I ordered a 3 pound package of bees to replace my hive that died over this past winter. You can read about that here: http://czarofthewoodsfarm.blogspot.com/2011/03/bee-death.html Yep, I ordered the bees from an apiary in Ohio called Waldo Apiaries and they arrived via the United States Postal Service this past Thursday. While at work I received a call from the local post office to tell me that the bees had arrived. When I picked them up the postman said that he had never dealt with bees in the mail before. They come in a box with open sides and it was alive with ~ 3000-5000 Italian bees and one Russian Queen bee, hence Czarina. It seemed fitting that I went with a Russian queen bee since the farm is well, Czar of the Woods Farm. In reality though it was a practical choice because they are a little bit hardier which is good for our harsh winters.
So inside the box the queen is inside a tiny little chambers that is sealed off with sugar candy, which acts as food for her and the few helper bees that are put inside with her to tend to her needs, and then capped off with tiny corks. Keeping her separate ensures that the other bees will get to know that she is their queen and that she won't escape. The day before they didn't even know each other. By the time the box package is placed in the hive she will be well on her way to chewing herself out of the chamber (I did have to remove the one cork) and will be united with HER bees.
Sadly the weather on the day that the bees arrived was less than ideal for putting the package in the hive so they stayed in my cool dark basement until Saturday morning (Thursday was too windy and Friday was rain, both weather conditions do not make bees happy). While in the basement I had to feed them by spraying the box with sugar water. There is also a can of suger water that is built into the package to feed them. They seemed content but I was nervously watching them for fear of them dying. A 3# package of bees costs over $100 including shipping. Not cheap.
This past Saturday I opened up the hive which is located in the northeast corner of the property and removed 4 frames (that were heavy with honey and comb from the previous hive despite them dying off). I then had to open the box package and place the queen chamber (with the queen in it) on the bottom of the hive by itself. All the time the bees that are most likely a bit stir crazy at this point are beginning to pour out of a very small hole at the top of the package box. My anxiety level is very high as I don't want it to go wrong or lose any bees. The package fit perfectly and is thus made that way to be the exact width of the 4 frames that I removed. Now I would have to let the hive sit for 2 days to give them time make themselves at home and for them to accept their queen.
Two days put me to Monday morning but I did not want to rush things before work, they would have to wait until after work. When I opened the hive most of the bees had left the package and were in the hive itself. I was pretty stressed to find that the Queen had already chewed herself out of the chamber meaning that she was free in the hive. I did not want her to escape yet I couldn't slow down to take time to identify her, this is possible by the way, but rather I needed to get in and get out. Many bees were flying out of the hive as I worked and I feared losing them as well but they all seemed to be coming back or landing on my white bee suit. I was surprised to find that in a very short period of time the bees had begun creating comb in the empty space where the frames once were (the package box is in this space but only takes up 2/3 the depth and like I said fits exactly in the 4 frame width). This comb was suspended from the inside cover and is known as bur comb because it isn't organized on the frames. I had to smoke the bees off of this in order to remove it from the hive so that, once i pulled the box out that they came in, I could replace those 4 frames.
Smoking the bees keeps them workable and slightly sedate. I often wonder if it burns their eyes but it is a must when working with them. As I did this the bees went down into the hive and up along the 6 remaining frames. It appeared to be going well but I can't tell you how intense this was. I pulled the mostly empty package box out which they had already begun sealing into the hive with their bee "glue" know as propylus. It took a bit of effort to loosen and extract, all things leading to more intense anxiety. I removed all the rest of the bees from the package and got them into the hive. Once I was certain that most bees, as many as I could wrangle anyway, were safely in the hive I closed it up and I will not open it for one week. Still a bit worried that the queen might have escaped, but I'm pretty sure she didn't
Typically you have to out a hive top feeder on a new hive with very rich sugar water in it but since the hive frames are heavy with pre-existing honey they can live on this for a while. Once the weather stays nice they will be able to find plenty of food out in their 3 mile radius.
Phew! New bees have arrive at Czar of the Woods Farm....FINALLY! Thanks to Steve Mead, my beekeeping mentor, for his advice on installing a package of bees into a hive.