Posted in Beekeeping, Homesteading

Beekeeping Beginnings

 

This past Sunday, a long awaited dream came true when my family and I drove to Bay Shore and picked up our first nuc of bees. For those unfamiliar with the term, a nucleus, or “nuc,” is a small colony containing a mated queen and a few thousand bees and brood on four or five frames taken from an existing hive. Having never transported bees before, and having no idea what it was going to entail, we took 2 cars in case it seemed necessary to move the bees in one car and kids in another. I had had limited contact with the beekeeper I was purchasing the nuc from, only the necessary exchange of pleasantries and information, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when we pulled up to his house. It was right off the highway, situated in a suburban neighborhood, on a small piece of property (which, admittedly, put me at ease, as I live on a small piece of property in a suburban neighborhood). He took me around back to his bee yard, just passed the chicken coop with a low garden fence surrounding dozens of hives. It was magical, like a human sized fairy garden. The nucs were stacked together in the front of the bee yard near the entrance, and I watched as he lifted a few and selected a yellow box with a lavender lid, puffed some smoke near the entrance and stuffed a piece of foam into it to keep the bees inside. He carried it out to my car and covered it in a light sheet I’d brought with me, and we decided it was secure enough to drive with and unnecessary to move the kids. So we drove home, my husband and dog in one car, kids, bees and I in the other.   When we got home we carried it out to a secluded site in our backyard where we plan to keep the hive, removed the foam, and headed inside for the night.

Before I go on, I should mention that ALL of my beekeeping knowledge comes from books. I’ve never gone to a beekeeping seminar, never taken a class, never had a conversation with a beekeeper aside from that mentioned above. I’ve read several books, over several years, but I’ve had no hands on experience. Monday morning I reread the “Getting Started” chapter in the beekeeping book I’m currently reading, specifically the part about rehiving a nuc. I waited until afternoon, put my younger daughter in for a nap, and set my older daughter up with an activity and told her I was just running outside quickly (by myself, mind you) to rehive the bees. I started up the smoker, donned my veiled hat and gloves, gathered all of my materials, and reviewed the steps in my head while I waited for the smoker to be ready. It was go time. At this time of day, the nuc was alive and buzzing and dozens of bees were hovering in the air. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t intimidating, but I puffed some smoke around the box and began to set my brood box up on the platform next to it. The bees were ignoring my presence, everything was going smoothly. I pried up the lid of the nuc box a crack on one side and puffed a bit of smoke inside. I took a deep breath, popped off the lid, and sh$t. got. real.

The noise was intense. I can’t say for sure which was louder, the buzzing of the bees or the pounding of my heart, but I can tell you that a fire house siren could’ve gone off next door and I wouldn’t’ve heard it. The frames were covered in bees, the air was thick with bees, there were bees on my arms, there were bees landing on my veil. My first thought was, ok get moving, so I puffed some more smoke and started to pull up the first frame in the box. It was stuck. Like, stuck. I then did what I’m sure every beekeeper does every time they open up one of their hives, I panicked. I thought, “oh my god, I can’t get the frames out. Oh my god, I’m about to get stung to death by bees and no one knows I’m out here and I have two little kids in the house. What do I do? I can put the lid back on, run away, collect myself and try again. No. I can’t do that. That will just piss them off. I don’t want to piss them off. I have to move these frames.” Luckily, I then remembered the hive tool in my back pocket and used it to pry the first frame up enough to grab on to the corners. I moved the first frame out of the nuc box and into the hive box. I’m not sure if I was talking out loud or in my head, but I know I was saying “4 more to go, 3 more to go, 2 more to go, 1 more to go, put in 2 empty frames, ok that’s one, ok that’s two, put on the inner cover, put on the outer cover, ok it’s done, you can walk away now.”

What I was experiencing at this point I have to dramatically liken to the kind of adrenaline rush that allows people to lift cars off puppies. I walked away from the beehive, around the corner of the yard, and set the smoker down on the brick wall near my back door. Then I walked back to the hive. Bees were buzzing wildly and hovering about the new hive box. The walls of the nuc box, now empty of frames, were completely covered in bees. Thousands of bees. I walked away, about 30 feet. Then I went back for another look. Then I walked away again. Then I decided I had to have a photo, so I took off my gloves, which were covered in delicious smelling honey, and went back in for a photo. More like ten photos. I didn’t care at this point about getting stung by bees. I didn’t even think about it. I felt like a super hero, and I had to keep going back to the scene. I needed to be in the swarm. I walked away again. Then I went back in for one last photo. I had to tear myself away. I had to say out loud, “ok enough. Leave them alone. Go inside. Check on the kids.”

I went inside and played out the whole scenario for my daughter, who nodded along excitedly. I went back outside, pretending the chickens needed tending, so I could take one more peek at the bees. In elementary school, I went to our town fair and there was a local beekeeper set up with a display of bees and some honey for sale and I remember thinking, “I’d like to do that some day.” And now, more than 20 years later, I’d just rehived my first colony of bees and started my beekeeping journey.

 

(Note: This is in no way a how-to on re-hiving a colony of bees. In fact, it’s closer to a how-NOT-to. Don’t do what I did. Get some hands-on experience before you do it on your own. Have someone with you the first time you open up a beehive, or failing that, at least alert someone to what you’re doing in case something goes wrong.)

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