Tuesday, April 30, 2013

First Hive Visit! {and 8 Lessons Learned...}

Today was the day that I got to go check on our girls!!  It didn't really go like I had been imagining...

I was picturing myself donned in my veil, holding my smoker, slowly and rhythmically inspecting frame by frame.  The reality didn't exactly unfold that way. Here are 8 lessons I learned as a new bee keeper visiting her hives for the first time:

1) Arrange for childcare.  My parents were still out of town and we thought for some reason that Ayden would just look at books in his car seat while we quickly checked to see if the queens had been released and then all head on our merry way.  I suppose he thought we drove into a field and abandoned him because they poor little guy lost his mind!  His crying set me up to be frazzled and stressed before I even got started.

2) If you feel frazzled or stressed already, consider giving your hive checking a rain check.  They will still be there a day or two later and keeping your cool is essential when dealing with buzzing creatures wielding stingers.

3) Practice with your smoker ahead of time.  Also make sure you think to give it a puff every now and then during your inspection to keep it going.  David got it going great for his first time but in the hustle and bustle of the hives, we got caught up in working and didn't give it any puffs.  By the time I opened the second hive, my smoker was out and they were pretty mad by the end of their inspection.

4) Be ready to problem solve on the spot! While I was looking for the queen in the second hive (the one I didn't have enough smoke for), the weight of the bees  made the foundation fall out of one side of the frame (I guess that one wasn't in very tight...).  David had gone to tend to Ayden so I was left alone with a frame full of startled, and therefore defensive bees.  After frantically calling for David's help,  him telling me that he couldn't help and encouraging me to take a deep breath and find a way to slip it back in,  I did just that.  To top it off, the queen cage had fallen to the bottom board and I had to go even further into the angry hive than I had wanted to and got my first sting in the process...)

Through my jacket and everything.  OUCH!
5) A new foundation, full of bees, is pretty heavy.  Consider keeping the frames vertical until the bees have had a chance to pull out the comb and seal the sides with propolis. 

6) Tie your hive tool to your jacket.  I wasted some precious, smokeless moments trying to find where I had absent mindedly put my hive tool. If it were tied to my jacket, like a speaker at bee school had recommended, I wouldn't even have to give it a second thought.

7)  Go in the middle of the day when the foragers will be out foraging.  They say "visiting hours" should be between 10am and 5pm.  We went at 7pm and all the girls were all in for the night.  Granted, the 10,000 bees that are in there right now is nothing compared to the 60,000 the hive will have mid-summer, I think fewer is always better when you are about to open their hive.

8)  Last, and possibly most important, don't be afraid to ask your mentor to come back and help you with your first hive opening.  Even if you aren't afraid of bees, things can get pretty intense pretty fast.  I swear, as the buzzing in the second hive got louder and louder as the became more agitated, it was like I was playing Catch Phrase and the buzzer was about to go off in my hand.  Add the foundation incident and a sting to the mix and you've officially set yourself up for a not-so-pleasant visit.  Having my mentor there would have fixed all of these problems, if not prevented them altogether.

Some lessons are best learned the hard way!  I hope that some other new"bee" beekeepers out there might be able to learn from my experience today.  You better believe that my trusty mentor will come along for the next hive opening!! The good news is that both queens had been released (though I wasn't able to check for evidence that they were alive and working) and the bees seem to have made themselves at home.  They had already drawn out a lot of comb and were coming and going like busy bees do.  I am excited to learn more and for hive inspections to become second nature.  It is definitely a thrilling hobby to have.


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