Hey everyone, Erin here. Hope you are ready to hear the buzz (so funny) about my personal favorite aspect of this endeavor: the honey bees! With the gentle guidance of a friend about a year ago, and the cultivation of this adventure, I have found myself in the role of a beekeeper, and I could not be(e) happier about it. Honey Bees are beautiful little buzzers that are gentle but also protective of their leading lady, and below you will find the steps we followed to get our hives started.
When we started this project, it was very clear that the pollinators should be closely involved. They are of course not only important to our everyday lives, but also a crucial part of the sustainability movement and the message that we are trying to send. Back in January we ordered 6 pounds of Honey Bees from Hansen Honey Farms, in Rhinelander, WI. We knew we wanted two hives so two Carniolan Queens were ordered as well. Then I waited through what seemed like the longest, coldest winter ever for May to come, bees don't need the ground to be dry, like our greenhouse.
Ben and I made the 4 hour trip from our farm in Forest Lake to Rhinelander to pick up 20,000 + 2 bees!! It had already been a long day when we arrived, and not even close to over. I was on the verge of tears when we picked up the bees because I was so excited. I also scared the woman who was in charge a little. Regardless, the bees were finally with me! We had to take pictures of them, obviously. And we also stopped at the Rhinelander Hodag (read up if you don't know what that is) to have a little photo shoot as well. Ben and I then started the long drive back to Minnesota.
By the time we got back, it was dark, and almost midnight, which is not the most ideal set of conditions for hiving bees...but they needed to be fed, and out of their stressful living situation. (see tiny cages.) We got the materials we needed, mixed the sugar syrup for a food source and started the hiving process. The hives were built by Ben, and can be seen in the photos below and in other photos in the gallery (check out the gallery if you haven't already, it's super cool.). We used a Warre Hive plan, for simplicity, but also to provide the most natural habitat we could for the bees. It allows them the most space, and freedom to craft the hive in a way that makes sense for them, rather than us. Even though the plan is to eventually collect the honey to brew beer with and sell (and also eat on toast), the bees are acting as pollinators. In order to provide the ecological services they do, we felt it would be best to allow them the most freedom possible, even if that means a little more work down the road for us.
The first step was to remove the can of food (now empty) from the first cage, and slide the queen cage out from the top of the box. The queen is kept separate from the drones and workers during transportation because the other bees actually want to kill her... Harsh. The reason being that the workers and drones are used to another queen, with a different scent. The old queen is the bees main priority, and this new queen smells a lot like trouble to them. So, thinking they are still under reign of the old queen, they want to attack the new queen. After I removed the queen, I placed a plug of sugar and water paste into the hole (previously filled with cork). The bees eat through this over the course of a few days, allowing them to acclimate to her smell, and get friendly.
The next part is the best part- dumping the bees, like a liquid, from the cage into the hive. It's as cool and terrifying as it sounds. Really. Once they are in the hive, the top bars are replaced, and the queen is dangled down from the bars to be released. I put the hive back together, and then repeated the process for the other set of bees. It's essentially the most badass I've ever felt.
Between Ben and I, we got 11 stings, mostly on our hands. This was painful, but worth it. I'll be checking in on them pretty regularly after this first week to make sure they have enough food, and planting more pollen/nectar sources as the summer goes on, so be sure to check in for those soon.
Until then, hope you are all well, and stay in touch!