Thursday, May 21, 2015

Bringing Home Our Bees, Part Two

It seems the last time I wrote about our adventures in beekeeping was nearly a year ago, when we replaced our queen bee and crossed our fingers. As you may have guessed by my year-long silence on the subject, our hive didn't make it. We didn't get the queen in fast enough, or maybe she didn't take, or perhaps the hive was already too weak. At any rate, the hive was overrun with a wax moth infestation, the whole colony was lost, and we mostly blamed ourselves. Even though we'd had that hive for over two years, beekeeping has a steep learning curve. I'm fairly certain a more experienced beekeeper would have seen the trouble sooner and stepped in before things got out of hand, but alas - we were not those beekeepers. 

And so, we've been hive-less for a year. It was a lonely time. I missed the bees, our suits, the smoke. Our yard felt empty without those white boxes in the corner, the busy highway buzzing across the yard. And then, about ten days ago, we became beekeepers again. We picked up two new hives and moved them our backyard.

It wasn't exactly a seamless process. We (and by "we" I mean "Nathan") decided to try our hand at top bar hives this time, instead of the traditional white boxes. Nathan built the new hives, but it took much longer than anticipated, because he drew up the plans himself and also because that is the nature of projects - they always take at least three times longer than you think they will. So Sunday morning (Mother's Day! Long live the queen! Also Tropical Storm Ana! What a day it was!) we spent hours hammering, gluing, and drilling. I was sure we'd never finish in time, but somehow we did it. 

Of course, there was another problem we had to deal with. You see, we had ordered nucleus colonies from our local bee guy. If you're keeping Langstroth hives like most people in the USA, nucs are very easy to install. Just drop the frames of bees into your box and voila - you're done. Because we're doing top bar hives, however, we (and again, by "we" I mean "Nathan") had to trim the frames (while they were full of bees!) so they would fit in our boxes. This method of beekeeping is said to be gentler and kinder in the long run, but the installation process was a bit traumatic. Or so I heard. Unfortunately Nathan had to do this part Monday morning, alone, because I had to go to work. Oops.

At any rate, the bees made it into the hives, Nathan only got stung once, and a week later we opened them up for the first time since their move-in day to see how things were progressing. And things were looking great! The frames that the bees arrived on were still heavy with honey and brood, and the bees had already started building a lot of comb on the empty bars we'd placed along to the top - AKA, the top bars. It was actually pretty incredible to see how much progress they'd made in just a week, and made me wonder why Langstroth hives are so popular in America. Clearly, the bees know what they're doing, and even though this was my first time inspecting the bee in a top bar hive, the process felt much simpler and calmer. The bees didn't seem to mind us either, which was a nice change.

While one of the hives appears to be thriving, the other one is a tiny bit slower. Hopefully it'll catch up soon and everything will even out. In the meantime we'll keep checking on them, adding bars as needed, and doing our part to keep them comfortable.

Welcome home, bees! We missed you.