All right, so just to set the record straight, the girls haven't been the only busy bees here in the Girotti household. :) I've been up to some interesting projects as well--namely beekeeping! A good friend of mine, Matt, who has wanted to do beekeeping for several years suggested we take on the project as a joint venture. So this past January we bought hive plans, pine boards, glass windows, screws, and 30,000 members of the species Apis mellifera!
We put two of our hives here at the Girotti house, including the one above in a nice gladed spot in our woods. After all, we have to make our bees feel at home! :) The third hive was placed at Matt's friends' house.
Last week, we picked up our bees! Bees come in 3-pound (10,000 bees!) packages, each with its own queen. Now, the queen is sequestered in a small cage called, appropriately enough, the queen cage. The queen cage is plugged with a candy-like substance and a cork. This will come into play later in the story.
Matt and I suited up with light-colored clothing and veils. Then with packages in hand, and armed with a supply of sugar water, we trekked down the hill to the first hive, followed closely by the journalistic team.
With trepidation we set the package on the ground next to the hive and planned our next step. First, calm the bees. Solution: spray them with sugar water. Matt and I are planning on a little more natural, wholesome approach to beekeeping, including not overloading the bees on processed sugar; however, scruples were overcome this first time. With a fine mist of sweetness inside the box, the bees instantly calmed down and their buzzing was silenced.
It was determined that I would take the metal feeder can out of the package box and Matt would grab the queen cage.
On the count of three, we executed the plan with precision! I replaced the feeder can to ensure no bees got out while Matt examined the queen cage. DISASTER! Much to our chagrin, instead of a perky queen bee ready and waiting to lay thousands of eggs into honeycomb, we saw a lone, shriveled, very dead-looking queen. This was not, one might say, the bees' knees.
Consolation came, however, when we called up the bee supply store and were informed that they would replace the queen, free-of-charge. Whew! It was decided that we would install the other two packages, then head back over to the bee store and use the replacement queen on the third hive at Matt's friends' house.
Take number two: now with our movements honed with practice, combined with our latent beekeeping skill, the second hive went a lot smoother! This time the queen was alive! Remember that candy plug and cork I mentioned awhile back? We removed the cork so the candy plug was exposed. This allows the bees to access the plug and eat through it to reach the queen. In the process of eating the plug, they familiarize themselves with the queen's pheromones and accept her as the leader of the hive.
So we hung the queen cage on the top bars and readied for the big event. Again, I took the feeder container out to expose the swarming, buzzing colony inside. Matt took the box and gave several vigorous shakes. Quicker than you can say, "Raw local additive-free honey!" the bees poured out of the package and into our hive!
It was amazing to see the bees' natural, created instincts take over. Immediately, they must have sensed they were in their new home, because several bees climbed out of the entrance and started fanning.
And come in they did. We checked back about 15 minutes later, and nearly all the bees that had been left in the box had flown out and joined their comrades inside the hive.
We finished the evening out with the next two hives, everything going very smoothly, and only one sting between the two of us!
We look forward to this new adventure and pray that God will bless our...that is, to say, the BEES...efforts. This will be a great way to learn more about His creation as well as help out Virginia pollinator population and have a lot of great-tasting honey!! Stay tuned this spring and summer as the hives and honey grow!