Wednesday, April 29, 2009

We have bees!

We are the Robertson's. We have bees.

We decided that since we love our bees so much we would share our experiences with the world- or at least with anyone who decides to read our blog. The story actually started last winter (2008) but we are just starting the blog now. This first post will be lengthy as we try to catch everybody up on the story.

For the last couple of years we have been trying to become more self sufficient. We have expanded our garden and have been thinking of other ways to make ourselves independent of the grocery store (that financial drain). We know that we will never truly be self sufficient, but we can try. Last fall we were thinking about starting some mushroom cultivation so we could sell the shrooms at farmer's markets. It soon became apparent that we really wouldn't be able to get much out of that project. After more thought and the seed of an idea from Gareth's mother, we settled on beekeeping. We would be able to harvest honey for our own consumption, to share with family and friends, and to sell.

At first we thought top bar hives were the way to go. They looked simple enough on YouTube videos. But then we discovered that they are prone to swarming and really don't produce a whole lot of honey. And why keep bees if your not going to get a whole lot of honey?

The first step was to read "Beekeeping for Dummies". An excellent book! After reading that book we were more excited than ever! We decided to start with 2 hives for the backyard. By February we were ready to start ordering equipment and bees. The equipment, which consisted of 1 hive, top feeder, smoker, hat, gloves, hive tool, etc., arrived shortly thereafter and the bees were scheduled to arrive on April 21st or 22nd. About a month before the bees were to arrive we ordered the second hive. You would think that a month would have been plenty of time to ship a beehive across the country, but it didn't ship until 6 days before the bees were scheduled to arrive. Needless to say we were getting a little nervous that we wouldn't have any place to put our second colony of bees when they were delivered.

A description of the bees coming from the supplier: Beekeepers usually pick up packages of bees from the supplier if they are within a reasonable distance. Well, there are no bee suppliers wtihin easy driving distance of Lovell, WY, so our bees were shipped to us from Lehi, UT via UPS. We got two 3 lb packages and two queens- that is 1 package and one queen for each hive. There are approximately 15,000 bees in a 3 pound package. The bees are placed in a small screened box with a can of sugar syrup for the bees to eat. The queen is put in a small cage and also placed in the box with the other bees. Since the queen is not the original queen for the package of bees, she must be kept separate until the bees get used to her scent or they might revolt and take the queen out. Not what we want to happen!

Ok- back to the story. Gareth was able to take a week of paternity leave from the hospital starting April 21st in order to be at home when the little girls were delivered. April 21st finally arrived with no bees or hive being delivered. April 22nd came and we anxiously awaited the delivery. At 11:00 UPS arrived. The driver jumped off the truck with something zipped up in a big mesh bag and met us on the sidewalk saying "This ain't good, this ain't good." Somewhere along the line the packages had been dropped or something and one of the corners on one of the packages had been bashed in. By the time we got the bees about a quarter of the damaged package had escaped and was buzzing around inside the bag. That's about 3,700 bees! You could say that we were a little freaked out. So now we have two packages of bees, one of which is broken open and only one hive to put them in. As we were on the phone with the bee supplier and searching the internet trying to figure out what to do with an open package the other hive was finally delivered via Federal Express. Chris was able to borrow a hat and veil from another couple down the street who was also getting bees this spring, and between the two of us we were able to get the open package in the hive. There was another problem. When we went to get the queen cage and put her in the hive, we discovered that the cork keeping her in place had been knocked loose and she was nowhere to be seen. We hoped that she was in with the rest of the colony and that they wouldn't kill her.

We rounded up the needed parts for the second hive and got the other package installed later that day. This one went much more smoothly. The queen cage was put in place with a mini-marshmallow replacing the cork. The worker bees would eat the marshmallow away while getting used to the queen's scent and accept her as their own by the time was released. We placed a pollen patty in each hive and gave the bees sugar syrup via feeders on top of the hives. There isn't a whole lot of flowers to provide pollen and nectar in the middle of April.

We should stop here and discuss how we were going to differentiate the two hives. What would we call them? Hive #1 and hive #2? What could we name two colonies of bees? It finally came to us- Virginia. What else could we name our first colony? The bees are nearly all female and Virginia is a good female name. What could we name the other colony? Georgia- another good female colony name. I guess if we get more colonies we will have to name them North and South Carolina. Or Delaware and Cennecticut?

The next step was to wait a week before inspecting the hives to make sure that the bees are building comb and that the queens are laying eggs. Over the next week we sat and watched the hives for hours at a time. Bees are truly amazing creatures. On just the second day we could see the bees working in their different capacities- some were guarding the entrance, some climbed on top and spread pheremones in the air so the other bees could find their way home, and other bees gathered pollen and brought it back to the hive. We were initially a little worried about Virginia-she was the damaged colony and we were concerned about her queen. But her bees were certainly the more active of the two hives. Georgia's bees on the other hand were hardly ever out flying and we never saw them bring back any pollen. Virginia consumed 6 quarts of sugar syrup in 1 week, but Georgia hardly touched hers.

April 29th came around and the weather was decent enough to enter the hives. Chris sewed together a make shift veil out of some curtains so she could get in on the inspection, too. We only ordered one veil to start with beause Chris didn't want to get tooo close to the hives. After a week of watching the bees, though, her mind has changed. We will be ordering another veil soon. We were a little anxious as we didn't know quite what to expect. Virginia's hive looked really good. The bees had started to build comb on 5 of the 10 frames, had started to store pollen in some of the cells, had filled other cells with sugar syrup, and we found eggs and larvae in other cells. The queen had survived! Whew!

Next it was Georgia's turn. Since she had not been as active as Virginia we were nervous. We found that the queen had been released from her cage, comb had been built on 3 of the 10 frames, sugar syrup was being stored, they had filled some of the cells with pollen from the pollen patty, and we found eggs and larvae. Looking good! Gerogia had also built "burr comb". Burr comb is comb attached to the top or sides of the hive instead of on the frames where we want them to build it. We scraped the burr comb off and are saving it for later. Hopefully by the end of the summer we will have a bunch of burr comb and other bits of bees wax that we can melt down and turn in to hand cream/lotion.

Well, that about catches us up. We will be doing weekly inspections for a while and we will keep everything updated from here on out. Unless we forget to. But we will try not to forget. We have some pictures and we will take pictures of the burr comb. We will post them later- right now it is time for bed.


Tracy said...

Wow guys, this is really interesting! I can't wait to share this with the boys. I am looking forward to your updates!

That poor UPS guy! I can see headlines now: "UPS Truck Goes Off-Road Trying During Bee Attack!" ROFL!

Logan said...

Love the blog, you guys!

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