Bees are all the buzz these days.
Last Thursday, I started a hive on my property in the Steuben County lakes area.
I attended a day-long workshop this spring, in which I learned a lot about bees and how they live. In that workshop, I built my first sub, or box, with 10 screens inside. I learned a little about carpentry that day, specifically that I would much rather let someone else build my bee hives.
After the meeting, I took my box — and throbbing finger with its hammer-induced blood blister — home, where I later painted it white. I purchased a white space suit with protective mask and a pair of white gloves to match.
My friend, Bill, built a stand for the hive, to get it off the ground and because I was worried about the ants finding it. I was going to call this property Bluebird Hill, but I may just call it The Ant Hill. The ants were here before me, and I try to live in peace with them, but I really don’t want them to get into my bees’ honey.
The honey belongs to the bees. The little box I put them in is not even enough for them to survive during the winter; I have to add one more box of 10 screens for that. If the bees can create a healthy comb system through the two boxes, I can put another box on top of them, and from there, I could harvest my own honey.
I did not get into bees for the honey. I got into bees for bees. Much has been reported about the honeybee population decline, and how it could affect fruit and vegetable crops. I would like the people of the next generation, and the one after that, to bite into a crisp, juicy apple. I would like them to enjoy a huge, red strawberry. I hope that in the next century the world is as colorful and delicious as it is now.
I am not the only one. The Northeastern Indiana Beekeepers Association membership has grown substantially over the past several years. The workshop I attended at Classic Cafe in Fort Wayne drew around 100 people of all ages from throughout the region.
When I went to pick up my bees on Thursday in rural Ossian at Wheeler’s Bees, there was a steady stream of clientele arriving to get their buzzing boxes, fresh from Georgia. James Wheeler had a laundry list of names, each paying $93 for 3 pounds of bees.
Wheeler’s Bees, also Buskirk Engineering, was truly abuzz on Thursday. A few random honeybees circulated through the office area, where Wheeler’s children played and chatted with customers. The children could demonstrate how to use a smoker and explain that the puffs of smoke calm the bees, making it easier to work around the hive.
I had planned to put the bees in the trunk of the car but Wheeler said they need air, so they rode on the back seat. A few of them got out, but clung to the screened side of the box, drawn to the queen inside.
The queen is shipped inside her own, small separate box placed inside the larger box. When I got home, I opened the box and could have pulled a cord to lift her right out. But, it dropped down into the mass of writhing insects.
I used my hive tool to gently fish her box from the melee, then removed the cork from one end to pierce a hole through a sugar cube between the queen and the tiny exit.
The bees in the box are liberally sprayed with 1:1 sugar water then just dumped into the box. I was told they would march right in after the queen.
They fell onto the hive in a sticky mass. With the hive tool, I carefully pushed the little bugs between the slats. When I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to squash anybody, I put the lid on.
A week later, the bees are still there and seem busy working inside. At the suggestion of my mentor, Mike, I got a sugar water feeder. It’s either not the right size or I can’t figure out how to afix it properly, so I just put it on top.
I am not sure if the bees have found it yet, but the ants did. Terry Dalrymple, Steuben County’s godfather of honeybees, suggested that I put the legs of the stand in cans of cooking oil, which the ants will not cross. I had logistical problems with that, so I set the hive out with fingers crossed.
The ants found it in two days. After some time with YouTube, I decided to try spreading cinnamon on the stand around the hive and onto the legs of the stand. Ants supposedly do not cross cinnamon, and it seemed to be working, but when I put the sugar water on top the ants found their way to it. The feeder is now surrounded by a moat of cinnamon. We will see how that works.
Next, I need to learn about nucs, already established hives that can be placed near a new hive. I also will be watching for bee borer beetles. Later this year, I will de-mite the bees, which I am a little foggy on.
I want to thank Bill, Mike, Terry and others in NEIBA for helping me get started.
Bees exist in a balanced colony with a queen, drones to feed her and workers to find nectar. Beekeepers exist in a community, where they share and support one another.
I am excited about being a part of that community.
Amy Oberlin is the news editor for The Herald Republican and editor of KPC Media Group’s weekly Outdoor Page.