Got honey bees. Now what?
The honey bee colonies we bought from Mesimestari are nucleus colonies (jaokepesä in Finnish). They are newly formed, small colonies that have been created by taking part of the bees from one or more existing larger colonies. Mesimestari runs about 1,000 hives, so they can rather easily create nucs in the early summer using some of their bees and adding bee queens that they get from Italy.
Our nuc hives contained an estimated 10,000 bees per hive, while an already established colony consists of several tens of thousands of bees.
Despite the smaller number of bees, the nuc hives they came with were starting to be quite crowded. We were advised to move our bees as soon as possible to larger hives so to give them room to grow.
The morning after transporting the bees to their new home, we set out to move them into the farrar type hive boxes we had previously acquired and prepared.
Once again, we did not really know what to expect. This was the first time we opened a bee hive. We started by lighting up the smoker. Surprisingly enough, this turned out to be the most difficult of the operations we would carry out that day. We had not saved on the equipment, getting a proper smoker and good smoking and combustion material. We followed the instructions given in the package, but for some unknown reason the fire would just not light up. It took quite a while and a bit of “more traditional” combustion material from the paper recycling bin and the forest to get the thing going.
Next, we put our overalls on and loaded a nice milk cart with hive boxes, lids and the rest of the equipment we were going to use.
We then started the moving operation for the first nuc hive, now called “number 1”. We used a bit of smoke to calm down the bees and set up the new hive starting with a box full of ready waxed, empty frames. We then proceeded with the most exciting part and moved the combs full of bees from the nuc hive to the higher box. Why there? The reason is that the lower box would be typically more difficult to keep at the right temperature for the bees, so putting the combs with young bees there would mean putting them at a risk of dying.
During this process we checked the combs, putting the ones with honey at the side of the box and the ones with young bees (eggs, larvas and pupas) at the center. Pretty soon after the start, Mikko spotted the queen bee. It was marked with a red dot on its back, both to make it more visible and as an indication that it was born in 2013. The whole operation was rather easy to perform and we did not find the bees to be too mad at us for messing up with their colony. Unfortunately I do not have photos of that moment, I guess I had something else to worry at that time ;-)
The following photo is from the time we started working on hive “number 2”.
We performed the same operation as for the first one, however this time we ended it quite concerned as we were not able to see the queen bee, nor we spotted too many combs with young bees. We anyway decided to close up the hive, hope for the best and come back after a few days to check whether the colony was having problems.
That was the end of our first real close encounter with our new bees. We felt it had been quite successful, despite the worry about the second hive.
We also took away the following learnings:
- given the small size of the colonies, we really used very little smoke. We thought it would have been quite enough to have a much smaller amount of combustion material.
- our bees behaved quite well during the move to a new hive. They flew around us a few times but we never felt like they would be attacking us.
- the frames we used fit a bit too loosely to the boxes. That made us wonder whether we should put 10 or 11 frames in each box. Since the 11th didn’t quite fit, we went with 10. I confirmed this later on by calling Mesimestari. Still, I found it strange that so much room was left at the sides of the box. Maybe there is some reason we do not know yet.
- Both colonies started to calm down quite rapidly after we had finished working on them and the resume process for normal operation was well ongoing when we left the place. (It takes about 1-2 days for a colony to go fully back to normal operation after it has been opened up).
We later on left the summer house quite happy with with having been able to cope with the first test as new beekeepers, and planning to come back in the following weekend to check on hive number 2.
A new home to 20,000 bees
Wednesday, June 26 2013 was a sunny and hot day in Southern Finland. It also happened to be the day we agreed we would pick up our bees from the seller.
I had a call with Mesimestari and agreed that we would be at their place around 9 p.m. that day. One might wonder why such a late hour. The reason is that beehives can/should be moved only once the bees have stopped flying for the day and have all come back to the hive to spend the night.
Once we got to the place we pretty soon realized we had arrived too early. We walked by the hives that were ready to be given to buyers and noticed that there was plenty of flying still going on.
We ended up waiting more than one hour for most of the bees to come home. Eventually, at around 10:15 p.m. we were able to lock our two new hives and load them into our car.
As you can see from the photo below, this year Mesimestari delivered the bees in hive boxes that are about half the size of a normal Farrar type hive. The bees can fit in such small boxes because these are newly created communities, were some bees have been taken from existing hives and put together with a new queen.
Once locked and well secured these hives can be easily put into the trunk of a car. In the photo below, the roof of the hives have been removed to allow for airflow during the transportation. The top of the hives are covered with some fine net to prevent the bees from getting out. You would not like that to happen while driving ;-)
We drove about 60 kilometres and at around 11:30 p.m. we arrived at our destination. In the following picture, you can see the hives placed at their new place. We used some wooden pallets as the base (I will have a separate post about our setup soon).
The final task to take care of was to put back the roofs on the top of the hives and open up the lock from the entrance so that the bees would be free to fly out the following morning.
We did not know exactly what kind of behaviour to expect from the bees, so for precaution, Mikko put on his newly bought beekeeper overall. We soon realized that was actually overkill. The bees were totally calm and inside their hive. Only few of them came out to the border of the entrance, to ventilate the hive. Here is a photo of Mikko saying good night to the bees.
When then called it a day and went to sleep. We had just moved about 20,000 bees to a new home. Our new experience as beekeepers had started for real.
(Thanks for reading! Make sure you come back for more. I will write next about how the following day we moved the bees to new Farrar boxes).
The beginning of my beekeeping career
Two years ago, while visiting my parents in Italy, I noticed that their neighbour there had just started a new hobby. He had installed a beehive in his backyard. It was a very nice little yellow house, and there were plenty of bees flying around in front of it.
I had been considering learning more about beekeeping for a while already - because of several reasons that I will cover in a later post - and seeing someone else doing it was quite an inspiration.
I had also “semi-jokingly” discussed with my in-laws about bringing some farming hobby to their summer house. After returning home from Italy, I started mentioning the idea of bringing a beehive to the summer house. We joked a lot about that, then one day my wife looked up for beginners courses on apiculture. It turned out that there were not that many available, but she found that the local association of beekeepers organised courses every now and then. We started following their webpages up until the registration for the next course came online.
In February this year I took part in a 4-day introductory beekeeping course. During two weekends, I learnt the basic of beekeeping. There is actually quite a lot to learn, believe me. I will write more about that too. I bought some materials and started thinking, will this happen for real. Can I really do this?
I found some support in my friend Mikko, who volunteered to participate in this new hobby. Towards the end of April, we visited Mesimestari with the rest of the training participants. It’s a local business, they have a huge number of beehives themselves, produce quite a bit of honey and run in parallel a bee farming equipment sales operation. At the end of the session, we booked 2 beehives, that would be delivered sometimes in mid-June.
We had about two months to get ready for our new “pets” to arrive. Before the bees arrive, you actually need to get all the basic “starting-kit” and make sure you have the place already selected for the beehives to be located. In fact, you should think of the place before you order the bees from someone.
We had the place ready and about a couple of weeks ago I went to purchase the equipment. Mikko and I (and my father in law Markku) spent some time last weekend putting together and painting the hives.
Here are some photos.
Tonight we are going to go and pick up our bees and we will bring them to their new home. We hope they will like it.
So why this blog?
I thought of sharing my experiences as a new beekeeper because I am sure there will be some interesting stories to tell and also because maybe this will help others who are also just starting or thinking of starting this hobby. For the name of the blog I took inspiration from my friend Hendrik Morkel and his site hikinginfinland.com.
As a beekeeper in Finland, the content here will definitely be affected by the environment, so I wanted to make sure that the name already will give readers a sense of what the site is about.
So make sure you suscribe if you want to follow along and hear how this goes. I have been told there is only one thing that is sure about beekeeping, and that is that nothing is for sure.