A Year in the Apiary:

Installing a Package of Bees

by Claire Condra

Waiting for the bees
Waiting for the bees to arrive

The chatbot said my bees would arrive that afternoon, so I put on my bee suit and settled in at the table in my front yard with a good book. I had been expecting them — any minute now — for several days, but the delivery day kept changing. It was starting to get late when the truck finally pulled into my driveway and I jumped up and ran to the gate.

“Do you have my bees?”

The driver was exhausted and stood at the gate holding a plastic bag as far away from his body as possible.

“They escaped in my truck, so I put them in a box…

“And then they chewed through the box, so I put them in a plastic bag…

“And then I taped it up so they couldn’t get out. I didn’t know bees can chew through cardboard!”

UPS ships only packages of bees that can be delivered the same day, but mine had been on the road for three days. It’s a mystery how they slipped through the cracks, but they did, and in more ways than one.

Bees were crawling all over inside the bag and some were stuck under the tape. I tried to take hold of the bag without smashing a bee, and thanked him for doing the best he could to deliver what was left of my bees.

I was surprised by how light the box was. This was not the three pounds (about 3,000) bees that I had ordered. So I carried them down the slope to my bee yard where a folding table was set up with the tools that I’d need.

The crack where my bees escaped in the UPS truck.

This folding camping table makes a good work space. The open gates frame the space and would make a good setting for beekeeping  demonstrations.

Meanwhile, the bees were suffocating inside the plastic bag. So I took everything into my enclosed apiary and sealed the door shut behind me.

Let’s see what we have here…

As soon as I opened the box, bees flew out and filled the apiary. I stood still for a couple of minutes and hoped they would sense that they were in a safe place. It was the first time that I had been around so many bees, and I was surprised to feel a sense of calm and wonder. In fact, I wasn’t scared at all.

One thing that did catch me off guard was how hard it was to open the crate. There’s a mechanism that’s supposed to slide, but it was stuck shut and covered with bees. There was also a crack on the side of the crate where the bees had escaped. So I found some pliers in the shed and pried it open.

OK, let’s see what we have here…

Queen bee? Check.

Marshmallow? Check.

Razor blade? Check.

The bees are supposed to be inside the crate!

When I shook what was left of the bees into the hive, they fell with a plop along with a glop of blue fondant. I could tell that a good number of them were either dead or dying.

Fortunately, the queen was OK. I replaced the cork in her cage with the marshmallow and attached the cage to the side of a center frame. Then I placed a baggie full of sugar syrup across the top of the frames — making sure not to cover the queen’s cage — and slit it carefully across the top a couple of times with a razor blade.

Then, I placed the broken crate and box outside the landing board to help any stragglers find their way into their new home.

Quite a few bees had escaped into the yard when I went to get the pliers. So instead of closing the front panel, I left it open until just before dark.

It was starting to drizzle by the time I returned to close it up. So I left the corner flap folded down about one quarter of the way to let any stray bees find their way in, and closed the gates for the night.

From that point on, I went down the slope every day just to watch them.

They quickly discovered the whiskey barrel pond and learned to navigate through the opening in the roof. Every few days I opened the hive to check the sugar syrup, but left them alone other than that.

Each day I closed the front flap a little more, until only about eight inches of the upper corner was open. A few bees were still using it as an entrance, so I left it that way for the time being.

As far as bee installations go, this was probably more like a “B” horror movie. But after such a rough start, they were going about their business as if nothing had happened.

The front flap can be gradually closed as the bees learn to use the opening in the roof.


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