California Girls arrived a week ago last Tuesday in a plastic box.
In the container was three pounds of bees (about 10,000 — enough to start a hive), a can of sugar syrup, and a newly mated queen. As you can see, the bees cluster around the food can in the middle.
Most beekeepers start with a package, but this was our first since Buzzers’ Roost was a nuc, FreeBees was a complete hive, and NewBees were a split from FreeBees.
Bee suppliers will mail packages, but we picked ours up from Queen Right Colonies. They bring in two truckloads from California each year. Click the link to see them unload a semi-trailer full of bees.
On the same page, you’ll find videos demonstrating how to install a package. There are videos on YouTube, but QRC has been doing this for a long time, and they’ve got it down to a science.
The night before we picked up our bees, The Engineer and I watched the QRC video and a few others. I also reviewed the process in one of our bee books to make sure we had some idea what to do.
The process can be a little intimidating, especially to a new beekeeper, but we felt comfortable, partly because we’ve already screwed up so many times and managed to recover and partly because we’ve had three years’ experience handling bees.
A new package tends to be docile anyway. They have no brood, stores, or hive to defend.
Unfortunately, that Tuesday was too cold to install the bees into their new home (40s with traces of snow). They ended up living in our unheated spare bathroom, which also doubles as our “Bee Room” (where we store supplies) for a few days. It was cool enough without being too cold for them (between 50F and 60F).
Finally, on Thursday, the weather warmed to the low 50s, enough to do the installation.
We took out the queen, treated the girls with Oxalic Acid (for Varroa), and dumped them in their new home. After replacing the cork in the queen cage with a sugar plug, we affixed it to a central frame to allow for a gradual introduction in the hope the workers would accept her. Then, we sprinkled the top of the frames with probiotics, inserted a few small pieces of pollen pattie, and filled the reservoir with sugar syrup.
Last, we closed the lid and crossed our fingers, hoping the next time we opened it, the bees would be one big happy family.
If you’re a long-time follower of this blog, you may recognize the box as the previous home of FreeBees (RIP).
Since we like to name our hives, this left us in a bit of a quandary. We couldn’t very well call this hive FreeBees, or even FreeBees (II), because we paid $170 for them.
We decided to name them California Girls, Cali Girls for short.
The Ohio-raised nucleus hive we are picking up next weekend will become Buzzers’ Roost (II). And should we be fortunate enough to someday do another split, it will go in the Pink Palace, and become NewBees (II).
Today, we finally had the time and the weather to do an inspection. We’ve been filling the food reservoir as they empty it, but this would be the first chance to see if the queen is alive, released, and laying.
We saw both eggs and larvae, but no capped brood, which means she’s been out for between six and nine days. (Larvae are capped when they are ten days old). Since the package was installed eleven days ago, she was released fairly quickly.
Also, they are bringing in pollen, mostly a yellowish gray, with some bright yellow. I imagine the bright yellow is dandelion, and the yellowish gray may be Red Maple, if this chart is anything to go by.
And there’s fresh nectar, so they are doing what they’re supposed to.
You may have noticed the hive has a different lid. I bought it a while ago, but for reasons neither of us can remember, we didn’t like it.
It has an inside reservoir for food, and a window where you can peek in.
Because curious raccoons regularly visit our yard, we’ve never used an outside feeder on our hives, always an extra box with upturned mason jars inside full of syrup.
But this year, with the nights (and some days!) being so cold, we didn’t want to stress the bees by expecting them to heat an extra box.
Thus, we’re trying the lid again, and I must admit, it’s nice to be able to take a quick look without disturbing them. I guess the lid has proven useful, at least for this time of year.
Here’s a closeup, though there’s some glare from the sun.
It’s so nice to have bees again. 🙂