Oh my, how things have changed for me and my perspective of beekeeping! Our first year was a panic, but now it's a fun chore that I look forward to in spring. I can almost do it without the guide, but I like to consult it before we put in our bees to ensure that we have all of our equipment ready.
Our spring beekeeping plan has changed several times for this year, in part because of a company called Long Creek Apiaries who we ordered Russian Bees from last year and still have yet to see them. I intended to write a blog outlining our difficulties with the company but instead will sum it up to this: Be wary of a company that takes money before before shipping your bees. I don't think Long Creek is a malicious company, but rather a man in Tennessee who over promises and under delivers...and when he is in way over his head and does not have the money to issue the requested refunds, he chooses to not pick up his phone and instead ignore voice mail and email . When he happens to have a period of being flush, he will issue a refund to those threatening legal action via the postal service, better business bureau or lawyer.
BeeSource.com is an excellent resource for new beekeepers and after some digging, I found a forum about Long Creek Apiaries and people who got their bees were happy (although they usually the bees a year after ordering them), but the many people like us who did not get their bees were irritated that he didn't issue refunds promptly and cut off communication. Each year he seems to use weather as an excuse. This year's excuse was the unusually cold spring, which Weather Underground seemed to disagree with once we typed in his location and brought up this spring's weather history. Lorraine ended up making Long Creek an offer they couldn't refuse and we got our refund this week--more than a year after we placed our initial order. So, I will type it again: Be wary of a company that takes money before before shipping your bees.
A good bee supplier will communicate with you if there are issues with the order--like weather is causing it to run late--but you shouldn't have to chase a person down and threaten legal action to find out where the bees you were promised and paid for have gone. I was worried we wouldn't get any bees this year, but Lorraine managed to track down someone who had some Italians and Carniolans to spare and we installed 2 of each this week. Above is a package of Italain bees in the box, waiting to be installed.
One of the boxes did have a breech in security--a hole in the screen allowed some of our Carniolans to escape and poor Hans the Groundskeeper was stung before we did anything major to the box. So much for bees being docile when they are in swarming mode without a home.
The surprise bonus this year is that our queens came marked with a blue dot. This is a service some bee suppliers will offer. They put a little dot of paint on her back to make her easier to find in the hive when you do inspections. Above is our marked Carniolan queen (Carniolans tend to be darker bees--some are black). We had hoped to get Russian bees this year because they are supposed to be the "latest thing" in beekeeping: mite resistant and they over-winter well. We've had Italians and they're supposed to be "friendlier" bees. Carniolans are kind of all over the board. Some beekeepers say that they are friendlier, some say they are meaner, some say they make great propolis. I don't know but I think black bees look cool and since Mr. Neil likes to wear all black, these bees seem to be perfect for him. We apparently had Carniolans our first year. We had ordered Minnesota Hygeneinic Italian bees but the queens were black as night and many a beekeeper said they were Carnies when they saw my photos.
Here's the Carniolan queen after I released her into the hive and was surrounded by workers--see how dark she is? Even her workers are a little darker. Looks like she'll be a cinch to find this summer, although I'm not so sure how long that will last. The blue paint can get chipped off after awhile and right now, we don't have that many bees. What will happen when there are thousands more?
Here's one of our Italian queens (note how pretty Italian bees are with that golden color) with a blue dot after I released her and she joined her workers. Now check this out:
She's crawling in, I can barely make her out...
...and there, she's gone. She's in this this photo but completely absorbed by the workers--like a Borg. So, even with a blue dot, a queen can be hard to find. I asked how beekeepers learn to mark queens and I was told that first you practice with drones because they are bigger and won't sting you. Then you practice with a smaller worker and if you can mark her without being stung or killing her, you might be ready to mark your own queen.
I'm looking forward to this bee season. I'm curious to see how it goes now having eight hives--all four from last year survived the winter and we just added four more! We'd still like to try Russians some day, but Hans mentioned that if all of the hives this year continue to survive and we want to add a ninth or tenth next year, we may have to widen our bear resistant electric fence. We did install one beehive in Mr. Neil's yard. I'm not sure how I feel about this one. I like the idea of bees close by the house but I see the potential for unexpected shenanigans with someone happening on the hive unexpectedly. A good test will be this weekend when we do our biannual bird banding.