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  • Christy@Gnarly Oak Acres

The Bee-ginning of a New Adventure

After months of reading beekeeping books, chatting with friends, joining Facebook groups, and watching ALL the YouTube videos, we took the leap and ordered our nuc (an established colony of bees, including the queen). We were committing to becoming keepers of the bees.

We ordered our bees from a local provider (Mann Lake in Hackensack) in March. At the end of April, a warning email arrived a week before the bees would be ready for their new home. We chose our pick-up time – 8:30am on a Saturday so we had all day to figure things out. We carefully considered where our hive should live based on everything we had read, and next to our apple trees would be their spot (also inside our 6 foot electric fence to try to keep predators out). Our pick-up Saturday arrived, we got the kids up early and headed for Hackensack. But first, a stop at Pine River Bakery for a donut… actually, not just “a donut.” The BEST donuts. Full disclaimer, I’ve probably never met a donut I didn’t like, but truly PR Bakery puts the “oh” in donut. Especially the ones covered in Fruity Pebbles. Sorry, I got lost when I started thinking about donuts. Back to the story…

Onto Hackensack we went. Did I mention it was pouring rain? I forgot to mention that. Yes, pouring rain, and you can’t install bees in pouring rain. At this point, I was watching the radar like I binge watched Ted Lasso, hoping that there would be a break in the weather at some point once we got the bees home.

We arrived at Mann Lake, our destination for all things bees (and chickens apparently!). A lady at the “nuc” counter greeted us and was lovely enough to act like we didn’t look like complete newbies, inquiring politely as to whether we were here to pick up bees. Once checked in, we were in no hurry to rush back out into the constant rain, so we strolled the aisles (again like complete newbies), touching, smelling, and laughing at many of the items we were soon going to be using quite regularly (like the astronaut suits).

We wrapped up the fun, stepped to the counter and bought a jug of Pro-Sweet Liquid Feed and Pollen Patties – both needed to give our bees a healthy start until nectar and pollen were plentiful in nature. We waved goodbye and off went… to reality.

We pulled around to the nuc pick-up zone and I couldn’t help but notice that I felt like the time I brought our first baby home from the hospital, which is just ridiculous! Get it together woman, they are just bees! I became hyper-aware of how badly I wanted these little Italian beauties to prosper. I took a deep breath as we pulled up to the trailer stacked as tall as me with nuc boxes – each containing 10,000 very busy bees. At that point, it was key to move swiftly so the box of bees didn’t get soaking wet. We jump out, Tim opened the back hatch, while I handed the paperwork to a bee loader who in turn asked me if I had a mesh travel bag for my bees. “Um, mesh travel bag? No, I guess I don’t have one of those. What is it and should I have one?” She went on to explain (again, very sweetly ignoring my complete ignorance) that the bees have begun to chew their way out of the nuc box and there will most likely be escapees during transit. Therefore, experienced people put them in a bag, then you don’t have rogue bees flying around while you try to get home. Yeah, smart. So, basically, what I heard is that she was about to load 10,000 Velociraptors into the back of my Traverse, 3 feet from my children. Cool, cool. We better move fast.

We load the bees, are wished good luck, and we floor it out of the Mann Lake parking lot Duke’s of Hazard style. I instruct the kids to keep me abreast of any escape artists, or even worse, a complete bee coup. As we hit the highway, 35.8 seconds into our drive, D announced the first breech, “one is out!” It did a quick sweep of the vehicle cabin, then rested it’s adorable, furry body on the back window. Okay, I can handle one. Tim, drive faster. 5 minutes later, another squeezed out, then another. I quickly do the math in my head that at this rate, 40 minutes from the farm, we are going to have a nice collection of bees mingling with us, that is if the box holds. But… it holds! The rest of the colony must have just voted those 3 off the island and the rest sat tight and politely waited for home.

Once home, our instructions were to place the nuc box next to hive and wait for a break in the rain to open and install. The rain was still heavy when we pulled up to the barn, and I couldn’t see that cardboard box holding up long in the rain. So, I decide I’ll slip some plastic around the box while Tim suited up so he can carry them to the hive. Gently, and holding my breath, I slowly slid the plastic around the humming, vibrating box of bees, being careful not to pop a side seam. To my surprise, the box was really warm – they were making sure the colony stayed a cozy temperature on this cold, rainy April day. So interesting!

Tim placed the nuc next to the hive and we retreated to wait out the rain. At about 1:00pm, it looked like we had a break coming, so we darted to the barn, suited up (now both Tim and I) and attempted to light a fire in our bee smoker – a tool that helps keep our bees chill while we work with them. The light was an epic fail, but we wouldn’t know that until later. The rain paused and out we went. The temperature was still quite nippy, but the best place for them to be is the hive, so we needed to move swiftly and calmly. Tim gave the go-ahead nod, we took a deep breath, and opened the box to 10,000 bees!

Upon opening, we saw a few guard bees inside the cover and the entire top of the box was propolis, a waxy material created by the bees used to seal off pretty much everything. There was no removing one frame at a time with any kind of ease. We weren’t expecting that! We thought each frame would be ready to just grab and go into the hive. Eyes wide, we placed the top back on the box and looked at each other. “Okay, I’ll keep smoking them and you’ll have to use the hive tool to chisel off the propolis and free each frame… swiftly and calmly… as bees climb on us.” Tim agreed and peeled the cover off the box again. I moved in with the smoker… puff, puff. Where was the smoke? Puff, puff. This didn’t look like the videos! Come on! We hadn’t let our fire burn long enough in our smoker! Tim was going for it anyway. After what seemed like forever, the first frame was finally free, and as that full frame of thousands of bees moved past my face, I think I felt every emotion: 1. Fear (10,000 bees!) 2. Excitement (this is happening!). 3. Fascination (I want to look at that all day!). 4. Stress (are we doing this right?).

We slipped the frame into the hive and frames 2, 3, and 4 followed - not as fast as we would have liked, but we made it. We didn’t pause to spot the queen, we just wanted them in safe and warm.

There were still a lot of bees hanging out in the nuc box and we were told to turn the box upside down and bang it once on the hive to get the remaining bees into the hive. I thought this sounded REAL dumb, but Tim did it and it worked for the most part. Now all that was left in the nuc box was a black plastic trough full of comb and some bees. What is this thing and does it go in the hive too? Time for a call to Mann Lake. They told me it was a feeder and it was up to us whether it went in the hive or not. "No, no. I’m a newbie, I don’t make decisions like this!" Tim and I talked it over and decided to keep the nuc box next to the hive for a few days and hopefully the bees would finish eating what was left and find their way into the hive (and they did).

Fast forward… we did our first hive check 7 days after installation. We met the queen that day and were thrilled with the progress her colony had made. A few weeks later, they had filled the brood box to about 80% which meant the next level of the hive (a super) should be put on. Our hive check on June 8th was again, great news. We saw 6 of the 10 frames had comb completely built out, frames of capped comb (that’s honey!), and the frames were dripping with nectar waiting to be capped. This is good!

It has already been an adventure and we anticipate much more excitement to come. I also fully expect failure as we navigate the future of raising bees, but it is all worth it. They are the most fascinating world I have ever witnessed firsthand, and I look forward to learning so much more. We hope you continue to follow along too!

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