...sometimes even a single feather is enough to fly. (Robert Maclean)


bees bees bees

Despite the sadness of a late-season swarm and losing the hive last fall, 
I decided to plug forward and give beekeeping another go. 

So here we are, trying honeybees in top bar hives, Part Deux.  

This time I got my packages from a local beekeeper, Bill Davis,
instead of having them shipped up from an apiary in Georgia. 
The queens have gone through a Northeast winter,
 and I daresay if you can make it through the last winter we had,
you can make it through any winter. 
Fingers crossed that this is hardy bee stock.

We installed the packages ourselves this time around.
I was excited and nervous, but really worked at calming myself
for everybody's sake, bees included!,
 hoping for a smoother installation.

The first box had some unexpected hurdles.
Mostly I had a tricky time getting the queen cage out
without also taking out  the sugar feeder shipped with them,
and I didn't get the lid back on quickly enough before a ton of bees came out.

Um, yikes.
That wasn't supposed to happen.

"Hey, honey? Do you have the epi-pen?  Like just in case?"
(Okay.  Good.)

Let's just do this.


It was way too involved of a process to also take photos, so you'll just have to use your imaginations.
(Maybe next year we'll be organized and calm enough to take pictures!)


Once I got the queen cage out, it was COVERED in bees. 
Probably 50 or more bees on something smaller than my index finger.
My job was to ever-so-delicately
access the top or bottom of the cage and then unscrew the cork that
keeps the queen inside,
and to do it all mid-air, without hurting her or any of her attendants.  
A daunting task.

 Getting a solid grip is challenging since the bees are all over it. 
You have to be patient and gentle and nudge them along just far enough
 to get your finger on a spot to hold.
It feels like a feat of acrobatics... mental and fine motor.

Not to mention that it's all the more challenging with ill-fitted gloves,
a net partially obscuring your vision,
and at least 1,000 escaped bees flying around you
wanting to know WTF you're doing with their queen.

So your options are to either freak out or find your Zen.
That's the heart of beekeeping right there.

So I'm working on my Zen. 


The second package installation went SO much more smoothly.
After getting my adrenaline and anxiety out of the way
with the problems of the first package,
the second one was mostly just plain old fun to do.

Working with the bees is a full sensory experience.

When I was really tuned into them,
if I got close to accidentally squooshing one of the bees while adjusting the top bars,
I could actually hear it and feel it. 

I could hear the angry wings and the resistance at the bar.
I would apologize to the bees and then ask them to please move so I could adjust the bars.

A hive is a super-organism and I suspect they have super-intelligence we will never comprehend.
So why not try to communicate with them...
mentally, energetically, or even with spoken words? 
Well, why not?!

So, I talk to the bees.

I pledge my service to them as their guardian and friend. 
I promise them I will be gentle and do my best,
but explain that I'm still learning so I might make some goofs.
 I thank them for pollinating our gardens.  
And I promise them that I won't take too much honey.
I tell them I hope they enjoy their beautiful new home
and that I hope they will decide to stay.


During my most Zen moments at the hive,
I feel pure amazement and curiosity and respect.
I move slowly, but not too slowly.
I'm learning how to get into a sort of tai chi with the hive. 


For those of you who are really serious about starting up a top bar hive
and want to know how to install a bee package,
this video from Christie Heminway up in Maine is helpful:

"Bonking" the bees is the oddest thing, but it's the only way I can figure out to get them in the hive,
and it seems to be what everyone recommends.
Not exactly Zen, huh?
Maybe the BONK it's like ringing a powerful gong in a monastery.

Or maybe it's really about disco.
Shake your bee-ees.
Shake your bee-ees.

Anyway, enough bee musings for now.
Let's show you what's happening in those hives:

Above:  after installation on 4/25/15.

What's going on now?
Prepare to be amazed!

Two weeks later.
These bees have been busy!!!

I think those are pollen cell.
I call them pollen pockets.
No matter what you call them, they're gorgeous.

After lots of bees climbing all around loaded in pollen,
the combs are turning yellow!  

Check out the bee loaded up with pollen in the lower right!
She must have just come in from an adventure in the fields.
I wonder where she visited? 

The first hive / the first package we installed isn't as robust as the other one, 
but they still seem to be chugging along nicely. 

You can see on the above left how they have propolized the edge...
It's their way of sealing the hive and keeping things sterile.
You can also see some brace comb against the viewing glass.

I didn't realize how much I missed their lively buzz
or encountering in the garden throughout the day...

Watching the bees at work is the best kind of television going.

It's a wild feminist monarchy in there. 

And the smell, oh the smell!!!
The air around the hive is dripping with sweetness.
It's like every flower in a 2 miles radius is concentrated in there.
And really, that is essentially what a hive is.
Concentrated life-force and vitality.

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