Today was the main event (so far): we picked up my newly arrived bees – two "packages," or six pounds, or 20,000 bees – and installed them in the rooftop hive bodies. We drove a car with a nice flat way-back, turned on the AC and deep sixed the radio, acutely aware of being in our biggest-ever car pool.
The act of bringing these creatures into our lives has, of course, created at least some of the "omigod-what-have-I-done?!" feelings that have accompanied every other dog, cat, fish, or mouse that has moved in. It was also surreally satisfying to hold six pounds of buzzing life, handed to me in the same gesture that the bee seller crossed my name off the list: "here you are Miss, two packages of Italians, thanks for your business." But so it goes: momentous for me, a potentially critical turn of events for the bees, another 30 seconds for the world.
Installing the two packages may or may not have gone OK. I had a rough time setting up the queen cage: in each package of bees, there is a smaller separate cage that contains a queen bee and some "attendants." The worker bees in the package came from a hive that had bees to spare, the previous beekeeper just shook three pounds of them into a wood-and-screen container about the size of a shoe box. The bee farmer had to give us a queen, too, in order for us to have a successful colony, so a queen from a special hive that was developed to raise spares was introduced. Since she is, at least initially, a stranger to the 9,999 other bees, the queen in each package had to travel in a separate compartment that was nonetheless able to impart her smell to them (so they will eventually become a loyal posse).
The queen cage is set up to hold the queen in a couple of chambers, and it features another chamber filled in with candy, that is in turn sealed by a little cork. My job was to remove the cork so the worker bees around would get to chomping on the candy, and in a couple of days free the queen. By then, we hope, they will be used to her and ready to accept her.
I had a very very hard time with the little cork, and did some major damage to the candy (though let's cross our fingers that the queen was not smooshed a bit too). I hope the queens still have adequate protection from their new subjects, though only time will tell. If I killed – or caused the death of – the queens, the colonies will not survive.
You will can see the process we went through via the photos and mpegs here. Needless to say, any beekeepers who know anything are gonna shake their heads, and you know, I hope you tell me what I did wrong (but that I did it right enough nonetheless).
The whole thing was an awkward adventure: fueling up and lighting the smoker, prying the friggin staples off the package, trying hard not to squish bees, dragging gallon jars of sugar syrup to the roof, hoping like hell no neighbors were watching.
I got stung twice today: once in the "field" session that finished the beekeeping class offered by a local beekeepers association (because of weather and a schedule change, I had missed the field session on actually INSTALLING the bees, so this was my first time even seeing it done). The second sting came after I thought we were done for the day: we were sitting at our patio table on the roof, looking at the bees going absolutely crazy buzzing around, and wondering how it went. Then I got the tiniest sting on my left pinky. Hardly hurt me, but another bee bit the dust. Sorry sweetie. Really.
Little honeys, I hope I do better for you as we learn more about each other.