By Amanda West
The day finally came when I received my very own bees: a ‘nucleus’ of bees, which is a small hive of a queen bee and her workers and drones, already set up house on five frames, ready to move into their new digs. It’s the best way to get bees as their house and their children and food, comes with them on the frames they’ve built their life on, so there is no starting over. For a beginning beekeeper such as myself, it provides the best chance for the bees survival against my inexperience. They come with five frames in a box, like a bankers box, with little screens at the bottom for air ventilation. The box is well taped shut.
However, I got the bees in DC, and my hive (or bee yard, as it is properly called) is now in West Virginia, all spruced up and ready for a move-in. That necessitated me transporting them in my little car on a road trip out there. My bee teacher assured me that they would be fine on the short three hour journey, and that they are tightly wrapped up in their transport box. “And,” he added to assure me, “if any escape, they just crawl up the windows.” Great.
I was more than a bit nervous to take the trip, but knew it had to be done. As I picked the bees up, I couldn’t believe how heavy that little box was. It probably contained 5,000 to 8,000 bees. It literally thrummed and vibrated when I carried it to my car. I could feel the warmth of the bees through the cardboard box. A construction worker working on a house in the neighborhood offered to carry it for me when he saw me struggling down the sidewalk with its weight, but I declined on his behalf, as I didn’t want to scare the guy if he realized what it was he was carrying.
So in they went into the hatchback area of my Mini cooper. And away we went to West Virginia, me constantly looking at the back window for bees. In short, the trip went well, with no escapees crawling up the windows.
Upon arrival, it was a muggy, overcast day that threatened rain so I knew I had to get the bees into their new home as soon as possible. I got into my full beekeeper gear for the first time: a tyvek painters suit as a cheap alternative to the proper beekeeper’s whites, a bright pair of pink rubber kitchen gloves with tight fitting sleeves, my trusty veil and an old hat to keep it on my head. I lit my smoker and felt official.
With my brother as my assistant and photographer who stood further and further away as I progressed, I smoked the box and opened it. It was densely packed with thousands of bees. I pried up my first frame, covered with bees, and slotted it into the new hive box, clean, yellow and new-wood fresh. I alternated bee covered frames with brand new frames to give them room to spread out in their new abode. As I closed up the hive, there were still thousands inside the transport box’s cardboard walls, and I placed this close to the hive entrance, hoping they’d find their way inside. The same was true for the lid.
As I wasn’t going to be back for a while and knew they’d need food to to get themselves established while they are looking for local food sources, I put two external feeders of sugar water on the front, and a pan with a gallon of sugar water in a bag on top, to be sure they had enough. The two external feeders at the entrance also served to reduce the entrance size and encourage the bees to stay inside for a bit.
About an hour later it rained heavily, which I knew would keep them inside but wanted to check on them. Most had found their way inside, however there were some last stragglers on the lid of the box that had not, choosing instead to cluster in a survival-we’re-freezing-to-death-let’s-stick-together-ball on the lid. I eventually dumped these slow pokes on top of the hive near the entrance so they’d be forced to mosey down to the entrance.
The bright yellow hive is a beacon on top of a hill in the field grown for hay. Its color should help the bees find their way back in this simple landscape. I’m actually more concerned for their finding new food sources than their getting lost: their posh Georgetown, DC home neighborhood provided them with an abundance of gardens that had a multitude and diversity of flowers and flowering trees within blocks of their home. The West Virginia countryside does not. The irony is, in country and rural areas, there is actually less food for them, fewer nectar-producing flowers, unless you have an orchard nearby.
So, I’ll be holding my breath as my little ladies adjust to their new more spartan lifestyle, where food isn’t just around the corner and work is harder to come by. (Sort of like all life in West Virginia.) I’m hoping they’ll do what all West Virginians do: make do, be creative to carve out a living. I hope they find the honeysuckle along the road, the sparse wild clover that grows in the pastures, the trees in the nearby woods when they bloom, and West Virginia’s humble wildflowers that dot the landscape.