Three weeks ago I got a second hive of bees. Yes, late in the year, but they were from my bee guru, and he was confident I could take them through the winter by putting the syrup to them hard.
I brought them home in the night, seatbelted in on the front seat. They were very quiet. I set them in place on the pre-established base of the hive, with the lid right on top of the nuc box.
First thing in the morning, there was a bee walking about, investigating. Later in the day, there were many bees flying around, mostly backwards, getting their bearings (they leave the hive backwards and hover around a bit, getting a visual impression of the hive’s location, before they leave to work), and some already hard at it, carting in pollen.
I transferred them to the super, but because these nuc boxes have slots in the bottom to prevent frames from clanking around, I couldn’t knock the loose bees out into the hive. I had to leave it leaned up against.
The bees inside were all confused, and slowly moved up the box as a group. Where’d everybody go? Gravity just changed direction too.
Since these bees were unexpected and I didn’t have time to make a batch of bee syrup the first day, I opened a jar of wax and honey from last year and set it in the lounge. Just to get them through that night.
The few jars of wax I have are quite solid, with a bit of honey precipitated out on the bottom. I pushed my finger down the side of the wax chunk so they could get at some of the honey, but it wasn’t soft enough to ooze out.
Next day when I went in to give them syrup- WHOA! They cleaned out that jar of wax. In 24 hrs.
In fact, they made quite a mess. Wax flakes everywhere. I took the dry jar out and gave them syrup.
Inside the first beehive, the art studio is still going strong.
They continue to sculpt the chunks of burr comb and wax that I drop in there to their liking, but don’t do anything with it. Just art.
Bee transfer day. In which the bees are transferred from their nuc box to their forever home.
Yesterday afternoon I put together my wooden frames (properly, having been taught how) with wax foundation and build a stand for the hive, etc. It took much longer than I thought, although it was easy, fun-fiddly work, like making balsa wood airplanes, or something. All of a sudden the afternoon was gone. My least favourite part was the wiring. Nothing hard about it, I think I just don’t like handling wire. I used a bar clamp in lieu of a jig to compress the sides of the frames to string them and they all came out sounding like guitars. My very favourite part was melting the wires into the wax foundation with the battery charger. That was super fun. Also the very last step. I’m realizing now that no one but my fellow students will have any idea what I’m talking about here, and I didn’t take pictures.
Other than this one. One frame, all done.
Then I got my tools together and went out to handle my bees for the first time. I wore my suit because I was alone, and these stressed bees have every reason to be tetchy right now, so I did not expect them to be “lambs”, like Klaus’s bees. I moved the nuc box forward with the milk crate and took some time placing and leveling the hive stand behind it. I was glad I had the suit on because I got covered with ants. They are not amenable to being evicted. The ants were irritating me a bit (Leiningen vs the Ants in high school made an overly vivid impression on me. Although ants are pretty amazing too, I don’t like too many of them at once) so I took a minute to calm down before the main event.
And then, anticlimax. Bees were swirling all around the nuc box, confused, but I popped the lid, no reaction. I lifted out each frame and glanced at it and put it in the clean new hive, and that was it. No drama, no stings. Not even any agitation, really. I packed them back up with the feeder jar, which they’ve been ignoring.
For a few minutes, there was a crowd of bees hovering in front of the new hive (Something’s different!). I must have matched the height of the entrance exactly, because they immediately started landing on the porch, in the middle, and eventually began to walk inside. One bee led a crowd walk around up and around the front of the hive, and then they started using it like they’d always lived there. The airborne crowd dispersed.
Until I reduced the entrance with a stick.
All the bees still landed in the middle, which was now blocked, and walked back and forth, but not far enough to find the hole on the right. A confused crowd formed again in the air (Too many new things today!).
One bee found the hole. Another bee came out. A few more bees came in and out.
This was more challenging to them than the hive swap. The majority remained in the middle, frustrated. Eventually, another group walk around formed on the front of the hive. This little stroll up and around performed by a small pack of bees seems to be a marker of placefinding, or communication. It happens fast, but I saw it three times, right as they adjusted to change. Doorway change, specifically.
So, they are installed. I hope they like it here.
There are no guard bees, there is a steady but thin squadron of bees leaving and returning, and I saw some with pollen baskets. They seem very quiet.
I have to say, I could sit around in that suit all day. It really takes care of the horseflies. Very comfortable. The dog wasn’t sure what to make of it though.
My brain is full. I spent two days at a wonderful Introduction to Beekeeping course put on by the biodynamic apiarists of Bello Uccello, outside of Digby. I feel tired with all the information, but also grateful, because workshops are not always so intense or packed full of knowledge.
-PHILOSOPHICAL TANGENT BEGINS- My favourite thing I learned is that bees like to work my favourite way to work. They move around the hive, and do whatever comes to hand (antenna?) within their ability at that stage of their development (as they grow bees have distinct tasks that they capable of performing at a given age). I get that! The days that I’m able to work like that are the best. Do what’s right in front of you, and keep slowly moving forward and doing what’s there, and then as you’re carrying something you run into something else to pick up and end up roaming back and forth all over, and not a thing gets done that you “planned” to do, but so very many things get done that needed to be done, and the experience of doing all that work, and usually working quite hard, is quite relaxing to the mind, and blissfully satisfying.
I have a private theory that there is a great and costly expenditure of energy that happens when you direct yourself to do something that “needs” to get done, that you’ve “decided” to do – to meet a deadline, or an appointment, because it is moving against what you feel like doing. Again and again, experience bears out that moving with the feeling-like-doing produces better results. Like this morning, for instance. I popped up to run the dog earlier than I’d “planned” to, because I felt like it then and had the freedom to be flexible, and the moment we got back from our run the sky opened on us. I hadn’t known if it was expected to rain. Alas, there are so many deadlines, and appointments, and plans, to cope with. We keep on making them. It is very difficult to cooperate with even one other person (partner), let alone business hours, when following the feeling-like-doing can get you into zealously emptying the back shed instead of doing firewood together, as planned, or vacuuming out the truck at midnight when you have to go to town first thing in the morning. However, the feeling of the work, which is supposed to be the important part, is so dramatically better when you work one thing to another until it’s time to sleep, and then if you’re lucky, get up again with energy and without an alarm to do it all over again.
My theory continues, to say that if you could continue in this mode A: everything would get done, including the things you have “planned” B: everything truly not important would fall away C: the rhythm of work to be done would come to match and balance the energy you have for it D: the pattern of work would become more consistent and come into alignment with natural patterns, like daylight, and sleep, and E: eventually you would come to harmony and knowledge of much larger and more subtle rhythms, like time to plant the potatoes, and it’s going to be a long winter. To do this, I opine, would require making no commitments, ever, to anyone, including yourself, to ever show up to anything at a given time; accepting the consequences of all that (essentially not participating in society at all); and to have an extremely patient and accepting partner. Until then, compromise. I will revel in the lone days I am able to work like a bee, moving from one task to the next without the tyranny of a to-do list, and maybe in valuing those times, I can create more of them. -TANGENT ENDS-BACK TO THE BEES!-
Also literally tired, because after the second day of class I drove to pick up my bees in the late evening and then drove another two hours home. I’d requested a nucleus (mated queen, couple hundred bees, and four frames of brood and honey) from Kevin Spicer, and he’d said he’d have one packed up for me (too late in the day to put them straight into my box). I got to his place a little early, and saw a nucleus box, obviously mine, waiting on the porch.
During the workshop we’d spent a lot of time interacting with the bees: observing their behaviour, inspecting the hive, standing in the apiary. Klaus was notably affectionate with his bees, as a whole and as individuals, calling them “girls”, “sweetie”, touching them gently, and obviously always concerned about them. “See this bee?” he would point out to us instructively. “She’s [fanning/guarding/cleaning/transferring pollen]. Isn’t she cute?”
I was usually feeling anxious around his bees, impatient to get them put back in the box, concerned for all the jostling and noise that the great lumbering group of us crowded around the hive were causing.
When I saw that box of bees on the porch, though, my bees, I felt an overwhelming rush of love that I really was not expecting. My bees, that were going to come home and be a part of our family, and I would have to take care of as best I could.
I went to sit by the box of bees and immediately bent over it for a deep inhale, to smell them. Instantly, the bees just on the other side of the screen from my face buzzed angrily. Hey! Cut it out with the wind! At the round entrance hole, where the tap would be if this was a box of wine, not bees, the bees there were desperately trying to push themselves through the wire screen stapled over the hole. The whole box had a sound and attitude of frustration and panic. I sat there with it, watching them, and noticed that some bees at the screened entrance were trying to push out clumps of garbage but were frustrated by the screen. There was a pile of small crumbs they’d already pushed out, but they had bundles of fuzz, fibres and dirt larger than them that would not pass through the mesh and were starting to clog up their hole.
I made a tiny wire hook and slowly teased out some of the garbage through the screen, while the sanitation bees pushed from the other side, and the more I pulled out, the more they brought to the door. They’d only been in there for a few hours, but were already “This place needs sprucing up!” like a no-nonsense pioneer wife. The bee box calmed down a lot while I sat there, happily bonding with them and helping with garbage extrication, New Caledonia crow style.
Two bees were on the outside of the box, crawling around on the screen on top. They obviously believed they belonged inside, and I hoped they would stick it out until getting home when they could be reunited.
Kevin arrived and promptly gave me a tour of his whole bee facility, and then I departed, just before dark, with my box of bees in the back seat, but only one of the two hitchhikers remained on top.
I drove off, then remembered I had to give them water. Drove some more, remembered the bee on the outside had no access to fuel, so stopped to feed her. I made it home before midnight, exhausted, wearily singing Tori Amos and K.D. Lang to stay awake. I figured at least the bees’d get used to my voice.
At home HW unloaded the truck and I slowly carried the nuc box to the house.
Me: There’s a bee on the outside of the box, careful don’t squish her. HW: There’s a loose bee?
Inside, the frames were loose and swinging, so even though I tried to carry them like a glass of water, they were getting jostled and they weren’t happy about it. Bump, bump. Buzz, buzz. They stayed in the house for the night because it was kind of a cool night.
In the morning I had to go out and place them in their new location and release them. It was a cold rainy day, so it would not be transfer day. I set the nuc box out on a milk crate and started pulling out the staples. One staple, and it bent the wire mesh just enough for one bee to pop through the screen.
Poppopopopopopop, a steady stream of bees flowed straight out of that hole, head to tail, did a little crowd walk around on the face of the box, and started taking off.
About this time I noticed the “loose bee” was missing. I went and found her in the house, sitting on one of HW’s shoes, and took her to the door and she slipped right into the box. She made it!