Twenty Thousand Guests for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Snacks

My guests  include lots of gals, some dudes and a couple of queens.  Lest you think I’m that interesting, my guests are Apis Mellifera, or honeybees– two packages of honeybees from BeeWeaver Apiaries; there are 10,000 bees in a package.  Yes, you can buy honeybees and keep them at your home–for honey production, for pollination of home gardens and urban farms, or because they’re cool.  I’m going with cool. I love bees–in all stripes and colors. In my post of January 29. 2012  I described the beginning of our journey to beekeeping.  It’s taken over two years, with many fits and starts to this project, to finally hive two packages (artificial swarms) of bees into our garden.  We had to finish our frames

and augment how the frames would fit in the hive.  Originally, we made top bar frames with sides, but decided to use simple top bars.

For the bars,  I melted beeswax (purchased from The Herb Bar here in Austin), to add to the bar so that the bees would have a place to start comb-building.

That was a long afternoon over a hot stove–not my favorite thing to do!

I ordered the bees last fall and we picked them up a couple of weeks ago.  Here they are, in their plastic cages, ready for transport.

Bee buses–aren’t those cute?

We placed the full hives where we wanted them in the garden,

though in preparation for hiving, we limit the hive to only one super (box) where the bees are deposited.

If all goes well with these hives and they grow, we will add the other supers.  Additionally, a box is placed on top of the super with sawdust and cotton material–this is the quilt box and is needed for insulation and cooling for the hive.

We prepare the hives for imminent transfer of bees.  BeeWeaver suggested we close the opening to the hive for 24-48 hours, so we stapled screening to the entrance.

We remove four of the frames to make room for the queen and her bees.

Now, to the task of hiving bees!  We ready our materials, including hat and veil, bee suit or jacket, gloves and smoker.

We light the smoker, smoke the bees in the first Bee Bus and begin the process of opening the Bee Bus of the first hive.

We remove the queen from the Bee Bus–isn’t she lovely?

She’s marked with a little green dot.   Package BeeWeaver queens come mated and with clipped wings.  BeeWeaver bees are bred for Varroa mite resistance and gentleness. However, they are still bees: they get cranky and will sting. They sting when annoyed, threatened or in the wrong place and the wrong time.   When working with the bees, I always wear the hat with veil and gloves.  Only when opening the hive do I don the full bee suit.

We hang the queen cage on a middle frame.

There is a candy plug at one end of the cage that she eats through to enter the hive–it can take one day to a full week for that to happen. After smoking bees and swearing (not necessarily at the bees), we dump bees onto the queen cage and into the box.

Shake! Shake! Shake!

Once we’ve removed as many bees as we can, in as short a time as possible, we quickly add the other frames to the super and close it up.

Lots of bees.  And they’re not particularly happy bees at that moment–and they fly!  Dammit!

We do the same with the second Bee Bus hive: remove the queen cage, open one end of her cage and hang her in a middle frame in the hive, then dump

With both queens installed and as many bees as possible in the hives, we close the second hive.

Because the bees arrive without any honey stores, we must feed them a 1:1 ration of syrup.  I’ll be buying lots of refined white sugar (this is the only thing bee keepers should feed new bees) over the next month or so and they are eating  about a quart/day.  With our Warre hives, our only practical option for a feeder is the Boardman feeder which is set on the entrance board of the hive.

It’s convenient for us and more importantly, we don’t intrude on the bees much as we’re feeding them, but robbing can occur with outside feeders.  Robbing is when a bee from another hive visits, discovers an easy food source, returns to her hive, “dances” the directions to the hive and then all the freeloaders show up, stealing the syrup, or  honey if there is some.  Nature is cruel.  We’re keeping our fingers crossed that doesn’t happen–it can doom a hive.

Other than checking each hive 48 hours after hiving to assure that the queens left their cages (both had!) so each can start laying eggs, we haven’t opened our hives.

We did lose a fair number of bees initially, about 2-3 cupfuls.  How does one count bees??   I think that’s normal and there is constant and natural attrition to bee hives–that’s why there are undertaker bees in hives–to remove dead and dying bees.  Also, bees are known to fly out of the their hive in altruistic suicide missions–to die outside the hive so as not to infect the others.  Aren’t bees grand?

We’ll check soon to see if there is comb-building and if there are eggs and larva, but our philosophy is not to bug them (pun) too much.  Let bees be bees.

From the outside, all seems well.  I’ve observed the little guard bees checking out all the visitors and have even seen them tackle bees who didn’t belong.

There is lots of traffic in and out of the hive by foragers as they bring pollen into the hive.

And many bees in my gardens getting nectar from flowers, as well.

My girls are very gentle–I can sit very close the entrance and they pay no attention to me and that’s even more true as the foragers are at flowers–they have a  job to do, I guess and I’m not as interesting as flowers.

I was stung twice on the afternoon we hived, though not as I worked the bees.  A little while after hiving, I was observing from (what I thought) a safe distance.  I didn’t realize how many bees were crawling on the ground and rested my hand on the ground; one crawled up my hand and stung me.  Later, I was sitting on the patio with a bee jacket flung over the back of the chair and a bee got me on my arm– I think she was in the folds of the jacket and happened upon my arm.

Lesson learned.

Other than those two times, they haven’t bothered me.

Tina and Steven: neophyte, though intrepid, beekeepers.

The learning curve is steep with successful beekeeping–learning terminology, understanding bee biology, decisions made about type of hive, feeder, equipment and most importantly, philosophy of why one keeps bees. I’m both excited and apprehensive about my little guests–I feel a great responsibility toward these bees. Bees are complex and remarkable insects.  I remind myself that bees have been doing their bee thing  for millions of years and beekeepers have kept bees for thousands of years–surely I can do it.  But, there are many variables in beekeeping.   Hopefully  we will learn to offset potential and fatal problems with our hives.

Many thanks to Andrew Shahan of BeeWeaver for his excellent class and advice when we received our bees and to the Austin Area Beekeepers Association for their dedication to home beekeeping and their interesting meetings. Thanks also to my good friend and neighbor, Pam Ferguson, for taking the photos as we hived our bees.

That’s the buzz for now–more as our foraging flights continue with honeybees!

16 thoughts on “Twenty Thousand Guests for Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Snacks

  1. Bees! Yay! Bravo (and brava!). I think you are remarkable to undertake such an ambitious enterprise. I am not nearly ready to keep a hive here in our spaces, but I am doing what I can to encourage and support bees and other pollinators. Just recently I’ve noticed the possumhaw in bloom is absolutely swamped with bees. I’d love to install another but will have to find or “make” room.


    • I can’t tell you how nervous I was the day we picked up and hived the bees. I wasn’t worried about being stung, building and maintaining two hives feels like a huge responsibility and for all my reading, eventually, we had to finally “do.” That felt scary. So far though, things are progressing well. I think. Just by growing the plants that you love and grow, you’ll help the pollinators. Interesting that your Possumhaw has bees as mine doesn’t. Hmm.


    • It’s been fun, Laura and they’re so interesting. I’ve spent time just watching them (when I have other things to do!) and they are fascinating. We’ll open up the hives this weekend to check for comb, so I’ll have more to report and I hope it’s good news. If you have a bee keeping group near to you, I’d encourage you to attend. It’s hard to get out to meetings, but we’ve learned a lot and beekeepers are passionate about their bees and willing to talk. And talk. And talk.


  2. Wow! This is fascinating. I’ll have to show my girls your blog post, as they are both very interested in bees. I hope all goes well with your hives and colonies! Great photos–I love the photos at the door of the hive, where you can see the bright pollen on the foragers.

    We also try to attract the pollinators year-round, to the extent that we can. I can’t quite convince my husband to be kind to wasps, but he’s on board with bees. We enjoyed watching all kinds of different bees show up at our Meyer Lemon in late winter/early spring (when we could bring it outside during the day), and even saw a species of blue bees show up. The girls and I were able to watch from not too far away without any stings, fortunately. Like you said, they were more interested in the flowers than in us.

    Good luck! Looking forward to see how your beekeeping goes.


    • Hey Mary–so glad you’re encouraging your little ones to love bees and things outdoors! I hope we’re successful with the bees–they are such interesting critters.


  3. How exciting! I can imagine your joy and apprehension. I have a feeling that you and Steve are going to be wonderful hosts as you’ve done so much research but also because you really care about their well being. Looking forward to hearing how the next check-in goes.


    • Hi Cat–I don’t feel like I know that much. Every time I read information about bees, I learn something new. There’s so much that entomologists still don’t understand about bees–a lifetime of learning in store for us. We’ll check on them this weekend–I hope they’re doing well.


    • Hi Jenny! Ha! At the last beekeepers meeting, a new beekeeper asked when to expect enough honey so that he could tell friends, family and neighbors when to expect some. Apparently, it will be summer of 2015 (assuming all is good with both hives) before we can expect honey. So, can you wait??


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