I got bees! I’m a beekeeper now.
Pretty random, eh?
Well here is how it happened…
A couple years ago we moved out to the country. My wife and I dreamed of finding a quiet place away from the city. As luck would have it, we found this awesome place far enough out of town to be out in the country. But it's close enough we could still go to church, get groceries, etc.
Plenty of change came with the new place. We have more land and freedom to do what we want with it. My wife does a lot more gardening and raises chickens. I can hunt deer and target practice in my back yard. We weren’t sure if it would be for us, but it turns out that we love it.
Beekeeping Wasn’t My Idea
My wife was the first one who got interested in bees. After getting chickens and expanding her gardening in every direction, she got interested in raising bees. I knew nothing about bees other than they give you honey. I thought beekeeping was a bit of a crazy idea.
Over time, I did notice that there are a lot of bees in our area. We have this giant lavender plant by our front porch. When the lavender is in bloom, I watch bees do their thing while I drink my morning coffee. It’s nice.
So my wife kept getting more serious about getting bees. But she was too busy with a half dozen other spring projects to get too serious about it. About a month ago, I started looking at what we need to start raising bees. It was one of those random Saturday afternoon curiosities.
I went down the rabbit hole and found a wealth of videos on YouTube explaining everything. The internet is a magical place sometimes. I started comparing hives, equipment, and the required gear.
Finding The Flow (Hive)
Then I found something majestic… The Flow Hive! It’s a clever new type of beehive that allows you to harvest honey without needing any special equipment. No mess. You crack open the honeycomb and fresh honey pours right out the front of the hive. How cool is that?!
Well, my wife and I got excited and ordered one right away. Time to take the leap into beekeeping!
The next thing was to find bees. Luckily, Lincoln has a local beekeeper who orders over a thousand packages of bees every year. So I showed up to the shop and attempted to order bees. I explained that I purchased a Flow Hive and I needed bees. I was in luck, they had some left on their second shipment, due the last weekend in April.
That was perfect. The Flow Hive was set to arrive in April. The couple who ran the store also helped me get some other useful beekeeping gear - a funny hat, gloves, smoker box, crowbar (hive tool). The beekeeper also explained how to install the bees into the hive without losing the queen. I was all set.
All Set And Ready To… Nope!
I then spent the next couple weeks watching videos and reading up about beekeeping. I have so much to learn. I’m a total white belt at this. But that’s part of the fun of it too. Trying new things can be exciting as long as you aren’t trying to bee perfect the first time you try it.
Anyway, as time passed I started to worry. The Flow Hive I ordered wasn’t shipping. I didn’t have a tracking number. In fact, it’s like they haven’t done anything with it at all. Meanwhile, the bees were going to show up at the end of April whether I had a hive prepared or not.
I contacted customer support and didn’t hear anything for a few days. When I did get a reply, they told me I had made a pre-order and it wasn’t going to ship until the end of April (at the earliest). This was super frustrating. I didn’t see anything about a pre-order. Ugh!
Amazon Saves The Day
There was no choice, I needed to get a different hive and have it here ASAP! I went on Amazon and found a nice hive that was already coated in beeswax. That would make it more weather resistant and last longer.
A few days later the new hive arrived. Thank you Amazon and your ruthless efficiency. My bees will have a real home.
Assembly was basic and with a few days to spare, everything was good to go for the bees arrival this weekend.
On Friday night we had some crazy thunderstorms and a couple tornadoes touched down about 5-10 miles east of my house. That was a close one. And then Saturday was still super windy and not great weather to install the bees. That meant Sunday was the day for bees.
Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! Bee Ready!
After church, my and I went to pick up the bees, got lunch and headed home with a package of about 10,000 bees. I’ve never had bees before, so that was a bit weird for me.
Once we got home I grabbed some cinder blocks to put the hive on, leveled everything out, and setup the hive for the bees. It’s important to make the hive as level as possible so the bees build nice vertical honeycomb. With that all done it was time to put the gear on and install the package of bees into the hive.
There are only a few steps to install bees into a new hive. First, remove the syrup can and queen cage from the package container. Then cover the hole at the top so the bees don’t get out. Second, spray the bees with sugar water and dump them into the new hive. Third, release the queen into the hive and close the whole thing up.
If you are curious what that looks like, there are quite a few excellent YouTube videos on the topic. That’s how I learned most of this.
Now that the hive was ready, I put my gear on - silly hat, fancy gloves, and long sleeves in hopes that I don’t get stung. I opted for just the hat with the net on it and not a full on bee suit or coat. I got everything ready and it was time to do this. I’ll admit I worried I would screw this up.
With my family looking on, I followed the instructions as I remembered them. I removed the can and the queen cage without letting too many bees out of the top. So far, so good.
Next I sprayed down the bees, bumped them down to the bottom of the package container, and dumped them into the hive. It didn’t go quite as smooth as I had seen on the videos, but the bees were not too bad. They did buzz around a bit and at times I felt like I was standing inside a tornado of bees. Somehow the be bees didn’t all fly away. Instead they stayed in the box for the most part. Phew!
With most of the bees in their new home I went on to the tricky part. I needed to release the queen.
It All Comes Down To The Queen
If you read online, beekeepers say to use a slow queen release with candy so the bees can acclimate to the queen. The beekeeper I purchased this package from told me to direct release the queen down into the bottom of the hive. He said the bees should have bonded with the queen by now and I should direct release them. He’s been raising bees for over 20 years, so I trusted his opinion.
I carefully brushed off a pile of bees that were attending to the queen. I took a deep breath and cracked open the queen cage with my hive tool. Then I put the cage at the bottom of the hive next to one of the foundation frames and waited. It seemed like forever and the queen didn’t want to do anything. Then the queen snuck out onto one of the frames and disappeared.
She didn’t fly away! Whew, another little victory.
Unfortunately at this point the entire inside sidewalls were covered with bees. There was no way to get the frames put back into the hive without moving bees. I got the bee brush and tried to gently move the bees so I didn’t squish and kill them putting the frames back in the hive. After a few tense moments the bees moved out of the way and I was able to get all the frames back on and the hive sealed up.
With the lid back on the hive I walked away to get a better view of the current state of the hive.
The bees were already busy getting to work. The limited opening on the front of the hive was full of bees flying in and out. Scouts were being sent out, things were calming down, and all the straggler bees were finding their way to the new hive. This all that happened automatically. It was something to see.
A couple hours later the bees left in the original package container had flown out and found their way to the hive. Shortly after dark all the bees were back in the hive. It was quiet. If you got close enough you could hear the soft hum of bees working inside the hive.
I think that means it was a successful installation. I’ll be watching the new hive over the next few days from the outside. In a week I’ll do an inspection to see how things are going on the inside. With any luck, the bees will continue to thrive and will establish a happy new hive that will last for many years. If not, I certainly am learning a lot throughout the process.
One question you might have is, "did you get stung?" Yes, I got stung once. I'm not sure if it was when I was dumping the bees out or releasing the queen into the hive. Either way, I got stung once on the forearm. Unfortunately, my 4 year old son also got stung on the hand and now he isn't real happy with the bees. I guess that's part of beekeeping.
Oh, and about that Flow Hive. I haven’t seen any status updates on my order. I’m glad I didn’t wait on it to show up or I would have been stuck with thousands of angry bees and no hive to put them in. So, despite the initial excitement, I’m not exactly ready to endorse the Flow Hive anytime soon. If anything, I’d recommend finding a basic hive and buy everything you need before you order the bees.
So, as of the time of writing this, it’s Sunday night, the bees are here, and I guess I’m a beekeeper now. I don’t think I ever expected that to happen, but here we are. Life is funny like that.
I still can’t beelieve it.
Okay, no more bee jokes. Time to buzz off.
Congratulations on a successful start! Is the hive still thriving? Have you had your first robbing yet? Working with bees can be a little unsettling at first but, once you fall into a routine, it is actually quite rewarding.