Wednesday, May 4, 2011

45,000 New Head of Livestock!

I discovered that my neighbor Tom Bramble is a professional beekeeper and was delighted when he agreed to be my bee mentor this summer.  Tom offered to pick up my new bees when he picked up his - perfect because they were expected to arrive on LaFonda's due date,  next Saturday.

But then Tom called Sunday night and said they had arrived earlier than expected and he would  have them to me on Tuesday at noon. I was not ready!  I still had to paint the new hives - which I did until midnight in the dining room.
My  old hive,  a Langstroth hive, has rectangular frames surrounding a wax honeycomb foundation that the bees build comb upon in a uniform structure, very convenient for the beekeeper.
My new hives are Warre hives, and instead of frames, they have bars with two legs that hang down across the top of the boxes. The bees construct their natural sling-like comb. It's messier for the beekeeper to deal with, but the theory is that the bees can customize cell size for worker bees or drones and make smaller-sized cells that  discourage  the  dreaded Varroa mite.
Each bar requires a bead of  beeswax centered along the bottom edge to lure the bees to build where you want them to. Tom had cut slits along the bar where he poured melted wax- but my bars didn't have slits. We invented a solution -  which could be genius or folly, we'll see.  I used a hot glue gun to draw a bead  along each bar...
then painted over the bead with melted beeswax. Hopefully the bees will find that to be an irresistibly convenient foundation.
Yesterday morning, I sited the hives.  The main reasons I decided to try Warre hives are that 1) they are  supposed to be lower-maintenance and 2) the boxes are much smaller and easier to handle (Langstroth boxes are HEAVY when full of wax, honey and bees.)  However, I have to admit, 3) I also was drawn to them aesthetically - they are just so cute!  I sited the new Warre hives along the north edge of our yard where they will get warm sunshine, a bit of midday shade, shelter from wind, and can be admired from my dining room window.  The old Lansgstroth hive was moved from the pasture  to a spot  between the two flowering crabapple trees -this will be a prima spot in a week or two when those trees bloom.
Tom and Sister Alice,the beekeeper at Assisi Heights, arrived with the three packages of bees and stayed to help me install them.  Between them, they must have well over 50 years beekeeping expertise, so I couldn't have dreamed of better assistance! We closed up the entrances and  poured the package of bees into the hive. We spritzed the bees with a sugar water solution, which reduces their flying ability and keeps them distracted,  licking the sweetness from each other.

The queen is in her chamber - a little cage that protects her until the bees are settled and have accepted her as their queen. It takes a few days for her queenly hormones to kick in, and before then, her subjects would likely kill her.
Her cage is hanging on a bar inside the  hive - I will let her out in three days.
Each 3-pound package contains approximately 15,000 bees.  With three hives, we now have 45,000 new head of livestock on our farm (bees are officially considered to be livestock.)

The top box of the Warre hives  has a feeding area, in which we placed comb full of honey from last year's hive to nourish the bees until the dandelions and creeping charlie start blooming (any day now!)
With the help of my two lovely assistants, the installation of the three hives took less than an hour.  The bees seemed to be settling in pretty well, so we relaxed with a glass of limeade on the patio before Tom and Sister Alice left to install Tom's final four packages.

It was pretty hectic getting these bees installed yesterday, but it was a rare  sunny, warm day - making all the beekeepers and bees very happy.  I am glad they arrived early - and relieved they did not arrive at the same time as my expected calf.

I just looked out my dining room window and can see that already this morning the bees are getting to work. All seems right with the world.

Bonus auditory treat: When I was researching Warre hives I became acquainted with a beekeeper in Maine, The Luddite, who writes engagingly about her apiary. Her husband is a composer who incorporated recordings of her bees into a lovely, jazzy piece of music: "Chant Des Abbeilles."(scroll down his page to listen.)



Allison at Novice Life said...

This is absolutely fascinating to me. Since we live on an orchard, we want to attempt bee keeping starting next year.

The Farm Fairy said...

Hi Susan, Sandra's here! I didn't check your blog for a few days and tons of activity is going on at your farm, don't you love Spring!!??
Check my new blog and hopefully I will be set with this last one, it is called Four Seasons at Peacehaven.
Happy Mother's Day!!!

Hawthorn said...

wonderful - I now have bee envy :)

Tom and Bethany said...

Your Warres look spectacular!

Congratulations on the 45000 newest additions to your farm. Hoping soon to read about the 45001 or possibly 45002 too!

-The Luddite

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