On Monday afternoon beekeeper Andrew Dewey delivered my package of honeybees from Spicer Bees in Whitefield. It’s a long trek from Whitefield to the Downeast region, so thanks, Andrew! My co-workers at Maine Community Foundation had an opportunity to admire the stacks of buzzing packages in the back of Andrew’s SUV and then we were off: me to the empty hive waiting in my front yard on Mount Desert Island and Andrew playing Santa to beekeepers across Washington County.
There are many, many books and websites with instructions on hiving bees. I’m only sharing some hard-won hints here – and mostly as a reminder to myself since I don’t do this more than once a year (I hope).
Have all your tools handy. My bucket contains: hive tool, exacto knife, straight edge screwdriver, duct tape, and paper towels. A container of Benadryl gel is nice if you’re not working in a full suit. Place your covered pot of sugar syrup somewhere it won’t be knocked over.
The package looked great – lots of lively, noisy bees and very few casualties littering the bottom. I don’t use smoke to calm the bees when I’m hiving them, but spraying the outside of the package with a little sugar syrup keeps them happy and occupied while you’re moving them around. I wear a full bee suit and gloves while hiving a new colony because I find it makes me more comfortable with a new colony – and they’re more comfortable if I’m not anxious. My suit has velcro sewn in to the headgear, presumably to stick to a matching piece on a cap? In any case, it messes with my hair – remember to wear at least a bandana under there!
I hived this colony by myself in a short window of warm, sunny weather on Monday. (I was lucky to get that much good weather – it snowed this morning!) R. wasn’t around to take photos of the actual transfer and I’m too much of a wimp to stop and do that myself while three pounds of bees are whirling around my head, even in the suit. This colony was remarkably business-like and proceeded to disappear into the frames as soon as I installed the queen cage. I placed the nearly empty box near the front of the hive to encourage the stragglers, filled the top feeder and put the cover on. Done!
I picked up my tools and left them alone for about an hour. Although it’s very tempting to micro-manage a new colony, I find benign neglect is probably my best beekeeping technique. When I returned there were already scouts landing on the crocus blooming on the south hill and the heath and heather in the alpine garden.
Just to round out the Maine beekeeping experience, this morning we woke up to snow!