A few weeks ago Anthony and I were lucky enough to attend a hands-on beekeeping class. We have done some reading and attended some of our local beekeeping club meetings, but nothing beats doing things with your own two hands.
Rick Sallman taught this informal beekeeping class out of his home. He has over 30 years of experience with bees and it definitely shows. I first met Rick when I took an informational class at our local library and have since heard him speak at the beekeeper’s club meetings. He is extremely passionate about bees and is always forthcoming with different tidbits of information on what to expect and how to handle the bees in general.
We learned how to handle the equipment, got familiar with the terminology of all of the pieces and parts and put some pieces of our hives (or brood boxes) together.
We learned how to light our smokers and also learned a bit of common sense, but what I probably would not have thought about, and this was: don’t set your bees on fire with the smoker, but make sure it is a cool smoke. The practice of smoking the bees has been used (according to our reference book First Lessons in Beekeeping) since antiquity, to calm the bees. We will not be using it until our second trip out to the hives, when we are first checking on them after we put them in the brood boxes (or hive boxes).
The smoker that we bought is the larger of the two sold at our local supplier. We first lit some newspaper and dropped it into the smoker. Then we tossed in some old pine needles and puffed the bellows the entire time, adding more needles until we had a good smoke going. I was pretty excited about the fact that I now have some use for all of the pine needles we have all over our front yard.
The reason the smoker calms the bees is that it triggers a response in them to start feeding on honey. When they eat the honey, their stomachs get full, making it much more difficult for them to sting. The smoke also helps to disguise certain pheromones that are released by bees guarding the hive. The smoker will be used when we open the hives to inspect them. Or for entertainment purposes by Anthony. As are all things.
Rick showed us some of his equipment and combs that had previously had bees in them.
Rick also showed us how to put our bees in the brood boxes for the first time. They will come in this box and will also come with a queen. We will spray the bees with some water (to lessen the chances of them flying away) and basically pour them out of this box into the brood boxes. Then we will put the Queen in the box with them and close it up for a few days. Then – you guessed it – about five days later we will take the smoker out and check on them, to make sure the Queen is laying eggs and that the comb is being constructed properly.
One other very important thing we learned about was making “Bee Food”, or a spring mix for them when they are first getting started. Bee food is basically a mixture of sugar and water that will get them started their first few weeks. The sugar mix is in these buckets and will be placed over the box for them to feed on like so.
We spent some time learning about all of the parts and pieces of a hive, or brood box. I was a hot mess when I went to pick all of our equipment prior to the class. I had no idea what a foundation was, or why I had to be careful when handling it prior to installing it in the frames, amongst many other confusing things. This is a great, basic diagram of the Langstroth hive, the type of hive that we will be using.
We reviewed all of this equipment and then put most of it together.
And now, this is where we’re at.
We just need to finish painting the boxes and read everything else we can get our hands on. And wait until the end of April for the bees to arrive.