Adventures in Beekeeping: Year Two Begins

If all of the sink drama occurring two weeks ago wasn’t enough, in the middle of all of that (and a week after I expected them) my two new packages of bees came in.



(This requires excessive exclamation points.)

By “came in” I mean “arrived at a farm 60 miles north of mine where I then had to pick them up and then spend an hour in the car with 30,000 back-seat drivers.”


That’s what that sounds like, by the way.

Just a quick little recap on my bee adventures last year and over the winter… in May of 2015 I got 2 packages of bees like this and set up 2 brand new hives. (Uh, and also got stung in the jugular. That was fun.)  

From those hives I got 20+ squares of cut-comb honeyimage

And three gallons of jarred honey


Of which I used a half-gallon to make mead


And I also got to spend a year being utterly fascinated by bees.

Then, over the winter I lost one of my hives.

So I had one hive left, and decided to add two new hives the traditional way this year. (I’m also hoping to either split one OR catch a swarm this year to replace the hive I lost over the winter, but that’s a story for another time.)

Here are a few things I (try to) keep in mind when it comes to installing new packages of bees:

  • Since I’m installing 2 packages right next to each other, I like to install them 24 hours apart (because apparently the bees can “drift” into one hive in all the confusion and you can end up with a weak hive.) The 24 hours gives the first hive time to establish their territory.
  • Bees are more likely to stay near the hive and settle down quickly if you install them in the evening
  • Weather above 50 degrees (I’ve heard some light rain is okay, but in light of my recent experience I’d question that a bit

So, okay, the bees showed up late, which means they showed up during the one week a year everybody in my company gets together for two days for our big, annual all-company meeting. Since that meant I would barely be at the farm for 48-ish hours, the timing for getting the bees into the hives became critical.

The first hive went in Monday night…



I learned a lot from last year’s mistakes. Mostly that I should spray the bees with a little sugar water, shake as many into the hive as possible (instead of worrying about getting every single bee in there), and, of course, make sure the queen cage is properly set (with a mini marshmallow in the entrance so they can “release” her).


That’s what a queen cage looks like (but she’s already out of it in that pic, I was just removing it from the hive.) She’s kept separate from the rest of the bees initially so they don’t kill her, since the queen and all the workers in a package are from different hives. However, some time spent in close proximity and the fact that they release her from the cage by eating the marshmallow covering the opening make them more accepting of the new queen. So far–fingers crossed–I haven’t had any issue with that, but in another week I’ll check the hives for “evidence of the queen” (i.e. larvae in the brood cells) just to make sure we’re good.

So here’s why my story takes a not-so-great turn. What worked really well for Hive 1– getting most of the bees in the hive, and letting the rest find their way in later– was actually disastrous for Hive 2.

I did the same thing with them Tuesday night– got most of them in the hive, and left the rest out in the box next to the entrance to find their way in later. Now, with the first hive I put in, even though it was later in the evening, it was a warm night and in the morning any bees that hadn’t made their way into the hive got warmed up by the morning sun, started flying around, and eventually made their way in to the new queen.

What I didn’t realize with the second hive– and this was a rookie mistake– was that Wednesday was going to be significantly colder and they where predicting “showers” all day, which actually meant “downpours.” So I put most of the bees in Tuesday night and figured the rest would go in Wednesday morning. Except I didn’t check them until about 2 minutes before I had to leave my house for that big work meeting, and I noticed a fairly sizable cluster of bees still in the box.

I briefly considered putting my bee suit on and shaking them into the hive (which, let’s be honest, is 30 minutes minimum) but I looked quickly at the forecast and decided if I could leave my meeting early and get home before the sun went down, I could get them into the hive before dark.

So, I did get to work on time–which is a fairly important thing if you want to be a responsible adult who can make her tractor payments every month– but as far as the bees went, that was a bad call. By the time I got home…


That’s a cluster of dead bees.

I hate looking at that picture, and I can’t even express how horrible I felt about the fact that it happened. If I had just been a little more planful, or checked my hives a half hour earlier that morning, or had a better understanding of the weather that week… well. There are always a lot of what-ifs when you feel like you’ve seriously effed up. Which I did.

This is the hardest part about being the sole caretaker of a farm… sometimes you mess up, and then you have to make decisions about your priorities. That day work took precedence and I’m not mad about that, I love my job. The company I work for and the people I work deserve my attention (and timely attendance) despite things that are happening on the farm, and, honestly, I’m so lucky that on almost every day of the year I don’t have to make those decisions because I can flex my work schedule when I need to.

It just so happens that on this day I was overconfident, didn’t plan as well as I should have, and there were consequences. I feel like shit about it (I was a wreck for a solid two days after that, but I only cried about it in my car where no one had to witness that shit because, listen, we’re all allowed a little breakdown now and again, but by god my coworkers don’t need to see me ugly-cry over bees) and, by the good graces of the universe, Hive 2 survived a few cold days and seems to be doing well two weeks later.


I’ll be keeping an eye on it though.

Next up will be adding new frames to the second boxes of these hives and adding more space to my Year 1 Hive. And, while that didn’t go exactly as planned, I’m still super excited and grateful to have more bees on the farm this year. Laying under the blossoming trees and hearing the bees collecting pollen has been one of my greatest joys this spring…


(If you look closely, you’ll see them!)

9 Responses

  1. Oh you poor thing! And those poor bees. I feel your pain. What a sad story and picture. (It doesn’t help that I anthropomorphize bees.)

    My husband is an apiculturist and all four of his hives died over the winter. And this year he isn’t buying any new bee packages. I have sorely missed hearing and seeing them buzz in the blossoms of our linden and plum trees this year.

    Bees are such a mysterious and glorious thing.

  2. Hi Kit,
    Hope all is well with the bees and their new Queens. I think you may be able to remove some of the frames ion the super and drop the open bee transporter unit into the hive and let them make their own way out.
    We managed to get three hives through the winter south of Vancouver Canada but removed two queens as they were only laying drones.
    Combined the weak with a hive and then took brood, larvae and eggs etc to give the third hive a chance to make their own Queen.
    Perhaps too early in the year as they were not successful. Added brood again to give them upcoming young bees and bought a new Queen. She was laying but we had to go to Austrtalia for two weeks.
    Will be home Saturday so hoping she is successful.
    Keep on Beeing – regards as always Janine

  3. I feel you. I have had my own ugly cries over bad beekeeping skills and the resulting bee mortality. I’m starting year 5. The good news is that once in a while I make a really good call based on instinct and growing experience. And it’s worth it all [including the ping to the cheekbone last week] just to watch them falling all over themselves bringing in the pollen and to hear that sound. I love having bees.

  4. Agree with above. With new packages put a second box on top without frames. Take out feed, place queen cage between frames, leave transport box on top of frames and put top on second empty box. Come back a few days later and if there are still a few bees in transport, place in front and collect the next day. No shaking needed. I don’t wear a bee suit either when dealing with new packages.

    You can also reduce the entrance and that will minimize the drift. Not really a big deal with new packages.

    1. Thanks Conor! (I do put an entrance reducer on the first hive I put in so they can better defend their area, at the advice of the beekeeper I get my bees from.)

  5. I was so scared of honey bees from my childhood. You have made me realized that there is nothing to get scared of them you just need to know the right way to deal with them. It is also adventurous but is it really because I don’t want to try something like this in my whole life.

  6. Wow! Beekeeping sure sounds exciting and rewarding at the same time. Hoping to read more about your adventures in the future! 🙂

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