April 2018 was a time of great anticipation. Doug and I ordered 2 nucs of bees to begin our beekeeping adventure. The local supplier we used sold both Italian and Russian bees. We carefully selected Italian bees, and by carefully selected I mean we asked the guy at the store known as The Bee Man, “What do you recommend for new beekeepers?” He sighed, paused 2 seconds and said, “Go with the Italians.” That conversation was back in February when we ordered our bees. In late April, we received a call that our two nucs were ready for pickup. Doug was so excited, he planned a week’s vacation from work in order to be home and available when the bees arrived. We left our dogs in the basement (aka Doggie Shangri-La) because we felt bees and dogs didn’t mix all that well. We hopped in our pickup truck and drove the 15 miles along windy backroads to go get our bees from the local supplier. When we arrived, we saw rows and rows of boxes all full of bees. Escaped honey bees were flying all around overhead, but the humans and the bees politely ignored one another. (I should have paid more heed to the escaped honeybee problem, as you will see later.) We paid for the bees, took our two neatly packaged nucs, and went to the truck. The gentlemen who picked up his bees ahead of us had a small boy with him. He tied his nuc boxes in the back of his truck and placed the boy in the back seat. My husband said, “Should we put the nucs in the back of the truck?” I said, “No! We don’t want the wind whipping at our bees.” At that moment, I was happy we didn’t have small child with us that would force us to put our bees in the back of the truck. (Note: I know that sounds awful, but don’t judge. I really do love children, but at this moment I was focused on bees.) Based on my input, my husband set the nuc boxes in the backseat of the truck cab, and we began the trip home. After a few minutes, I saw a single bee fly out of the box. I wasn’t alarmed, but I felt Doug should be informed of this. The subsequent car ride took about 25 minutes, and the conversation inside went something like this:
Doug: “Where is the bee?”
Me: “On the back window. No big deal……..Wait some more are coming out. Don’t worry. I will watch the bees. You drive.”
A few minutes pass.
Doug: “How many are there now?”
Kathy: “A lot. They are staying in the back seat and going towards the window. Roll down the window so they will get out of the cab!” Doug complied with my request.
Doug: “There is one walking on my arm!”
Kathy: “Why don’t you pull over?”
Doug: “There is no good place to pull over!” I believe at this point there were muttered complaints about traffic, cars always being behind us, and probably something about the world’s overpopulation.
Kathy: “What do you want me to do???”
Doug: “We just need to get home as fast as we can!”
About half way into our fateful journey, which felt like hours but was really only a few minutes, Doug decided he no longer trusted me to watch the bees and to alert him when a bee might be headed towards the front of the cab. He began turning around to look at the bees while he was driving on the curvy backroads that lead to our house.
Kathy: “Keep your eyes on the road! It doesn’t matter how many bees get out if you crash! We will be dead and so will the bees.” I’m pretty sure Doug was not thrilled about this declaration, and it was at this point I decided to do some deep breathing and try to pull it together before the situation deteriorated further.
By the time we made it to the place where our hives are located, our nerves were shot and we had a pick up truck cab full of bees buzzing around our heads. We probably lost about 50 bees, but it felt like more. Here is the valuable lesson learned: If you are transporting bees inside your car or truck, take cheesecloth to wrap around the package so escaped bees don’t buzz around you while you drive.
The nucs we received consisted of 5 frames that contained brood, resources, bees, and a mated queen. Our hives are standard Langstroth hives with a hive body (aka deep super) that holds 10 frames. Because we are new beekeepers, our frames are new without drawn out comb. We installed the nucs according to the instructions given by our supplier. Five of our new frames were removed from the center of the hive body leaving one side with 2 new frames and one side with 3 new frames. The 5 frames that came from the nuc were placed in the center, and we closed up the hive. We installed a jar feeder with sugar water on the front of the hive. We later purchased a top feeder to avoid having to replenish the sugar water so frequently. This whole approach worked fine, but we would install the nuc differently next time. Bees like to work up, not out. We couldn’t seem to convince our bees to draw out comb on the 5 new frames on the outer portion of the hive body. The bees didn’t totally avoid those frames, but they didn’t seem to work as diligently. We had to add another hive body because the bees seemed to be convinced that they were out of room. They kept forming queen cells, and we were afraid that they might swarm.
Going forward if we install a nuc into a new hive, we would place the frames in an alternating pattern of new frame followed by nuc frame so that the nuc frames are evenly dispersed in the hive body. Hopefully this will help the bees see that they have the room they need and will get the bees to draw out more comb on the new frames before we need to add another hive body. One of the more experienced beekeepers in the social media group Doug follows suggested this approach. We would love to hear about your experiences with this approach. All comments are welcome!
I am happy to report that the two hives started from those two nucs are still going, and Doug recently split the strongest hive to get a third hive started. (More on that adventure in an upcoming post.)