Last year was our first year with bees. There’s a pretty steep learning curve with the first beehive. Ryan does most of the bee work, so he installs the bees and inspects the hive. Last year went really well. Our hive split on the 4th of July, and we weren’t able to recover the swarm, but that was really the only unexpected occurrence last year.
We thought they were going to make it through the winter, but in February the varroa mites finally got them, and we lost the entire hive. According to Liz Meils, the state apiarist for the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, “beekeepers have been losing about half their hives over the winter for the last five to 10 years.” Varroa mites infest hives and kill the developing bees resulting in the hive’s collapse. Surviving bees then join another existing hive, taking the mites with them and as a result killing off that hive as well (Wisconsin beekeepers see high bee losses this year). This year we’ll try to treat for mites and hope for the best.
We brought home this year’s bees a few weekends ago.
It’s a little unsettling to have a box of buzzing bees in the same car with children, so the kids stayed with their grandparents for a few hours while Ryan and I went to pick them up. This year, they came from Florida in the back of a truck that held many, many boxes of bees.
After a quick tutorial on how to get the queen out of the Queen Cage and install the bees in the hive, we headed to the farm to introduce them to their new home.
Since there aren’t any flowers blooming at the moment, we feed the bees sugar water in the feeder on the left which sits on top of the hive and is covered with the hive lid. The mixture holds them over until they can start collecting pollen from flowers.
Because we had a hive last year, there is still a comb and wax in the hive, so this year’s bees won’t have to start from scratch.
In order to install the bees, Ryan removed 2 frames to give them a little room to move around and to get established.
The bees came in a plastic cage with the queen secured in the Queen Cage near the top. The queen has to be removed first, which is what Ryan has in his hand. The Queen Cage gets secured to the top of a frame, and then the bees eat through the candy plug that keeps her separated from them during their trip. Once the queen is free, she’ll start laying eggs, and the hive is up and running!
Atlas likes watching even when he can’t help. Turns out this year’s bees are more aggressive than last year’s, and Ryan’s already been stung a few times. Needless to say, this will be the only picture we get of Atlas near the hive this year!
Susie took a few pictures of the bees enjoying flowers last year. We’re going to plant a pollinator wildflower mix at the farm to hopefully help keep them happy, full, and working!