Our Beekeeping Journey
The First Three Weeks
Wow! Beekeeping is so much fun. It’s fascinating as well. We’ve already spent hours just watching them from afar. We’ve already had a fail but that’s all part of the process. Lessons are being learned every day.
Installation and the First (Major) Oops!
Installing the bees was so cool. Brian and I had watched a couple of videos online and we were so excited to see it in person.
The bees come in a box of two to three pounds of bees. The queen is included and comes in her own cage that is separate from the rest. Also included in the colony box is a can of syrup so they have something to eat while in transit.
The syrup jar and queen cage are removed and the bees are, for lack of a better word, dumped into the super box which is now their new home.
The queen remains in her cage but gets placed into the super box, attached to the top and side of one of the frames.
At the end of the queen cage is a hole. The hole is blocked by a small piece of candy. On top of that candy is a small cork that you pull out just before installing the bees. The bees will eat the candy out over time, releasing the queen. (Video below.)
The first box was no problem. I used a pair of tweezers to gently pull the cork off the top of the candy piece. With the second box, as I tried to grab the cork with the tweezers, instead the whole thing pushed down into the cage, leaving the end open.
Bye, bye queen! Before I even knew what was happening she was out and on top of the box, then just flew away. I told Betsy (my beekeeping master mentor) that the queen got out. She said, “uh oh” like it was no big deal but she knew it wasn’t good. Betsy said we’d try to find her and separate her. I felt like poo! Bees aren’t cheap and Betsy had bough these for us.
First lesson learned. A hard one too! Losing the queen changes everything. The main roles of the queen are to produce pheromones that help regulate the unity of the colony, and to lay lots of eggs. Without a queen the colony will not survive.
Trial by fire, I suppose. Insert self eye roll here. I’m still kicking myself over that.
Betsy got both colonies installed, even though one was missing its queen. The hope beyond hope was that I could catch her and get her back in her box. We moved forward and got most of the bees in both boxes, then stepped back and observed the bees for a bit.
Things seemed to be settling down. Betsy and her husband said the bees seemed happy and with that, they were on their way and Brian and I were now the beekeepers!
I kept my eye out for the queen. Sadly, I saw a swarm of bees in the trees that afternoon, then on the ground later. If the queen is introduced to the colony too soon they just can’t handle her. They will swarm and kill her. That was what happening.
I raked my hand gently over a big pile of bees on the ground and found the queen. I was able to grab her and put her back into the main box the bees came in, but as she got settled I could tell she wasn’t doing well and probably wouldn’t make it.
Such a fail right off the bat and I felt horrible for her. I seriously sat there and talked to her and told her I was so sorry. She didn’t make it much longer. Colony one was officially without a queen.
As the sun set the bees settled in the hives and didn’t swarm in the yard, so that was good. At least they were in there new homes.
Week 1 – Bee Activity
The first week is all about acclimation and ensuring the queen stays separate and gets released at the right time.
During this time the bees are buzzing around in their hives, keeping each other warm. They eat a lot of syrup. This gives them the energy needed to build comb.
In order for them to thrive, the bees must be fed. Bees are fed a 1:1 mix of sugar water. Initially they will drink a lot of it, then that amount decreases over time as they find and make their own food sources.
Comb must be built to provide the queen a place to lay her eggs. The frames of the hive hold the foundations, which is what the bees build their comb on.
Once released the queen is walking around, basically supervising the comb building, and sending signals out to make more, more, more! She wants to lay as many eggs as possible.
The survival and thrival (yes, I made that word up. I went for the rhyme!) of the colony depends on a healthy queen!
Week 1 – Inspection
As expected, the hive without the queen was weak, yet bees were still building comb and flying in and out, working as they should.
The second hive was a bit more active, with more bees, but still a weak colony. I saw a few eggs but did not lay my eyes on the queen.
Both hives were eating quite a bit of syrup per day as well, about half a jar or more each.
Week 1 – Adjustments
Since we knew we’d lost the queen in one colony, I reached out to Betsy, asking about putting the supers together to see if we could save the queenless one. It was worth a try, right?
I carefully added one super on top of the other. It was tough doing that, and having such an early failure, but it’s all a learning process and there’s a lot to be learned here. A lot has been learned here.
I watched the hive from afar for a few days. Things seemed to be going smoothly. There was lots of bee traffic in and out of the hive and there were eating a lot. Time would tell.
Week 2 – Bee Activity
The second week after installation is pretty much more of the same. The queen is pushing the bees to build comb while she lays eggs. Everyone is still eating a lot of syrup as well.
At this point there should be a lot of bees with frames being drawn out with comb. In addition there should be some open larvae as well.
Bees get born and die each day. Some dead bees is normal, yet a pile of them is not.
Week 2 – Inspection
Both boxes seemed to be doing about the same, but things just didn’t seem to really be progressing. I looked for the queen. She should be easy to spot. She had a big green dot on her that you couldn’t miss.
Comb was being built in each box, but not very quickly. I noticed lots of pollen on lots of bees but didn’t see eggs or larvae or capped brood. Things just didn’t seem to be going well. (Insert sad, but learning, face.)
Week 2 – Adjustments
Considering that only a few frames of each super was really getting built, I then thought it might be best, since the two colonies seemed to be getting along, to consolidate the two supers into one, removing the frames that had nothing on them.
I carefully went through that process. Then waited. That’s the hard part. You want to get in and check on them, yet you also don’t want to disturb their work too much. It’s a balance I’m still working to figure out.
That adjustment was even harder, and we are now down to one super. I wasn’t seeing a queen and I didn’t see any more eggs. The bees would continue to be fed and monitored. More wait and see.
Week 3 was more of the same and things didn’t seem to be progressing.
As much as I hate to say it, things aren’t looking good. Our first two colonies and I might have managed to lose both queens. We’re probably going to need to requeen. Or start over. Ouch.
That’s okay, we aren’t giving up! I say we….it’s our beekeeping journey. Me and Brian. We are doing this together, it’s just that he does it vicariously through me, so I write this in mostly first person, but sometimes say we. (Why I decided to declare that here I have no idea. Carry on!)
Betsy will be here to get her trained eye on it, and help us decide what to do next. We’ll keep you posted!