Here are the promised details of our first hiving.
Wolf Creek Apiaries notified us the previous Saturday that our package had been shipped Priority Mail. But since air travel in a depressurized hold would be lethal to the bees the package would still be delayed by speed limits and prudence. As day after bee-less day passed we became increasingly glum and fretful, foreseeing a box of cold, starved-to-death bees. Then Thursday came the call from the main Post Office informing us that our bees were waiting to picked up. We fearfully asked if they were still alive. “Oh, they’re alive!” came the vehement response in a tone suggesting the opposite would better suit the speaker. We hastened to the Post Office where a seriously distraught but still professional postal worker went to the back and swiftly returned, holding our package by its handles well away from her. A quick scan of the label and we were on our way.
Inside the box there were a number of dead bees on the floor but this is normal. A package begins with bees of all ages and some may be expected to expire en route. The living were rather quietly clustered in a fluid mass around the syrup can at the top of the box, their food for the trip. At some point they had whiled away the time by building a disk of comb on the floor. As it was another rainy, not very warm day we put the box on our dining room table and gave them a few light spritzes of syrup(equal parts sugar and water). That perked them up and they began to buzz a bit. We left them to warm while we finished our preparations.
To stimulate comb building we will need to feed them for a while. There are various techniques but we decided to modify the follower board to accommodate a Boardman feeder. The follower board is somewhat the horizontal hive version of stacking another hive body. It is a false wall that can reduce the occupied volume of a horizontal hive. Bees seem to like things cozy so when they are first installed in a hive the follower is positioned to make a space about 3,000 cubic inches in volume. As the colony grows one of the beek’s tasks is to move the follower along so that the bees never feel crowded, which would encourage them to swarm.
The Boardman feeder is a small plastic device that holds an inverted jar of syrup with wee holes in its lid and fits into the entrance slot of conventional Langstroth hive. Other beeks have cut a small rectangular slot in the bottom of their follower to accommodate a Boardman feeder, inserted from the unoccupied part of the hive. Since we have a screened bottom, flexible and not level, we added another board along the bottom for some stability.
Finally because we are using a new, never-occupied hive it won’t really smell like home to the bees right away, so it is possible that they will send out scouts for some place more to their liking and, finding one, abscond. To minimize the chances of this happening some beekeepers will put a bit of old comb in the hive. It is rather like having the pot of coffee brewing or cookies baking when showing a house you wish to sell. Others will use a bit of lemongrass oil since that smells like nasonov, the pheromone which bees emit to help absent colony members find their way home. If you ever see a swarm move into a new home (on their own or with a swarm catcher’s assistance) you will see bees facing the entrance raise their bottoms and fan their wings to call the rest of the colony by broadcasting this scent. In our case we obtained some commercial swarm lure (synthetic nasonov) and hung the tiny tube from the follower board with a pushpin. We were now ready for tenants.
The actual hiving went so smoothly that it was rather anticlimactic. We pried off the cover of the shipping box, removed the now-empty can of syrup, and the queen cage. Upon removing the cork from the queen cage there was momentary panic as we found that the plug of sugar to delay her release until the other bees had grown accustomed to her smell and accepted her as their own had already been eaten. Then again this could be evidence that they had spent enough time together for the bees to have so accepted her. They certainly showed no hostility. So we continued with the plan and hung the queen cage by its ribbon to the follower board, dumped in the bees to happily see a few begin to immediately engage in fanning behavior, and put back the top bars and roof. Luckily the disk of comb they had built also fell into the cage so that effort is not wasted but can be recycled. The now mostly empty shipping box we left a few feet in front of the hive to allow the last few bees to leave and join the others who were buzzing away nicely.
Our work done we moved a short distance from the hive, dislodged the hitchhikers from our jackets with our bee brushes, and noted the tiny bee poop stains anointing our no longer quite so new beekeeper whites. Then we returned to the house and spent the rest of the day feeling giddy with the realization that we finally have bees.