Friday, June 3rd. The day the bees I ordered arrive at Adam's A&Z Apiaries in Hampton. When I checked his website at 8:00 that morning, Adam had already indicated that the bees had arrived. All customers who had bees on order needed to get there between 8 am and 8 pm that day, or from 8 am to 12:00 the following day. If you couldn't make it during that time interval, said Adam, you would lose your order. It was too long to expect bees to wait around. They get stressed out, being stuffed in a box for so long. They had been transported up to CT from GA and they needed to be introduced to their new homes as soon as possible.
It was a little tricky. Despite the sky being completely overcast, and the day rainy, this was also the scheduled day for the twins' school beach trip to Hammonasset State Park. The school in their wisdom decided not to go with the rain date, which was Monday June 6th (which turned out to be an absolutely beautiful sunny day - I can attest to this because I am actually writing this on the 6th). The field trip was to end at about 2:00, so I thought perhaps I could head up to Hampton after we got home. However, it would only work if Norman was also home from work since it would not do to drive for two hours (one each way) with the girls in the car, with several thousand bees also in the car on the way home. But for Norman to be home, he would have to work that morning, which meant he would not be able to join the beach trip. So after a lot of negotiating and discussing, we decided he would go to work, I would take the girls to the beach, and when we got back he would come back from work and I would go to get the bees. Saturday would not work to get the bees because the girls had a gymnastics recital at 12:00, and a birthday party to go to afterwards, plus the food shopping to get...
When we got home from the beach, I was too tired to contemplate driving up to Hampton and back. But I heard Adam's voice in my head: "YOU NEED TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR BEES! THEY WON'T WAIT AROUND UNTIL YOU ARE READY", so I had a long nap, and set off in the middle of rush hour, the worst time of day.
When I got there an hour later, Adam was sitting behind his table with the order forms, and his assistant against the wall, looking exhausted themselves. Most of the boxes of bees were gone. Looked like it had been a long day.
"And here's Jennifer" says Adam as I roll in, 2 hours before the deadline for that day. They get my 2 bee packages, the top marked with an "M" to indicate that the queens are marked with a dot. (No more hunting for that darned queen, or at least I hope not!) Most of the packages do not have marked queens. I specifically asked for mine to be marked. I also ask Adam for an extra hive kit and one more frame. "One frame?" he looks puzzled. I explain that I needed the additional hive kit because I had taken his recommendation to call Allan to help me catch the swarm, and he had caught it, which meant that one of the two hives I had bought from him previously was now occupied. Then I explained about finding the one hive knocked over and one frame dragged away from the hive while the other one was completely missing.
"WHERE DO YOU LIVE?", he asked, his voice going up several decibels when he gets excited. "Middletown", "MIDDLETOWN? IT COULD HAVE BEEN A BEAR! THERE HAD BEEN A FEW BEAR SIGHTINGS IN MIDDLETOWN YOU KNOW!" He argued that a raccoon would not be able to knock the hive over, and his assistant agreed, "Oh no, not likely to do that, you're right, not strong enough". They just lift off the lid and take frames out, Adam continued. But, I argued, it was very light, so I'm sure a raccoon could have, and if it was a bear, wouldn't it have tried to have a go at the other hives too? Adam didn't have anything to say to that. So I still think it is one or more raccoons. Although, I still can't explain why one frame would be completely missing.
"You look exhausted", I observed. "NAH, NOT REALLY. YOU KNOW WHAT? WHAT I AM REALLY LOOKING FORWARD TO IS GETTING ALL THESE BEES OUTTA HERE!" he said, waving the bee packages away with a sweep of his arms. "I'VE BEEN WORKING ON GETTING THESE BEE ORDERS IN SINCE JANUARY AND I AM READY TO BE DONE WITH IT!" But then he said he shouldn't complain because he got to take 2 weeks off in February in a tropical forest in Puerto Rico, thanks to selling all these bees.
Once the bees were packed safely in the car, along with the extra hive and frame, I was ready to go. Last year, when I got my first bees here, there were a ton of loose bees flying all over the shed. It was a little disconcerting. This time, there were a few, but it wasn't the large cloud of bees I remember having to walk into last year. Also, last year, some of the loose bees were part of my bee packages (they had somehow got outside the box), so when they put the box in my car, the loose bees followed them in. I had the very unnerving experience of driving home with loose bees flying around in the car with me! It turned out to be alright - only one visited my end of the car, and only for about 10 seconds, before returning to its fellow bees in the box in the back. This year, I saw only one loose bee and it stuck to the outside of the box the entire trip home.
By the time I got home it was about 7:00 pm. Norman had kindly moved all the concrete blocks and one hive box back to the apiary for me, which was great! Didn't fancy starting to do that as soon as I got home. All I needed to do was take the second hive box and the bees, plus my gear, and get them settled in their new homes.
I was sure it was going to be much easier this time. Each box contained a small cage with a queen in it, together with a few attendants, a can with sugar syrup, and 3 holes in the bottom for the bees to feed on it, and in the rest of the box, several hundred bees (not sure how many exactly). Last year, I couldn't remember all the details Adam had told us about how to get the bees from the box to the new hive, and ended up spending hours trying to figure out how to get the queen out and the can of sugar syrup out without everything coming out at once. I'd remembered Adam prying off the piece of wood on the top and then up ending it in one quick move, placing the hole (where the can had been) over the hole in the inner lid of the hive. But when I had tried to remove either the queen cell or the can of sugar syrup, thousands of bees started pouring out. Since I had not managed to get a beekeeper's suit and gloves last year at this point, this was a little alarming.
This year, I had taken excellent notes at the Bee School in February, so I thought I would be able to do it right this time. I pried off the piece of wood, and thunked the box down on the ground. This had the effect of knocking most of the bees down to the bottom of the box. The metal disk at one end of the queen cage was visible now that I had removed the piece of wood, so I quickly pulled it out and replaced the wood. A few bees did swarm out with it, but most of them stayed behind. So far so good. I then proceeded to tape the queen cage to the top of one of the frames near the feeder, as specifically indicated in my notes. "Be careful not to tape over the hole on the other side of the sugar plug" I then read, and sure enough, I had taped over it! The queen is expected to take a few days to eat her way through the sugar plug at one end of the cage, which meant it would take her a few days to release herself (unless the dumb beekeeper tapes over the hole). In the meantime, she is safe from being attacked by the bees in the package who don't yet know her, until several days have passed. Once she gets out, they now are used to her and accept her as their queen. So, once I had the queen cage taped in, it was now time to empty the bees into the hive.
Last year, I had tried to pour the bees into the hive, but only some of them poured out. The remainder stayed behind. In the end I had to prop the box upside down (with the opening facing down), over the hive with one end of the box propped on the can of sugar syrup. Then they gradually melted downwards into the hive. But the problem with this method was 1. this was not the way you were supposed to do it, according to my notes, and, 2. what if it rained during the night?
This time, my notes said to put the inner hive lid on first, then put an empty hive box on top. Then take out the can of sugar syrup and place the box of bees open end down over the hole, inside the empty box. Then put the outer lid on. Sounded very simple, and this would solve the rain problem. Except, of course, it was not so simple - the can is completely impossible to remove! You cannot get a hold of the edge to pull it out, and all I was doing was irritating bees, not to mention myself! When I did finally get it out (and did another thump to get bees down to the bottom of the box), I turned it over and got it over the hole, but I still had the problem I had last year - all the bees started pouring out. There didn't seem any point in placing it completely down over the hole if half the bees are now scurrying around the box. So I ended up propping one end of the (package) box up on the little disk - bent to make it thicker - that I had removed from the queen cage so that they could still fit under the box and not get squashed, and also work their way down into the hive.
I did the same to the other bee package in the other hive box, and I was done. I had already put sugar syrup in the feeders, so they were ready to go. It is now 9:00 and Norman turns up to see if I'm done yet. Took much less time and less stress than last year! Tomorrow I remove the top box and empty cages.