My First Week as a Beekeeper

I got my bees on Saturday April 18. Almost exactly one week ago. Finally after YEARS of talking about it and a year of seriously studying and prepping for it – including earning my first level certification in the Midwest Master Beekeeper Program. Finally, I have bees!

Like anything that involves being a beginner – this week had its ups and downs and mistakes/learning opportunities.

I’ll start at the beginning. Package install.

I picked up my packages Saturday morning and took them to the bee yard where my hives were already set up. Package install went very smoothly and I was definitely riding a high after it. I had Nick be my personal photographer so I can walk you through the steps of installing a package!

Here are my two colonies in their packages in the back of my car. Each package contains roughly 10,000 bees.
First I prep the boxes by adding frames with foundation. I chose to use 100% wax foundation. Here I am spraying the foundation with sugar water to further entice the bees to start building off of it. To start with, I only fill the box halfway with frames.
Now I need to get into the package. I use my hive tool to pry open the lid. Inside the lid there is a can of syrup that I need to get out as well as the cage that the queen is in. Before I opened the lid I sprayed the bees down with water. This keeps them from flying away while I work. Some beekeepers use sugar water. My mentor Mark does not recommend this as it makes the bees very sticky which increases their chances of getting injured/killed.
Two hive tools were better than one for getting the can of syrup out of this package. Mark says he thinks that is the trickiest part of installing bee packages.
Next I inspected the queen in her cage to make sure she was still alive. I removed the cork from the end of the cage that has “candy” in it. The idea is that within a few days the worker bees will have chewed through the candy and released the queen from her cage.
The queen cage is hammered into place in between the middle frames.
And then I poured in the bees!
I put the rest of the frames in, put the feeders on with sugar water in them and then close up the hives!

I was seriously riding a high after the hives were installed. It went smoothly, I had everything in my toolkit that Mark asked about and then some – I was feeling like a real beekeeper.

3 Days Later…

The next step was to go back 3 days after installing the packages to see if the hives released their queens or not.

I opened the aqua hive first and their queen was NOT free. Well, bummer, but I was prepared. First I tested to make sure that the bees were not hostile towards their queen. I took my bee brush and brushed them off. If they brush away easily then they are not aggressive. However, if they have not accepted her then they will quickly return to the cage, attempting to get in and kill her.

My bees brushed off easily. What a relief. I opened the cork and placed the queen cage at the bottom of the hive box so the queen could get out. I saw her get out before I even had a chance to put the frame back. I can relate to how hard it must have been for her to be cooped up… *cough* Covid-19 quarantine *cough*

So, aqua hive done – easy peezy.

Then I opened the yellow hive. First I discovered that they DID release their queen. Well, cool. I thought this was going to be an easy trip to the bee yard. I was just going to pull a couple of frames to make sure I found her and that she didn’t leave the hive or anything crazy like that.

This is what I found…

Newbie (newbee?) mistake. My 100% wax foundation wasn’t supported enough so between the heat of the sun and the weight of the bees, it collapsed.

I was devastated. I moved some of the frames around in an attempt to confuse the bees and move them back to the middle to frames with foundation that was still intact. Bees like to work from the center out. I needed to buy myself a little time to figure out how to fix this mess.

I was just sure that I had messed up this hobby before I even got to fully start it.

I pulled out almost every beekeeping book in my library…

From reading this and talking to Mark I discovered that I should have put extra pins in each of my frames to help keep the foundation a little more stable until the bees could build over it. I quickly got to work on the frames and foundation I had at home using Mark’s genius solution…

Bobby pins!

Simple solution and the bobby pins fit through the already predrilled holes in the sides of the frames. I made 20 frames with foundation and put in the extra bobby pin support with plans to go completely swap out all of the frames in my current hives.

I went back on Wednesday and opened up the hives, terrified that in just one night they might have made even more of a mess.

Nope, these clever girls actually FIXED a lot of my mistake. I did still have to change out some of the frames and fix some on the fly with the extra bobby pins I had brought but on many frames they started on the sides and built out the foundation so that it was more stable.

Bees are SO SMART!

I wish I had thought to take a picture of the foundation they had fixed. I’ll snap some pictures of how it looks the next time I get in there. Based on the crappy weather I might have to go this weekend and swap out their feeders but I don’t plan to open up the hives again for at least a week.

Lots of ups and downs but ultimately I am excited for the rest of this beekeeping year and the lessons it has in store for me. I’m sure this was just the first of many things that I have to learn the hard way.

Next up: Registering my hives with the IL Dept of Ag.

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