Last Wednesday we picked up our nuc from Shawn Deron. There was a brief storm when we arrived so we spent some time chatting about beekeeping matters. In no particular order among the lore we acquired is:
Shawn uses a smoker (a subject for another blog post) but smokes his hands rather than the bees as is more typical. This masks the scent of his hands without alarming the bees into thinking their home is on fire.
The wooden pellets sold as horse bedding make a cheap smoker fuel. Available in bulk from stores that supply farmers they are much more economical than fuels sold especially for bee smokers.
Bees get agitated at the smell of bananas. They use scent to coordinate the collective behavior of the colony and banana smell resembles the alarm pheromone they emit when the hive is in danger.
Shawn ‘open feeds’ his bees by putting the food (in this case, the stores from hives that died over the winter) a distance from the hives more or less centrally located. The bees all help themselves and do not rob each other as they might with feeders attached to specific hives.
Hives in a line are said to be subject to ‘drifting’, where returning bees will miss their own hive and enter an adjacent one. Over time the hives at the end of the line acquire more workers while the those in the middle decline. By stacking differently colored hive bodies (He uses conventional medium frame Langstroths.) in distinctive patterns he has avoided this problem.
Once the storm passed, he kindly showed us around his bee yard. (Also his chicken coop but that is straying quite off topic.) There were several nucs ready for sale. He inspected each one to make sure that we would be taking a laying queen. We got some practice at spotting eggs in the cells trying to develop the eye that can look at a tiny streak of white and discern an actual egg from a trick of the light. Likewise for spotting the shy queen among a mass of workers covering the comb. In one candidate nuc she could not be found and there were indications that supersedure was taking place so he withdrew that nuc from consideration.
While inspecting one of the others we came upon a capped cell with a tiny hole in its cap that soon became a new bee emerging. Shawn held that frame out long enough for us to watch as she chewed away the cap on her cell and slowly got her head, then one leg and another until she suddenly popped out to freedom. The other bees would not help her to emerge but one did stop to feed her a bit of honey while she was still partly trapped. It is contrary to mammalian prejudices to find an insect cute outside of children’s animation but this little creature immediately bustling to work with her newness apparent in size, fuzziness, and sheen qualified for us.
We finally chose a vigorous ten medium frame nuc, a two-stack of five-frame boxes, the bottom of which was full of brood and the top with significant amounts of honey. Shawn strapped the boxes together and taped over the entrance. Then we secured the nuc in the back of our car with the frames, as Shawn recommended, facing the sides of the car. If they were facing the front/rear of the car then a sudden braking could cause the frames to slide into each other crushing bees (possibly the all-important queen) between. By the time we got home it was too late to do aught but place the nuc near their eventual home, rip off the tape and so to bed. The hiving will be described in the next post.