Sunday, June 1, 2014

Beekeeping: An Introduction

Until six weeks ago, I'd never been stung by a bee.  Nope, not once.  I didn't avoid them.  Just call it good bee karma.  I gave them their space to do their bee thing and moved deliberately and slowly around them.  We had an understanding.

And then I met him.  Never mind that he lives in the Central Valley.  He's a hobby beekeeper, transitioning to professional.  Rehabilitating part of the family farm, living mostly off-grid.  How could I resist?  Ok, we'll go for the obvious simile that I was drawn in like a bee to nectar.

Which is why I find myself in Oroville, picking up fifty packages of bees for hive expansions.  Each of the boxes pictured below contains 2-3 pounds of bees and a queen.  This is the start of fifty new hives.

Of course this was during one of our warm spells in April, so the bees and I were happy to arrive in Dos Palos.  It had rained the day before, so the air was clear and the moon was rising through shades of purple over the field of onions.  It was almost enough to fall in love with the valley again.  (Not really, but it was beautiful.)

The next day we started the process of opening each package and shaking (yes, literally) into the hive.  Each box is placed near the hive entrance where any stragglers can make their way into the new home.  The queen is in a special wood and mesh box called a queen cage.  To ensure the bees accept that queen as their own, a candy plug is placed in the end of the queen cage.  By the time the workers have chewed through the candy, she will be accepted by the workers and can begin to move around the hive.

Each pallet below has two hives on it.  We did fifty hives.  It was a long day.  After shaking the bees, we gave them a pollen patty and sugar syrup.  The extra nutrients help the new hive get a jump start and prevent them from swarming. 

During that first day, I was wearing long pants, a long-sleeve shirt and a veil.  I was actually stung through my long-sleeved shirt on the shoulder just after my friend was stung.  I didn't have much of a reaction for my first sting.  Of course, it's not the first sting that matters.  It's the second one...

This little darling decided to visit for a bit while we took a break in the shade.    She's busy cleaning off the sugar water we sprayed on the package to keep them from being too mobile.

And when he offers me my own hive?  Of course I'm not saying no.  I bring home package number fifty.  I'd already repainted the old school wooden boxes, so it was a simple enough matter after doing forty-nine packages to set up my own hive.

Ta dah!  Look!  I have bees!  Riley approves.

You can see the orientation of the package to the front of the hive, to facilitate the workers moving into their new home.  A check a few weeks later shows a happy and productive hive.  In the first frame, you can see capped honey in the upper left, and some pollen deposits mixed in with brood (baby bees) in the center.  If you look really closely in the center you can just about see some c-shaped white larva that will be capped by the nursery bees soon.

Here you can see lots of capped brood.  While capped they transition from larvae to adults, analogous to a caterpillar metamorphosing into the adult butterfly.  In a few more days these brood will begin to hatch, chewing their way out

Bonus shot of Riley on the ranch!  The lighting really was phenomenal that day.