Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Class time!

     I awoke to dreams of bees in my brain, because it was Sunday. FINALLY! The day of my (our) bee class had arrived! Even without a cup of coffee I woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed. I had no idea what to expect as far as the class, I didn't think we'd be actually doing anything in a hive, but I didn't have a whole lot of knowledge as to what we were doing. I'd dutifully placed my order for my first package of bees earlier in the week, from a man who has been raising bees in the CO area a long time. He is a generational bee farmer. Excellent! Now, the class!
     We dressed fairly carefully, but it was a warm day and wouldn't you know it, I had gotten a sunburn the day before just sitting outside reading. A bee book of all things! I ended up wearing a tank top and shorts, but I remembered to put on my hiking boots and socks. These are my fishing boots so they lace tight against any intruders. Probably not the ideal beekeeping outfit but I also had a hoodie in case we actually got into the hives. As you can see Sean wore a button down, he's a brave soul, because he is allergic to bees. This is a concern, but he's been a good sport and gone along for the ride.
     Notebook in hand, we arrived on the other side of town a little late, it took about 30 min to get there. The class was gathered around a couple of empty hives. I arrived in time to hear Greg from Dakota Bees (that was our teacher), start talking about releasing a package into a hive, releasing the queen, and the initial feeding. So, first off, you want to take the bee package the queen will be in a small box that resembles a matchbox, more oblong in shape with a metal end piece that bends to hang off a frame. The bottom has a hole in it, but it's got a cork in it. Then you put the box the bees comee in on top of the box with the opening open, and then shake the bees into the hive. Don't worry about the stragglers they will smell the queen and find their way in, just leave the box open and over to the side of the hive. Mind you, that I have not done this yet, but will be doing it on the 21st, when I pick up my bees. I'm going to basically go over what I was told, and then I will compare it to what I actually do. I've found that in life, these can often be totally different things! OK, so here's a little tidbit that I didn't read in any book, which is exactly why I want to be someone's apprentice for a year. Unfortunately I have been unable to find anyone in my area of town that wants a slave, em, er, an apprentice. Here's the info on the queen, first off a lot of books tell you it's OK to clip a wing even encourage it, when I brought this up, Greg looked fairly appalled to be honest, then told me that was a bad bad idea, because if you damage the queen she could die or be unable to do her job, the hive would reject her, leaving your hive queenless and therefore vulnerable!  So, that nixed the idea of cutting a wing to keep her in the hive for me! Make sure you feed your bees! [ put a 1.5 lb bag of sugar into an empty gallon jug, and fill the rest with hot water, don't boil it first, shake until well mixed, note that is NOT a gallon of water, that is fill the rest of the gallon with water] He showed us how to install a bee feeder, either side feeder or a top feeder inside. You want to keep away the robber bees, the colony isn't strong, so you put your entrance reducer to the small side, so they only have the little hole to go in and out, therefore leaving a small space for them to defend as an entrance.
     Next, once you have the queen in the hive, hanging in her box with her bees, the bottom of the little box has the cork still in it, you check the hive in a day to make sure all is well. In many books it tells you to now put a piece of "bee candy" in the bottom of the box, so the bees can chew through it and release the queen. What works just as well, rather than making candy, cause it looks sort of like a pain in the butt if I'm honest, and making candy for me is a holiday thing, is use a piece of marshmallow, just take a small piece and roll it like you would for an earplug and then stick it in the end where the cork was. MAKE SURE TO COVER THE END OF THE BOX WITH THE HOLE! It's OK to use your finger, as the queen won't sting you, they only sting other queens. Queens can fly off! Now the bees can chew through the marshmallow and release the queen.
Wait a couple of days and then go back into the hive and check the inner frames for larvae, you want to make sure the queen is doing her job. They will also have started building up the comb, even when the queen is in the box because they know she will need to lay eggs soon. The queen should come already fertilized, and will start laying her eggs, so there should be larvae when you check. If not, you should look for the queen and make sure she's in there. I ordered my queen marked because honestly I'm a bit worried about futzing around in a hive of bees looking for a queen! Let's face it, I haven't done this yet and am a bit nervous about it!!!!
     So, according to Greg (who isn't the be all and end all, and doesn't claim to be! we all will find our way!) a smoker isn't needed. He doesn't use one, and he goes out and collect swarms. This sort of freaked me out, why? Because EVERY book says BUY A SMOKER! Frankly it sounds like a pain to me, and his solution sounds pretty good. He said first off, go buy a $1 empty, clean spray bottle, then make the same syrup you use for feeding your bees and give them a spritz, only if they bounce off you, because that means they are agitated. If they are really pissy, walk away and come back later, maybe 10-15 min. I liked that because even though I don't particularly think that smoke hurts them, but again, I admit it, I may be lazy, but lighting a smoker and fiddling with all that seems like a pain. I will probably buy a smoker but I am going to go with the sugar spray first. It makes sense to me. If you give them something to do (other than gorge themselves on honey because of a natural fear of smoke) say, lick sugar off themselves and other bees, they can't sting you. It also makes sense that it may help with the control of mites. After all, you can sugar treat your bees for mites, why not spray them? He did say don't overspray them. Just my thought, and again, I haven't actually DONE this yet! :) But it makes sense to me that if they are agitated, walk away!
     As to the outfit, yes, you can buy a bee suit, spend a ton of $, like $50-100 depending on the suit. But again, why? What makes sense is a light colored wind breaker or hoodie, gloves, and of course the most important thing is a veil. This is the one thing I think you just can't scrimp on. But the gloves can be ordinary gloves, I have some leather ones I love that I work in the garden with, they are light weight and they fit very nicely on my hands, light leather! Of course logically bees can get anywhere there is a crease! One of the things Greg said in his lecture was to take an old pair of tube socks, cut off the toe and slip it over your hand, it will cover the space between your glove and your sleeve, keeping you free from bee stings at the wrist, OUCH!
Since I live in Colorado, it's been a bit difficult to figure out what sort of equipment I was going to need, and what sort of financial outlay it's going to be. There is also the fact that no book can tell me where to put my hive because every state & area is different, although I think the basics are the same for everywhere. The books I've read haven't really address this.  This class was very helpful in that I was able to get some info on that too! Since this blog is pretty long, I'm going to go ahead and break this into the next part (this is the part known as the CLIFF HANGER so you will come back!).

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