MAJOR CONCERNS IN THE ACTUAL HANDLING OF BEES
1 . Smoothness of Handling
Opening the bee hive as smoothly as possible can be a major consideration in controlling the temperament of the bees and rendering them as gentle as possible. Though there is some question among the experts as to whether or not bees can hear, there is no question regarding their ability to sense vibrations and respond to them as a possible threat. Any jarring of the hive, any abrupt movement, can be interpreted as an attack against their home: their sole means of surviving. Prying supers apart as carefully as possible and removing frames gently allows the bees to be surprisingly indifferent to the beekeeper’s activities.
2 . Proper use of the Smoker
Moderation is the keyword in the use of the smoker. Smoke should be used to drive back the guards but not to overwhelm the hive. Too little smoke won’t suppress the guards enough but too much smoke will aggravate the hive. Just because a few bees are flying around is not grounds to apply more and more smoke. As with most phases of bee keeping, experience will show how much smoke is needed and it will be noted that it varies from hive to hive. Keeping the smoker going can be a unique problem in working with bees. Unless the bellows is squeezed every so often it will go out. If the bellows are squeezed too often or too hard the flame will get too hot and emit a flame rather than smoke.
Materials that supply fairly good smoke include dried grass, leaves, pine cones, and ceiling tiles. Peat moss works quite well, is readily available and not expensive. Usually paper is used to get the fire started.
3. Introduction of a Queen
A hive of bees has its own unique scent and intruders are detected as not having the same scent and are either removed or killed. Introducing a queen from another hive can result in her being killed, since she has an odor different from the rest of the bees. Precautions should be taken to protect her from the rest of the bees until she acquires the scent of the hive. There are several ways that can be done.
If the new queen is kept in a separate cage, within the hive, she will acquire the scent of the hive and be more willingly accepted. The normally used queen cage is a block of wood about ¾ inch by 1 ½ inches by 2 ½ inches that has been partially drilled out and then has had window screening tacked over the opening to contain the queen in an opening about 1 inch in diameter and a half an inch deep. Entering along the axis of long dimension, from both ends is a 3/8 inch hole that has been filled with candied sugar at one end and corked at the other end.
Placing the cage on top of the frames with the screen side down and straddling two frames allows the bees to become familiar with the queen without harming her. Removing the cork from the 3/8 inch hole that is blocked with candied sugar allows the bees to eat through the sugar in a couple of days and free the queen.
For introducing a queen with a large number of bees, such as combining a swarm with an existing hive, the outer and inner covers of the hive can be removed and a sheet or two of newspaper can be used to cover the whole top of the hive. A super, with frames, can then be placed on top of the newspaper and the queen and bees poured into the super and the inner and outer covers replaced. Use an inner cover with openings so they will have ventilation and they will be able to leave and enter through the top of the hive. Within a day or two the bees will have chewed through the paper and the two groups combined. Their odors will have mixed and they won’t attack each other. The two queens, however, will seek each other out and fight. Usually the younger, stronger queen will survive.
More than twenty different variations of queen introductions exist. Prime concern in most cases is allowing time for the odor of the new queen and attendants to mix with the hive to which the introduction is made. It must also be remembered that a hive without a queen is far more willing to accept a new queen than a hive that has a good producing queen.
4. Package Bees
A package of bees is a box about 10 by 14 by 5 inches, with window screening on the 10 by 14 inch sides, containing anywhere from two to five pounds of bees with or without a queen . The most usual order is a 3-pound package (about 11-12,000 bees) with a queen. Whether or not a queen is included, depends upon whether the package is to be used to add to a weak hive that has a queen or whether a new hive is to be started. For this climate it would be best to have the bees arrive between April 15 and May 15.
It is most important in ordering package bees to have a bee hive fully assembled and painted before the package arrives since the queens should only be kept in the package a few days at the most. It is important that the bees start building combs and the queen laying eggs as soon as possible since it will be three weeks before the new bees start hatching out. To insure the survival of the hive they should be fed sugar water since not enough nectar may be available in the early spring.
If at all possible the hive should have some drawn foundation so that the bees will have to expend less energy in getting started. Four to twelve pounds of honey must be consumed to produce one pound of wax. The less energy the bees must use at such a critical time, the better their chance of survival.
The bees should be installed in the hive late in the evening, if possible, to prevent drifting. Usually only half the frames are placed in the hive so that the bees may be dumped in the opening left and then the frames are replaced.