Mail Order Bees

It was back in January that I ordered bees.  Tractor Supply sent out emails for pre-ordering and we jumped on it.  There were two kinds: Carniolan bees or Italian bees.  We picked Italian after asking around – Google knows a lot!  In the three months that we waited for the bees we researched, YouTubed, and Googled everything we could about what to expect.  We also ordered our hives and got everything ready for when the bees would come.

A note on ordering, I bought one hive kit from Tractor Supply which came from Harvest Lane Honey, the company the bees came from as well, and I bought another hive kit from Amazon after finding several suppliers I was looking at were out of stock.  I ordered hives and such mid-March and probably should have started a bit earlier than that.  The Amazon box came from Mann Lake Ltd and I was very happy with the packaging from them compared to the other that I got from Tractor Supply.  When we went to order one other box, we went to Mann Lake’s site and found them to be significantly cheaper to buy from directly than from Amazon as a middle man.  Sometimes the Prime shipping makes up for the slight increase in price, but not in this case.

Okay so bees were ordered, hives were bought, now all we needed were the bees.  Since the weather was a lot cooler than usual this year, the bees were shipping out behind schedule for our state.  We got them last week and here I’ll do my best to explain how and what we did as I saw it from the side lines.  I would have happily suited up had I needed to, but it was really a one person job and I was content to stand by and document the hive installation with my camera while Stephen did all the work.  It was as if he’d done this all before so I was very glad for opportunity to watch it in real life.      

Our bees came in this box that you see above, times 2.  That silver tab on the top is what the queen cage is attached to.  She is alone as the bees haven’t accepted her into the hive yet.  From what we read the bee suppliers just scoop up bees and put them into a box then add a queen and ship out.  A new hive has to adjust to the queen before she is released in the midst of them.  Should the bees not take to the queen, they will kill her.  Her being alone in a cage gives the hive a chance to get used to her presence.  We don’t want a dead queen cause a bee hive without a queen isn’t gonna last.  Mail order bees are non-refundable also.

As you can see, I wasn’t the only spectator.  The cousins came by from next door to watch the process.  My boy, he stayed home.  He doesn’t really want to be a bee farmer.  We were all in place, cameras were in hand, and Stephen suited up.  First thing he did was spray the bee box down with some sugar water that we had made.  The bees are hungry from traveling and this helps calm them down and it gets them a little sticky so they kind of clump together and move to the bottom of the box.

After that Stephen took out the queen box to check that she was alive.  While he did this he covered back up the top hole of the bee box.  We dealt with the queen first.

She looked good.  She was moving around fine and seemed healthy from what we could tell.  The little queen cage is corked on one end and you have to take that cork out and replace it with something for her and the bees to eat through.  A marshmallow was recommend often when we were looking into this and it seemed the easiest to use.

That white thing on top of her cage is the marshmallow and we attached her to the center frame with a rubber band.  We saw one person do this online and it seemed the easiest way to secure her cage.  Some people also used thumbtacks but then you have to put something on the queen cage to use with the thumbtack.  The way we did it was fast and easy, and when it came time to take the queen cage off of the frame you just cut the rubber band.

What happens now is that the queen will eat through the marshmallow while the bees on the outside eat through it as well to release her.  By the time she is free the hive will have adjusted to her scent and accept her as their queen.  That’s the ideal way for it to work out anyway.  We were hoping for the best.

Her frame was set aside and a few others from the center and now all that needed to be done was to pour the boxed bees into the hive.  Stephen sprayed them again with sugar water and poured them out.  You gently place the frames you removed back in on top of the bees, but you don’t push them down.  The weight from the frames will move the bees out of the way and in a minute or two the frames will be down where they need to be.

You put the inner cover on the main box of frames and set up your feeder.  There are many opinions on how to feed bees.  We went with top hive feeders inside of an empty brood box.  We read this attracts the least amount of insect predators and keeps the bees from breaking cluster to eat inside their box.  But we underestimated how hungry they would be, cause when we checked back that night, they had almost emptied out the bottle.  It was a small bottle, the only size I found on the sites I purchased from, so we improvised when we needed to refill it and used a couple of empty plastic nut containers that you get from Sam’s club.  Stephen popped several holes into the lid and we used it for the feeder.  I didn’t get a picture of that, but it worked very well.  The bees were a lot less hungry the next day.

Now all we had to do was cover them up and leave them alone for a few days.  It is recommended to not open the hive for five to seven days with the exception of having to feed them.  Since we had top feeders this wasn’t going to be a problem, but we really were wondering about those queens.

Stephen did some more reading and three days later we had a peek to see if the queens had been released.  This was also recommended, and something we’ve learned so far with beekeeping, everyone seems to have a different opinion.

These bees are really cool!  We have two hives and both queens had been freed from their cage when Stephen looked three days later.  They had also started making comb and there were several bees he saw with pollen on their legs.  Seems like everything is going as it should.  We’ll be checking them again this weekend.

And if you would like a video look at how we set up one of the hives, I have a little fast motion clip that we recorded while we were doing it all.  I feel like the quality of the video should be a little better (I’ll look into why it’s not later), but you get the idea.  Thanks for stopping by and for reading.  This was a long one, I know.  🙂

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