The Bees Come Home Again… and Chickens Too!

April 20th, 2010

The last few days have fostered a hale and hearty outlook for getting things accomplished. That’s what happens when you bring home a bunch of critters to take care of.    Yesterday was a big day at Fox Haven though…  I put three packages of bees into their new homes!  After losing two hives over the winter, it just wasn’t the same around here without them.   I love going to the post office to get the bees.  I call ahead to let them know they’ll be arriving, but the postal workers are sooo thankful when you show up!

 You always want to inspect the bees and make sure they did okay in transit.  There’s a can of sugar water hanging in the middle, and the bees cluster around it to feed.   They’re also in a cluster so they can keep warm if it’s cool outside.  I was pleased to see there were few losses of bees enroute, and my packages all looked in great shape.   This is what is called a “3 pound package” of bees, because it literally holds about three pounds of them.  Most of the bee farms are pretty good about filling the package with extra bees in case of losses, but it’s estimated that there’s 10,000 to 12,000 bees in each package.   Sounds like a lot, but by mid-summer a strong hive should have 50,000 to 60,000 bees or more!

Getting the bees into the hive is quite simple:  You carefully take out the queen cage, and then the can of syrup that kept the bees fed while in transit.   Then quite literally you shake and dump the bees into the hive!  I wear my bee suit and veil for protection… but the bees are not aggressive typically when you are introducing them to the hive.  That and the fact that I have misted them with sugar water a bit calms them down…   as I empty the bees onto the frames, they eagerly climb all around the new hive.  Quite a few fly around and begin orienting themselves to the new hive location. 

As I take the packages apart, I pull out the queen cage and inspect it to make sure the queen is alive.   I keep my hive tool laid across the little opening where the queen cage was so the bees don’t start pouring out.  A closer look showed all my queens to be vigorous, running around the little space inside the cage.  The black shape you see inside the cage below is the queen’s abdomen.  I use russian hybrid queens, and they are much darker than the traditional italian bee queens.


The bees on the cage feed and attend to her, although since this is a new package- these bees and the queen were just put together for the first time prior to shipping a few days ago.  While in transit they are becoming familiar with her scent, and when I place the queen cage between the frames in the hive and close it up, they will continue to become used to the queen.  Eventually they will chew out the gooey white candy substance (to the left in the picture above) that blocks her escape from the cage, and let her out.  If all goes well, she should be laying eggs within the hive in a matter of days.   

I’ll come back in a few days to check and make sure… I just don’t want to disturb them while they settle in.   If for some reason I cannot find or see the queen, or some proof that she’s alive and well (like eggs in the cells), then I’ll probably order a new queen or two through the mail.  It’s a pretty cool process.

It was a perfect day here though- not too hot or cool, and very little wind.  The bees were up and flying around in no time!   I haven’t been alone this month in welcoming bees back home again.   Warren has a neat post with a video link showing how he installed a package into one of his hives last week, and Kim writes about their journey to a country bee farm to pick up a new package of bees to take home as well.  

Once you’ve had bees, it seems disquieting to be without them.   They are so full of energy and do wonders for the local garden and flowering plants and shrubs.  I really enjoy having them around.   I also found out last year that some of my family have a history of beekeeping going back over a hundred years.  I like continuing that tradition.   

It was nice to walk out early this morning, and watch the sun rise and shine on the hives.    This may be a “split year” here at Fox Haven where I divide these hives as the season progresses.  The good news is I may be able to double my bee population.  The bad news is I’ll have to wait until next year to get any honey from them.  Patience, patience…  The journey continues!



Speaking of critters- I feel like I’m part of that nursery rhyme, except instead of five little ducks it’s,  “Ten Little Chickies Went Out One Day…”   They are chirping, eating, mess-making, running around little dudes!  Or dudettes…  For the first week I was up a couple times at night to check their brooder temperature and give them food and water.  Now they’re doing so well I tuck them in at night and they’re all bright-eyed and almost bushy-tailed in the morning waiting for breakfast.

“Okay… what did ‘ya bring me!?”


Inquisitive little things…  but at meal time they were very flighty and would nearly panick and run everywhere until just a couple days ago.    Now they seem to be getting used to the routine of “The Hand” entering their cage and changing the food and water.   They will even eat out of our hands, and a couple of them are so tame they jump on your arm right away.    The boy loves to take the barred rock pullets out and play with them- they are really calm.

I don’t have names for the eight girls and two roosters yet…  and you can’t really tell a lot of them apart aside from the white and black ones.   But their feathers are really coming in, and they are growing so big.  They’re only three weeks old! 

 No… I don’t have the coop built yet.  Or started…    Here they’re gathered around the feeder quite pleased with me.

So this week it’s time to get busy.  Or busier!   And the garden is really growing too, I’ve got take some more pictures…  Have  a good week!

10 Responses to “The Bees Come Home Again… and Chickens Too!”

  1. Have you read Sue Hubbell’s book on beekeeping? Typical, lyrical Hubbell.

  2. R. Sherman

    Good primer for the rest of us. Thanks for the interesting tid-bits.


  3. Ed

    Brings back lots of memories. My parents had enough hives (around 120 or so) that I don’t recall them buying any bees other than a shipment of queen bees every spring. We would go through and replace old queens with new young ones to keep the health of the hive top notch. I remember the struggle it was at times to find the old queen that had to be dispatched before putting in the new queen. At the time, they were starting to glue dots on the backs of the queen which made them much easier to spot. I think my parents mostly stuck with the Italian queens. Funny how I forgot the origin difference until you brought it up. Good times!

  4. Abby misses the days when we raised chicks in the house. She’d have 5 roosting on her at a time… they became very tame. The chicks we’ve raised since then have been reared by broody hens, and are much less tame. On the plus side, they are also vastly more self-sufficient, and my feed bill has gone to nil since taking care of the free-loading packrats and squirrels.


  5. Pablo- Yes, I think a few years ago! I was considering beekeeping at the time- I’m glad you mentioned it. She was a Missouri beekeeper if I remember?
    Randall- You have thought about getting a hive before right?
    Ed- That’s a lot of hives… and a lot of queens! It is tough to find them- I usually get “marked” queens with that paint dot. It helps, but rubs off after a while. Maybe one day you’ll have a hive or two again :)
    Ron- They are fun, and the boy loves to play with them. We probably don’t handle them enough, but they seem to be getting more tame. I like your approach to chicks reared by the hens though… that’s pretty cool about letting them forage to cut down on the feed! I can’t believe how much they eat…

  6. You are so right! I can’t wait for spring each year when I can go sit in front of a hive and watch them come and go. I can’t imagine not having them now…

  7. This is an interesting post–thanks for sharing, i think I would enjoy beekeeping.

  8. Vincent

    Beau, did you ever find out what killed the last lot.

  9. Warren- It’s amazing isn’t it? I need to set up a nice bench or something :)
    Sage- Thanks! I think you would too, and it doesn’t take much to get started!
    Vincent- No, not definitively. But it wasn’t mites or disease. Some unknown aspect of CCD may have played a role, but I still think it was lack of food/weather in the fall. I do remember a few weeks where the large European hornets were picking off bees all day… maybe that contributed to it?

  10. Greetings, Beau! Thanks for stopping by my blog! It was great to hear from you. Love the pictures of the bee packages and hive set up. Isn’t it exciting to hear the hum from the packages and feel the heat they give off? And to see the attendants as the hang on the queen’s cage is something else. I love the layout of the hives and know they’ll do well. Hang in there and talk to you soon!

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