Yes, you read correctly. My husband and I briefly invited our bees into the house for approximately one week during a very brisk, or perhaps more aptly termed, frigid few weeks this past April. Before I explain our logic behind something that seems quite mad at the core, let me set the stage. My husband, Luke would help his Grandfather throughout his youth with various hives and the honey harvest, however due to age (Luke’s grandpa turned 95 this year), there hasn’t been a harvest in 10 years. Toward the end of summer last year, Luke and I tried in vain to help a swarm of wild bees to survive the winter that had taken up residence in one of the abandoned hives. You can see Luke hard at work in the images above, setting up the our first hive of the wild bees. The failed attempt was the jolt we need to officially get into the beekeeping hobby, as such we started immersing ourselves in reading whatever we could find from various helpful blogs and books.
Our foray into beekeeping began with our purchase of three pounds of both Italian and Carniolan bees, both originating from Northern California, with our bees arriving in ‘The Mitten’ in late March. As you can imagine, the weather in late March can be rather unpredictable in Michigan, and we were graced with temperatures that were just above freezing. The following tale, I’m sure will cause seasoned apiarists to shake their heads, but keep in mind these were our very first bee babies and dreaded the death of even one of our precious bees.
On the allotted day, I acquired our bees up from a local bee company, which included parking down a very muddy, dirt road on a blustery cold day. There is a very short window as to when you can pick up your bees, based on when the truck from California will deliver them, after which, there is another short window with which their food will last in the package before you place them in their hive. When my turn came to hand my receipt to the owner, he handed me my two packages of bees in a wooden and wire/mesh packages with the bees clearly visible and several marshmallows. Not wanting to appear the fool I felt, I confidently took the marshmallows despite not even beginning to remotely guess as to their purpose. You can see the two packages of bees above with each container holding approximately 12,000 bees. With the marshmallows tucked away, I’m sure I made quite the sight striding away with my bees held as far away from my body as I possibly could manage. My never ending, 45 minute car ride home was spent imagining all the ways my bees could escape and cause me bodily harm.
Ever wonder how bees become ‘packaged?’ You should look up the process but essentially they are vacuumed into the container. A new queen is assigned to the bees and placed in the package, however this queen needs to be isolated by wire mesh from the worker bees because they will likely attack her if allowed to, as they still are aligned with their previous queen. The bees slowly acclimate to this new queen during the shipping process, therefore when the package is opened and the bees ‘dumped’ in the new hive they have already accepted the new queen. The small, internal package containing the queen is removed, and prior to placing in the hive, the cork separating the worker bees from the queen is replaced with one of the marshmallows, or sometimes a hard candy. This process is an additional safety factor in case the bees have been slow to accept the queen. Over a series of days the worker bees eat through this treat to rescue their new queen. If the weather is cold, the bees will need to surround the small package containing the queen to keep her warm, and as such alive.
Due to the weather forecast being close to freezing for the next two weeks, Luke and I decided to set the hives up initially in his Grandfather’s insulated garage. Adding to our anxiety was a lack of reports on blogs or forums regarding other beekeepers going to similar extremes. The general consensus was that you can put the bees out in the cold and enough would survive till warmer weather to keep the hive going. To prepare the hives for their inside adventure we duct taped any potential cracks and put wire mesh in the openings, all the while, hoping and praying we weren’t going to permanently damage our bees. Upon adding the bees to their individual hives and our Italian bees thrived, with thousands of them packing into the food source, but alas, our Carniolan bees were falling on the other side of the spectrum. This hive seemed sluggish, with the bees hardly moving, therefore not paying attention to their queen and ignoring their food source. This second hive continued to decline until a few days later when Luke checked on our bees after work, the entire hive appeared dead, with no movement at all from the bulk, and the queen rolling around lifeless, still isolated in her little package. After a moment of panic, Luke opened the hive, turned on the heat in the garage, and subsequently set the queen next to the furnace. Approximately 20 minutes later, much to our surprise and delight, our frozen little queen started stirring. Upon weighing the available options, Luke packed up the hive into his little Honda Civic and brought our struggling hive home. Once established in our warm, cozy abode our bees slowly stirred from their cold induced slumber and found both the queen and their food. The food access point allowed us to easily peer into the depths of the hive, which lead to much excitement and entertainment from our perspective, especially as the bees became more active. Therein lies the tale of how we became the proud owners of bees and even kept them as house pets for almost a week! In the images above you can see our setup in the house, along side the view of the bees from the feeding tray. Buddy can even be glimpsed in the photo to the left, as he is impatiently waiting to be let back, as well you can see the snow covered ground. Once the outside temperature began to give over to spring, we moved all of our bees outside, in which they currently seem happy and healthy. We even had our first harvest two weeks ago using our Flow Hive frames. If you haven’t seen the videos that frequent social media of this awesome advancement in frames you can check out their website here. This weekend we plan on harvesting our traditional frames of honey. Following that process, I’ll post a comparison to the two harvest methods next week!