It has been 1 week since our busy little bees got mailed to us and they seem to be quite happy in their new Mountain State home. In my last post I might have been a little too excited and over exaggerated saying there are 200,000 bees in our boxes. I didn’t mean to lead you all on, I was just so excited for out bees! I should have used a word more like “shmillion” which usually accompanies my over-exaggerations. Truth is, each of our hives started with about 10,000 bees when they were mailed to us (in the middle of each summer, when the bees are the busiest storing up pollen and honey for the winter months, the hives can have up to 80,000 bees in them). Can you blame me for being so excited though? I have wanted bees for a few years. In fact (I feel like such a little kid admitting this), my parents gave me some birthday cash last year and I have been saving it, sitting on my dresser, since last July waiting for the right time to buy some bees. I am pretty excited!
Three days after we received our package of bees and set them in our hives, we went to double check that they queen bee got out of her special little box. When sets of bees get sent out to individuals starting a new hive, it’s not usually as simple as packing up a whole hive and calling it good. Bee suppliers split the hives they have into multiple packages and send those off giving them the biggest bang for their buck and allowing them to keep sets of bees themselves so they can continue to “harvest” them and make a business. But remember, a hive needs a queen, and you can’t split her. Instead they allow queen eggs to hatch and ship them off with one part of the split hive (a queen egg, or “cell”, is much larger than that of a drone or worker bee, making it easy to distinguish. Usually queen cells are picked off and not allowed to hatch since there can only be 1 queen per hive). Since this queen bee is different from the one the bees in the hive had before, she has to be kept separate until they get used to each other and can become a happy hive. It also helps ensure that she survives the stress of being shipped. When you get a package of bees, the queen (and usually a few helpers) is in a small, separate box with a small piece of sugar candy blocking her exit. This little box is placed inside the hive until she is set free by the bees (or the bee keeper in some instances). Over a few days’ time, while getting used to each other, this piece of candy is eaten away and then she is free!
When we went to make sure that the queen in each hive was released, we found in each hive an empty box with no queen. At this point some people take out each frame in the hive to double check that the queen is there. Inexperienced as we are, we felt it best to leave the bees alone and not stress them out while we would inevitably spend much too much time picking up each frame and poking around for the queen that our untrained eyes have yet to master finding. Instead we will go back in a few weeks to check on them and see if there is brood (baby bees) being laid. If there aren’t any, then we know the queen either did not survive or is a very weak queen. If this is the case we have to get a new queen ASAP, or risk the bees swarming (leaving their hive in search of a new home and queen).
But for now we will assume that the queens are in place and laying and expanding our hives while the busy worker bees keep building honey comb and collecting pollen.