Installing Bees in a Top Bar Hive

We picked up our package of bees (read the previous post about how we got our bees here) and headed home.  For the first hour and a half going home, they buzzed quietly in the back seat.  We made sure they weren’t in direct sunlight and that they were getting fresh air, and twice I sprayed them lightly with a very light sugar syrup.  They were happy, we were happy, everything was right with the world.

Until…

…we got to the dirt and gravel road leading to our property.  Bummer.  You see, here in California it’s legal to grow marijuana if you have doctor’s orders saying that you need it.  Unfortunately, the county in which we live has been very permissive on how much you can grow, so several commercial pot growers have purchased or leased properties adjacent to us.  Why is this so unfortunate?  For several reasons – the most important of which is because of the drought we are currently having here in California.  Marijuana takes a lot of water to grow.  A whole lot.  So the commercial pot growers are draining all of the wells in the foothills, drying up streams and stealing from others.  You can’t even leave a water hose unattended anymore!  So, when the “growers” well goes dry and they run out of options to get cheap (or stolen) water, they have to pay to truck in water.  Some of those trucks haul in 2,500 gallons of water at a time – or more!  Let’s see – 2,500 gallons x 8 pounds per gallon – that’s 20,000 pounds (not even counting the weight of the truck itself) traveling across our dirt and gravel road several times per day!  Needless to say, they have torn up our road so much that it has become one rut and pothole after another.  The entire 1.6 miles of it!  Now we literally bounce and slide our way home.

Which brings me back to the bees.  With every bounce, bump, jump and jostle, they started buzzing louder and louder.  Let me tell you, they were not happy!  🙁

Once we finally got home we set the bees in the shade of their new Kenyan Top Bar Hive, I sprayed them down with a little more light sugar water, and we left them alone for about an hour.  Sure enough, by the time we came back, they had calmed down again.

Whew!

So now, the fun part was to begin.  Installation!

Kenyan top bar beehive

There it is: our version of a Kenyan Top Bar Beehive! To see how we made it, click HERE  

Have I told you how nervous I am about getting stung?  The fascination with the bees has partially overcome my fear of being stung (along with a nice bee suit and gloves), but nonetheless I decided I should be the photographer for this momentous occasion. 😉

I am blessed to have a very brave and understanding husband, and let me tell you, he looked like a pro while he was installing the bees!

Installing bees into a top bar hive

Doesn’t Ray look like a pro? Here he is getting ready to dump in the bees. You can see the queen cage, laying on top of a couple of the top bars, is covered already in bees!

The first thing we had to do was remove several of the top bars so that the bees could be dumped into the hive body.  We also placed a light sugar water solution in the feeder and a

How to get bees into a top bar hive

You can see the “bee patty” at the bottom of the hive, which is a first food supply for the bees. It has lots of protein, vitamins and minerals and gives the bees a kick-start for a healthier colony.

“bee patty” in the bottom of the hive. We do plan to raise our bees organically and naturally, and using a sugar water solution and a bee patty isn’t necessarily natural.  However, we did want to give our bees every advantage to get started, so we opted to make our own sugar water solution out of organic sugar.  The bee patty was just another bit of insurance, though we don’t really know how organic it is.  That being said, we will not be giving our bees any more bee patties, and will only give them sugar water if they need it.   Ray removed the queen cage from the box so that she could later be hung in her cage between two of the top bars.  Ray accomplished this task without any problem – just like they showed us during the demonstration at the Olivarez Bee Company Bee Day.  Once the queen cage had been removed from the bee cage and set aside, Ray set about the task of dumping the worker bees into the hive.

Just as instructed during one of the demonstrations given at the Bee Day, Ray removed the can of sugar water solution that the bees had been living on for a day, which also releases the bees.  A few bees started to fly out, already looking for and locating the queen.

Ray gently turned the box upside down, and shook it a few times.

Fwooommmph

Seriously – that’s the sound it made!   Fwooommmmph!

Most of the bees fell in one large clump into the hive!  It was so cool to watch!

Once most of the bees had been shaken into the hive, I sprayed them again with the light sugar water solution.  The sugar water solution hydrates the bees as they lick it off of their furry little bodies.  Because it has a little bit of sugar in it, it also feeds the bees and a fed, hydrated bee is a happy, complacent bee, less likely to sting!

top bar hive bee installation

Ray carefully placed two straws along the top of the little queen cage so that he could hang it between two of the top bars. Look at that – no glove on one hand!

We then replaced all of the top bars except one.  Ray stuck a couple of pieces of straw (carefully!) through the top of the queen cage and these pieces of straw were placed between two of the top bars with the queen cage hanging in the space where the one bar used to be.  In this way, the queen could be accessed by the workers from all sides.  Once this was done, we replaced the lid and roof, wished the bees good luck, and stepped back from the hive.

Once the bees were mostly in the hive, we replaced the lid and roof and stepped away.  The box that the bees came in was left right below the entrance, so the stragglers could find their way to their new home.

Once the bees were mostly in the hive, we replaced the lid and roof and stepped away. The box that the bees came in was left right below the entrance, so the stragglers could find their way to their new home.

There were about two dozen or so bees still left in the cage, but we were instructed during the demonstration at the Bee Day to just leave the cage near the hive in the shade, and these bees will find their way into the hive to be with their sisters.

We had our granddaughter’s birthday party to attend later that evening, so we made sure the hive was secure, latched the gate on the enclosure surrounding the hive, and said our goodbyes to the bees.  There was nothing more we could do for them right away.

The next day when we got home from the birthday party, there they were, flying in and out of the hive! It looked like some of the bees were still doing their orientation flight, which is the first flight out of their hive.  The bee will exit the hive door, fly right, then left, then up and down.  Once the little bee has done this, it will fly away to find pollen, nectar, water or whatever it’s job is.   It was amazing to see that some of the bees flying into the hive already had their pollen sacs full!  Jeeze Louise, these bees certainly didn’t waste any time setting up their house!

top bar bee hive installation

Here is ray checking to see that the queen has been released from her cage. Yes! She was free!

Now we had to wait at least three days, then check to see if the queen had been released from her little cage.  You see, she comes inside a cage for her own safety.  If a queen bee is introduced into a hive right away, the worker bees will most likely sting her to death because they see her as a foreigner!  However, if she is left in her little cage and the workers are exposed to her pheromones for 3 or 4 days, the will most likely accept her as their queen once she is released.  How does she get released?  Her escape route is plugged with hard candy, which the workers eat to get to the queen.  This usually takes about three days – sometimes four.  Clever system, huh?

So, after four days, we opened the hive to see if the queen had been released.  At first when we saw movement inside the little cage we were disappointed that she had not been released.  Then, on closer inspection, we saw that it was a worker bee in the cage, not the queen.  She had, in fact, been released!  Then we found her.  Olivarez Bees marks all of their queens, and this year an iridescent blue was used.  This is so that it is easier to find her and make sure all is well with the hive.  Well – there she was – in all of her iridescent blue glory, on a small comb that had already been constructed for her!

Top Bar Kenyan Bee Hive installation

Our first sneak peak into the hive through the viewing window. See all those little workers clustered? They had already started to make some comb and were clustered on the comb and around their new queen!

Well I’ll be.  We actually (ahem, my husband, Ray) installed our first bees with complete success!

And guess what – No Bee Stings!  🙂

So, now, the real adventure begins.

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We Have Bees!

Kenyan top bar beehive

There it is: our version of a Kenyan Top Bar Beehive!

We finished the Kenyan Top Bar Beehive just in time!  Ray and I built our own Kenyan Top Bar Beehive with plans given to us by Master Gardener Kim at one of her workshops we attended on beekeeping.  The plan was simple and easy to follow.  Now all we needed were some bees!

I had ordered the bees from Olivarez Honey Bees via phone a few months in advance.  While on the phone I was given the choice between the Italian or the Carnolian variety of bees, but I wasn’t sure which one to go with. I told the order taker that we were first time beekeepers and I had a fear of being stung, so I wanted the most gentle bees possible.  She said both varieties are gentle.  Then I told her they would be at 3,000 foot elevation and would have to withstand a little bit of snow now and then, but hot and dry summers.  She said both varieties were excellent for the situation I described.  I told her we would be using the Top Bar Hive system and would be beekeeping organically.  She said either one would be great for a top bar hive. So with the Italians and the Carnolians being fairly equal, I decided to go with the Italians.  It was easier to say. 🙂

The day arrived to pick up our bees.  We had about a 2 hour drive to get to the ranch holding the bee day and we wanted to get there early.

Oliverez Honey Bee Day

Free coffee and donuts – I’ll have two (of each)  🙂 They also offered free fruit smoothies – yum!

Parking was a breeze in the large cow pasture next to the event.  We were offered free coffee and donuts (yes, please!) and then set about exploring and mingling.  Ray and I sat at a table to enjoy our morning snack and met a very nice lady who was there to get her second package of bees from Olivarez, as she was very happy with the package she got last year.  Another couple we talked to were getting their first package of bees, but had been helping a neighbor with his bees for years and enjoyed it so much they decided to get some of their own.  When I asked if they had ever been stung and how many times, they answered “of course” but that it was “their own fault”.  I ask this question a lot and I get the same sort of answer a lot. I am petrified of getting stung, so I want to know every detail of why, how and what happened when I hear someone else’s story.  Usually their answer is something like “I got too close to the hive entrance” or “I was working too quickly and hit the hive with my elbow”, or stories similar to that.  Then they would tell me, “it hurts (not gonna lie to you) but only for an hour or so”.

Well, alright then. I’m probably going to get stung.

Our first order of business was to check-in at the ordering desk. We have bees!-9

Everyone was so friendly and happy to have us there as customers, and the whole process was very smooth!  They found my name, saw that I had ordered one package of Italians, and that it was already paid for with my bank card.  I was given a receipt and told that I can pick up my bees at any time, but she said most people get their package after lunch.  Cool!

Here is the Mann Lake Booth.  We got some gloves, a smoker and some bee food here.

Here is the Mann Lake Booth.

There were also several vendors at the event.  Mann Lake, ltd  had a large retail area under the huge circus-like tent. They brought just about anything a beekeeper would need.  We looked at their books and browsed through some of their equipment.  Most of their equipment was for Langstroth hives but we did buy some gloves, a smoker, and some bee food.  We had previously purchased our bee suits online.

 

Another vendor was the Chico Honey Company, and they had some very delicious honey to purchase, along with t-shirts, honey paraphernalia and such. There was also a kid’s area with face painting.  Maybe next year when we get another package of bees we can take our grandchildren.  I think they would really enjoy the day.

I also have to show you this beautiful quilt they had hanging at the venue. Isn’t it just the cutest thing?

Newbee Beekeeping

Isn’t this just the cutest quilt!

After eating our donut (s) and drinking a few cups of coffee (it was really good), it was time to watch one of the demonstrations.

Installing bees into a top bar hive

A demonstration on how to install a new package of honey bees.

One of the Olivarez Beekeepers gave a very thorough and informative demonstration on how to install your bees into your hive. He made it look just a bit too easy, but then he is a professional.  I was very glad to hear a lot of his tips, such as to spray your bees with sugar water because it makes them happy and less likely to sting or fly and also to avoid installing the bees when it is dark because they don’t fly in the dark, have to crawl, and are more prone to sting out of fear.  After the morning demonstration, we had a little more time to browse the vendors and mingle with other beekeepers, then a hot dog barbeque lunch was served!

It was finally time to get our bees and go home.  All we had to do was hand our receipt to one of the bee guys, who promptly disappeared into the barn.  Seconds later he came out with our package of Italian honey bees that included one mated queen and three pounds of worker bees!  Here they are…

Italian Honey Bee Packages

Here is Ray with our bee package and the Queen Bee!

We Have Bees!  Stay tuned for the installation!

 

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Where the party is:  Meet Up MondayThank Goodness It’s MonClever Chicks Blog Hop;Grand Social; Mix It Up Mon;Create, Link, Inspire;  Amaze Me MonMotivation Monday;Inspiration Monday; Made By You Mon;Homemaking Monday; Mum-bo MondayShow & Share Tuesday; The Gathering Spot; Tues Garden Party; Brag About ItTuesdays with a Twist;The Scoop; Two Cup Tues; Tweak It Tues; Inspire Me Tues; Tuesdays at Our Home;  Pinterest FoodieLou Lou GirlsInspire Us Tues; Party In Your PJ’sMake, Bake and CreateDown Home Blog HopWildcrafting Wednesday;  Wicked Awesome WedWhatever goes Wed; Show and Share Wed; Wined Down Wed; What We Accomplished;  Project ParadeWake Up Wed; Fluster’s Creative Muster; Hump Day Happenings; Homestead Blog Hop; The Blogger’s Digest; Wow Us Wednesday; Turn To ShineOur Simple Homestead; Share Your Cup Thursday;  Home and Garden Thurs;  The Handmade HangoutCreate it Thursday;  Think Tank Thurs; Green Thumb Thurs;Homemaking Party; Treasure Hunt Thurs; All Things Thursday Inspire Us Thurs; Inspire or be Inspired; Project Parade; Inspiration Gallery; Pure Blog Love; Favorite Things;Freedom Fridays; Friendship Friday; From The Farm Blog Hop; Eat, Create, PartyPinworthy Projects PartyFarmgirl Friday;  Friday Flash Blog Party; Weekend re-Treat; Family Fun Friday; Friday’s Five Features; Real Food Fridays; Friday FavoritesOld Fashioned Friday; Fridays Unfolded; Inspired Weekend; Show Off Friday;Craft Frenzy FridayFront Porch Friday; No Rules Weekend Party; Friday Favorites;Giggles Galore; Say G’Day SaturdaySuper Saturday; Simply Natural Sat;  Saturday Sparks;  Show and Tell Sat;  My Favorite Things;  Dare to Share; Scraptastic SaturdayFrugal Crafty Home; That DIY Party; Nifty Thrifty Sunday; DIY Sunday Showcase; Snickerdoodle Sunday;  Simple Life Sunday; Think Pink Sunday; Sunday Showcase

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