When I said this would be a long post, I meant it. However, It’s mainly pictures, so don’t be afraid.
Unless, of course, bees give you the heebie jeebies. Then you very well may be afraid and may not want to keep scrolling down.
But last week, I fulfilled a very long-time goal of mine: become a beekeeper. Marc – yup, the Southern Restoration Furniture and bee keeper extraordinaire, helped Wheat and I move a wild hive of bees at my parents barn to a store-bought hive. Marc is pretty much a pro, and also uses wax from his own bee hives to make Nunya Beeswax.
Shameless plug: you can purchase Marc’s awesome Nunya Beeswax hand balm and chapstick at:
Miss Mandy’s Cottage, Tallahassee, Florida
H&H Furniture & Design, Havana, Florida
Native Nurseries, Tallahassee, Florida
The Honey Tree, Tallahassee, Florida
Sew Woodstock, Bearsville, New York
Sweet Grass Dairy Cheese Shop, Thomasville, Georgia
Marc had prepared us to expect the worst (hence my extreme level of preparedness by borrowing Wheat’s Aunt’s full bee suit), but I escaped with nary a sting. Wheat and Marc got stung once each. Apparently we have the friendliest bees on planet Earth, which I have now dubbed my hive of sweet bees, who don’t mind it at all when you literally cut open their home and relocate them by force.
The hive has been thriving underneath this wood rack for about a year and a half. I am so excited that I finally managed to recruit someone as crazy (crazier?) as me to help me move them and teach me their bee keeping ways. Thank you x100,000,000 Marc! And thanks to my sister Anna Jo, for taking 98% of the pictures in this post.
See them coming and going so peacefully? Blissfully unaware of what was about to go down.
If you happen to know my Dad, you know that he does everything he does 150%. So naturally, his wood rack not only has a floor, but it also has a sub-floor. So to get to the hive, we had to pull up the boards, then saw through the plywood “sub-floor” and remove it, too. We anticipated that the bees would not like this at all. Not one little bit.
So after a quick primer from Marc, and some frame prep (we tied strings to the bottom of each frame so we could place the bees own honey comb into the frames for them, rather than using the plastic inserts some of them came with), we unloaded all the wood, and I suited up. Just in case. It was my first beekeeping experience, after all.
I felt like a white oompa-loompa.
We then proceeded to deconstruct the wood rack while trying to not royally tick the bees off. (<– Bee pun: royal, as in royal jelly? Get it?)
We quickly realized that the plywood sub-floor had rotted through in the center, and we got our first glimpse into the hive.
Next we had to saw through the plywood and pry it off. This is where we got very nervous indeed. The occasion called for lots of smoke.
Fact: according to my bee sensai Marc, smoke doesn’t “calm” the bees down like I always thought. Bees communicate with each other by releasing pheromones, and the smoke simply disrupts their ability to tell one another to attack you.
Once we got it cut successfully and pried the edges up, we got our first good look into the hive.
It. was. crazy. Marc and Wheat slowly lifted the entire board and moved it to the back of the truck and flipped it over. Seriously quite possibly one of the wildest things I’ve ever seen.
Somehow we managed to get this done without inciting a bee riot. We carefully picked up each piece of honey comb, cut it to the length of the frames, and tied the comb into place. We shook bees off of each piece of comb into the box. We scooped bees out of the old hive with a manilla envelope and shook them into the hive. There were bees EVERYWHERE.
The fact that their own honey comb is in these frames should encourage them to stay put in their new hive. They should fill it the rest of the way out, connecting everything together with fresh comb and propolis (aka bee glue) so that we can remove the strings this week.
Most of the honey comb didn’t have honey in it – it will full of brood. The queen lays eggs in the cells of the comb, and the worker bees eventually cap them off. The worker bee brood is flat, and the drones, which are much larger, have raised brood cells. Below, you can see some of the bee larvae.
Queen cells, however, look completely different from the rest of the cells. When we got into the hive, we found 11 queen cells, which was evidence that the hive was probably about to split itself and a swarm of bees + the queen was going to leave the hive and find a new one. The queen cells they left behind would allow the bees that stayed to raise up a new queen (first one to hatch wins – they would have aborted the other queen cells) to maintain the mother hive.
Below you can see two queen cells on the edge of the honey comb, but also in the center you can see a drone bee emerging. This is one of the few pictures I took – Anna Jo is an excellent guest photographer!
What little honey comb did actually have mostly honey in it, we threw into this bucket. Along with some more bees.
If you are ever wondering about nature’s perfect design, all you have to do is look at honey comb.
The pieces of honey comb that were stuck to all the boards I cut off to save for beeswax.
The bottom of the main “sub-floor” sheet of plywood to which most of the comb was attached:
So pretty. And pretty unbelievable.
What was really crazy was how after we had filled up a full hive of bees, there was still enough for another hive left!
We got as many bees as we could into their fresh new digs, then ratchet-strapped the hive together and taped over the entrance for transport to their new location across the river at my parents’ house.
We are crossing our fingers that they liked their new place so much because we got the Queen in there and they were following her, but we just can’t be sure. We are checking this week to see if she’s in there, but just in case, we put 3 queen cells in there too. I’ll update this post once we check things out.
We temporarily have the hive sitting on top of a tree cross-section, but will be swapping it out with something more permanent this week as well. I kind of love the tree version, though.
After getting the bees all settled in to their new home, we went back and put the wood rack back together for the bees we left behind. This time, we put a new piece of plywood down and used screws to put everything back together. That way, we can come back and get them out a whole lot easier than it was this time.
At this point, I was far more comfortable with the bees than I was when we started. Clearly.
That’s bee poop, folks. You’re welcome.
All in a good day’s work, friends.