Monday, 16 April 2012
Moving a Nucleus into a Hive
Last Thursday I brought my very first nucleus of honey bees to their new home. It was an exciting evening for me and I spent a bit of time watching and listening to them buzz near the nucleus entrance. As far as I know, there aren't any other hives in the immediate vicinity so I think they'll love their new territory. They'll have the allotment and glen to forage in for sweet nectar and powdery pollen and there are a couple of streams and rivers nearby as well.
After I left the bees that evening I waited two and a half days before going back up to move them into their permanent home. This is so that they are able to settle down and get to know the area a bit better before I uproot them from not only the landscape they know but the box they've been housed in all winter. But I can tell you that I worried constantly about them during that time and was thankful the days were calm and clear.
The first step to moving a nucleus to a hive was completed on Thursday: I placed the nucleus in the exact position that I've prepared for the hive. Honey bees have a strong sense of direction and can find their way home from as much as 1.5 miles away. However, their sense of direction is very precise and if they come back to their hive and it's been moved more than three feet away there's a chance they won't find it again. Chances are that they'd smell their hive and figure it out but I didn't want to risk it.
Now that they've flown around over the weekend and had a chance to familiarise themselves with Laxey it was time to move them from the nucleus into the hive. Donning my snazzy new beekeeper suit and firing up my smoker I lifted the nucleus down from where it was resting and placed it on the ground. Then I hefted the brood box of my hive, with it's fabulous new stand courtesy of my woodworking husband, into the same place the nucleus had been. Next it was time to puff smoke around the nucleus's entrance and to pull the lid off to transfer the frames inside.
You can read how to do it a dozen times but when it comes to doing something for the first time there's always something you might not be so sure about. Two things happened when I lifted the lid off my nucleus - first, I was surprised by just how many bees were in the hive. And second, I finally realised that the orientation of the frames was different to how they would sit in my brood box. Neither were a big deal and the first was actually a very good thing.
The two photos above show the nucleus and the brood box of my hive with the entrances of both on the far left side. In the nucleus the frames of comb are sitting parallel to the entrance and in the brood box they're sitting perpendicular. This is known as situating them cold (parallel) and warm (perpendicular) and either works fine - the positioning is simply down to the preferences of the beekeeper.
Since I wanted to have mine set 'Warm' I had to figure out how to place the three new frames I'd built over the weekend with the old frames that the bees were already living on. And then the biggest question of all is where to leave the empty space which is waiting for more frames - at the front or the back? In the end I left it in the back and am thankful that I did. After consulting with the lady who gave me the nucleus, I'm going back up tomorrow and will be filling that spare space with a plastic bag stuffed with newspaper. This will insulate the colony better and stop the bees from chewing up any paper that makes its way into their hive. As the bees fill up the new frames with comb, I'll continue adding frames until the brood box is full.
While moving the frames over I was happy to spot the Queen, who has been marked in red (see the top-most photo), and to see that she's laying eggs. There's even a bit of honey has been laid down though it will most likely be from the syrup they were fed last week. I'll feed them with more sugar syrup tomorrow when I go up and that should give them enough energy to continue their good work in the hive.
Lids back on both the nucleus and hive, I spent a few minutes just watching how the bees took to their new home. I was relieved that none tried to go back inside the nucleus and that after flying around for a bit the bees settled on the front of the hive in a cluster and began walking down and into the hive. My husband was also pleased to hear that the extra long landing board he built onto the stand was being used and it was fun watching the bees climb up it and into the entrance.
With reluctance I headed home, making sure to sweep all the bees off my suit before I got into the car. Not sure enough though since one unlucky bee made its way all the way home with me and managed to sting me right in the tender skin of my neck while I was reversing into the drive. Not a big deal though and I suppose that's my punishment for disturbing the hive too early on a Sunday morning ;)