might need a hat or suit at harvest time but that is too be decided.
I can sit on my bee hive platform and watch them fly in and out carrying in pollen stuffed in their back legs with no issues. Nobody has been stung yet.
Our family is excited. Our flowers are happy. And grandpa is ecstatic to tell his grandson all about the wonderful world of bees.
Step 10: Video Update!
Here is a quick video of the bees on a warm sunny day. The jars in the front are the organic cane sugar solution.
The bees love their new home - and you can see even standing this close they don't bother me.