More Bees, Moving Bees
Last Tuesday, I picked up five more nucs (pronounced “nooks”) of bees. They are small hives, with four frames of bees, including a queen. Over the last two days, I installed them in their permanent homes. In temperatures well over 90 degrees F. The bees didn’t mind, but I did! The first four, I did without a jacket and veil on. It was just too hot, and the bees were calm and had good temperament. I planned to do all five, but discovered that I was short on equipment, because some of my spare deeps had been taken over by a swarm! Hurray! Free bees! But it meant I couldn’t hive nuc number five without getting another bottom board and cover.
I also needed to move four hives from another part of the farm to this new apiary. The ideal way to move hives is to visit the yard at dusk or later the day before, and close up the hives with screen, so that the bees can ventilate the hive, but the workers won’t leave to forage the next day. Then you come the next day, staple or ratchet strap together the hives, heave them onto a truck (using a forklift, a tailgate lift, or two or more people), move them to the new location, and open them up. If you have moved less than three miles, the foragers may return to the old spot, so you’re supposed to “force” them to reorient to the new spot by putting sticks across the fronts of the hives.
That’s for people who have trucks and extra help, and, therefore, can plan these things. After a morning of installing nucs in the new Alpine apiary, the farm owner offered me a truck to move the four hives from the old site to the new. But she had to return the truck to another farm by evening, so it was now or never. The offer was too good to pass up. I had lunch, ran a few errands, got my ratchet straps, and returned, with husband and child in tow. I knew he wouldn’t be able to help much, since watching our daughter was the priority, but I like getting her used to the bee yard, to farms, to nature, and all the rest.
So here is how it went, in this less than ideal move: The temperature was 90 degrees. I put on my jacket and veil, and immediately started sweating. I had no choice, though, because as soon as I started, bees were everywhere. They were in a good enough mood, but there were a lot of them. First, I put down a ratchet strap on the truck bed, tossed a bottom board onto it, then took a second bottom board, and put it next to the first hive to be moved. I pulled off the top deep, cover and all, and put it on the bottom board. Then I heaved the second deep over to the truck, and put it on the bottom board on the truck bed. The top deep from the hive was carried over and put on the truck bed. I climbed up onto the truck, lifted the second deep onto the first, strapped it all together, and the shoved it toward the cab, since we would mostly be going downhill, and it was easiest to brace them against the cab.
I repeated that exercise for all four hives, smoking them as needed, but in short order, there were plenty of bees in the air, as returning foragers realized their homes were missing. I’d like to think that some found their homes in the truck, but I’m sure I lost most.
Once all the hives were on the truck, I also added the extra equipment from the winter’s deadouts, and we rolled down the hill, Mom, Dad, and almost-4-year-old in a big farm truck with lots of confused bees in the back.
Because this was a big farm truck, I’m not sure that extra muscle would have helped much. I can’t see even two of us heaving a strapped or stapled hive onto the truck bed–these hives weigh 125 or more pounds, after all, and don’t have very good handholds. I’m sure experienced, commercial beekeepers always have tailgate lifts and such, but that was not an option for us.
We drove to the new spot (which ought to be at least 3 miles away, else the forager bees will return to their old home–but hell, I’d already lost the foragers, so it hardly mattered). This new spot is about a mile as the bee flies, but on the same farm. It’s a great spot. It’s part way up the side of the valley, in front of 5 acres of clover and recently planted organic berries. The field will be for organic alfalfa later. I can drive right up to the hives, which are on a concrete slab that used to house a single-wide.
The concrete slab means no worries about leveling them, or the ground heaving with winter frost, or tilting with the weight of honey-laden hives. Of course, it’s also in the open, with no shade, and hotter–something that’s actually good for the bees, but less pleasant for the beekeeper.
Dad and daughter played in the woods nearby. I heard a ruckus a few times–she apparently got stung by a bee that flew under her skirt, and she tangled with the wild roses a few times. But she enjoyed picking flowers in the meadow and walking through the nearby woods with Dad.
By the time I got all four hives off the truck and in place, one deep at a time, I was pretty well done. And there was still one nuc left to hive. We’d been at it for 4 hours, and while on a 75 or 80 degree, I would have been fine, it was over 90 in the sun, and I was wearing a full jacket. I had brought one meagre litre of water to drink (what was I thinking? I should have brought 3!), and was exhausted, flushed, and on the verge of overheating. So I left the nuc until the next day.
Of course, I wasn’t the only one who was exhausted by our beekeeping adventures.
I returned today, with 2 litres of water and renewed vigor, and hived the last nuc, repositioned the hives so that they are in untidy rows (the better for the bees to identify their own homes), with hives well spread apart, and facing outward. That way, I can walk down the center of the concrete slab, with the hive entrances pointed away from me. I have a total of 11 hives, including the serendipitous swarm, at this apiary.