Avoiding Shaken Bee Syndrome

New Bee Package

See the happy beekeeper with her new package of bees (Thank you, Walt Wielbicki, for capturing the excitement in this photo!)

[or How to Completely Botch a Relatively Simple Bee Installation By Making Things WAAY More Complicated than Need Be (bee) (and 1 long video and 3 short ones to show you exactly it’s done!)]

Ok. Does anyone else out there see the utter impossibility of shaking 15,000 bees through a small hole in the center of a box DOWN into another box without them all just flying UP into your face??? Come ON! Who came up with this plan? This has got to be akin to getting a guitar pick out of the hole in your guitar – only now lets just try it with a ball of bees!

And from the perspective of the little creatures we are trying to protect and save: what can it possibly be like to be caged in a small wire-mesh enclosure, stacked among a hundred similar boxes in a concentration camp of others of your kind (family members who knows where), jostled about for hours on end while being transported to unknown places and climates, eventually put in a dark box where you remain for a couple of days in a quiet, cold, space…waiting…waiting, hovering together to keep each other warm, then brought out into the blinding sunlight, repeatedly sprayed with a wet sticky substance by some gargantuan creature (covered with a soft, sensitive epidermis, I might add), pounded on the ground with such violence that everyone falls in a heap on the floor, then tipped upside down and shaken shaken shaken through a small hole into a larger cavernous box (wait – could it possibly serve as a hive?) – and during all this, all you can think is, “God, Save the Queen!!!” or maybe, “Air! Fresh Air! Give me Air!” or maybe, “Aggghhh! The Sun is Freakin’ BRIGHT!” or maybe, “Where the heck are we???”  If this sounds to you like Amplified Pandemonium, you would be right.

There has to be a gentler way.

In my attempt to avoid what I call “Shaken Bee Syndrome,” I managed to completely botch this bee installation. In fact, I still feel shaken just thinking about it. Such are most great learning experiences. Now I better understand why beekeepers do things the way they do and have done for quite some time (because it works!), although I still feel there must be a better way. I invite you to watch the video and benefit from (or laugh at) my ordeal and that of our bee-brethren. In fact, I made 4 videos documenting this extraordinary experience.

Initial Explanatory Notes & a Few Minor Discrepancies

  1. Ok, this was my first video with this camera, and I cut off my head throughout most of it. That’s ok – my head is not the important part anyway – but it wasn’t quite the “professional” look I was trying to achieve. Once the bees were out, it’s not like I was going to convince them to go back in for a do-over!
  2. It was not April 16 – it was the 15th – not that it matters which day Exactly. I lose track of days. A lot, it seems.
  3. Not my 3rd package – only the 2nd. However, it WAS the 3rd time I installed bees, the 2nd being the little swarm we captured last summer (which is still doing very well!)
  4. The bees from the swarm hive were everywhere partly because of the sunny day and partly because the camera was on a tripod right next to their hive. Lots of dancing going on as they were checking out this large object.
  5. When I talk about “taking apart the hive,” I really meant taking apart the box or package.

The Edits (or What You Missed):

  1. I think it’s important to move slowly around the bees; however, turtle speed does not make good video. I cut out over half of the video of me taking my time, fumbling around, being clumsy, or otherwise just plain screwing up, knowing it wasn’t thrilling material for watching; hence, the video is a bit jerky at times as we jump ahead in a time warp.
  2. Since I have this habit of what my husband calls “providing a running commentary,” there was a lot I couldn’t cut out, because the thoughts are part of the process. Those of us with strong inner monologues recognize that talking through a task helps us stay focused and increases perception capabilities. This is a proven scientific fact. Just sayin’.
  3. Some things I edited out are still worth noting because they affect the smoothness of the bee installation, which is important for the sanity of your bees (and quite possibly your own, too). For example:
    1. Knocking over syrup bottles, the bucket of supplies, and other items might indicate there are too many objects around the hive.
    2. “Dressing for success” based on your comfort level increases confidence in working around the bees (watching me get dressed, not so much). And speaking of dress code, what is that on the bee hat? Truthfully, mold. It was up against something it shouldn’t have been up against. Like a pumpkin that did not make it through winter storage. Ah well. A new bee hat only stays new so long.
    3. Parts of the video that recorded my dealing with certain difficulties were minimized; however, it’s good to know that some tasks might take a little longer than expected. For example, getting the feeder can out – hard to get a grip on that thing and I thought it might drop into the box! Figuring out what to DO with the feeder can while it was still covered with bees (it’s good to have a plan). Getting the cork out – not to worry – I had my finger over the hole; not sure where the cork fell – it was the least of my worries. Trying to find the Queen in her cage – I mean, those bees on the outside were not willing to be lightly brushed off! Trying to hang the cage where it wouldn’t be in the way of the top bars (keeping in mind that in a couple of days, you have to get back in there and be able to remove it) (fortunately, if it drops into the hive, you can just lift up the box and pick it up off the top bars on the 2nd floor).
  4. Things I could not put in: my head, for one.

Note:  I don’t take the bees out of hiding until about 6 minutes into the clip, so if you want to skip the intro and explanation of the setup, feel free to do so.

And now on to Video 1:

Evaluation of This Supreme Learning Experience:

Things to Think About / Learn:

  1. The debate on what and what not to wear. The nitrile gloves were a little easier to use than my previous too-large rubber gloves, but they were extremely sweaty and difficult to get off. I am hoping I will eventually gain confidence to do this bare-handed.
  2. Some may question my feeder jar set up. I will do a more detailed blogpost at another time, but I found the screen necessary to keep the bees from building inside the feeder box. Nylon mesh (found in craft stores) is more flexible, but I will probably go back to a wire mesh on the next one.
  3. I was reluctant to spray the bee package with the sugar syrup; I have watched videos where people seem to almost drown their bees! However, I have been told by more experienced beekeepers than myself that the sugar syrup does two things: 1) it keeps them preoccupied with cleaning up while the other stuff is going on, and 2) it weighs them down a bit so they are less likely to fly. Not much is needed, but probably a little more than I applied would have been helpful. All those bees flying around wondering where to go was a problem! (or so I thought!)
  4. As mentioned in the video, these bees came from Oregon, which I think has advantages for us here in NW Washington. The Oregon climate (as opposed to that in CA) is closer to ours. The travel time is shorter. Despite a few dead ones in the box, which can be expected, I think the colony looked really strong. Our thanks to Mike Radford, Alaska Bee Products, for the good job in getting the bees to us!
  5. I really think someone should invent a better bee package that facilitates a non-violent installation of the bees! Maybe one with a bottom that could be slid open over the hive box?
  6. In retrospect, I should have made 2 videos – one for the set-up, one for the actual installation. Since I was just sort of wingin’ this by myself, I had no way of knowing when the camera quit.

Challenges:

  1. Getting the feeder can out of the box. It fit exactly into the hole, almost to the point of where it could fall through and smash the bees below; there is not much of a ledge to grab onto. I think the can could be better designed.
  2. Getting the Queen out. That cage was wedged in there, and so there you are, with the main hole open, bees escaping while you are trying to take away their Queen, and they KNOW you’re up to somethin’ no good!
  3. Seeing the Queen. Those attendants did NOT want to leave her side! That was a GOOD thing! They already loved her.
  4. Hanging the Queen cage in the hive. It’s hard to hang on to it with those bulky gloves and all the bees on the outside, much less to tack the metal hanger into the side of the hive or onto a bar, and to hang it low enough so it does not interfere with putting the top bar back in. I couldn’t get a tack into the metal at all. Devising a hanger of some sort would be a good idea for the next time.
  5. Taking the box apart to install the bees and avoid “Shaken Bee Syndrome.” More on this under “Goof-Ups.”
  6. Once “installed” (such a poor descriptor!), getting the bees to stay out of the inside of the feeder box. They could smell their Queen below them but could not reach her through the nylon screen. Every time I brushed a few out of the box, more would fly back in. In the end, I left a few and came back later to release them (when everyone else, exhausted, had gone to bed).

Goof-Ups:

  1. Notice how when I finally got the Queen out, I was so enamored that I completely forgot the main hole was open! Out came the bees! Don’t do this! After you get the Queen out, you’re supposed to cover the hole back up! (duh)
  2. Can you believe I almost hung the cage in the hive without taking out the cork & replacing it with a marshmallow?? Yikes! In the first package I installed, the cage came with a candy already in place. Not so with this one. Good thing I checked. Good thing I bought an entire bag of mini-marshmallows just to have one for this occasion.
  3. Taking apart the box proved to be disastrous! Why did I think this was a good idea? Let’s review: the objective was to avoid Shaken Bee Syndrome. It’s kind of like giving birth underwater. You want the transition to be smooth, calm, and happy. We want well-adjusted bees, not a bunch of frantic, nervous, traumatized bees. Only I didn’t factor in that as soon as I opened up a little corner of the screen, they would immediately start squeezing out into the open air, and NOT into the hive! Bees are smarter than we give them credit for! Open the hole bigger, MORE come out! Go figure! Open up the whole side and now nothing is in your control! It just keeps getting worse and worse! The situation was quickly turning into a state of Wild Mayhem, and needless to say, bees were EVERYWHERE. As I was approaching controlled panic stage, you have to admire how I managed to keep my voice calm and collected.
  4. The turning point was when I realized I was going to have to “Dump them in there” one way or another; “pouring” was definitely not an option. I ended up doing EXACTLY what I was trying to avoid: Shaking them out!! At least the hole was the entire side (which proved to have its own associated problems) and not a small hole in the top. With so many bees already out, though, I had to be extremely careful in knocking the box so as not to squish anyone. I dumped them as gently as I could into the hive and found it helped to use the hive tool to hit the outside of the screen, which convinced those hanging on to decide to let go. However, the screen beneath, now taken apart from the hive, was now IN THE WAY and was actually blocking them from “falling gently” into the hive. NOTHING was working as intended. Very awkward indeed! Did I mention bees were EVERYWHERE??? We’re talking THOUSANDS of them! I am sure they could smell my adrenalin at that point! As in, “Agghhh! What to do??? What to do???”  VIDEO STOPS HERE, thankfully, at that moment when I was about to throw up my hands and leave them to their own devices. I SERIOUSLY wondered whether I might just watch $100 and 15 thousand or so bees just take off and fly away!

The part you missed:

  1. Yes, the camera quit before the entire installation was finished, which means you missed the part where I exclaimed (paraphrasing here for a general audience), “Oh my goodness! I think I just really blew this whole show and NOW what do I do???” ahm.
  2. Well, I figured the logical thing to do was to close things up, walk away, and hope for the best. So I put the bee package – with still a LOT of bees in it – on the ground near the entrance to the hive. I placed the feeder jars on the top bars and the protective box around them. I put on the screen and cloth cover that goes between the top box and the quilt box. I put on the quilt box and the roof, and I connected the Bunge cords to the eyebolts on the sides to make sure nothing tipped over in case of a strong wind (which we have been known to get). What more could I do?

Follow-Up Video #2 (All is not quite lost. I call this Post Traumatic Stress (mine) following Shaken Bee Scenario (bees), or SBS / PTS):

So NOW What?

  1. Hmmm. Amidst what I perceived as confusion, there appeared to be a lot of communicating going on. Numerous bees were gathering at the landing and doing this odd little dance with their tail ends high in the air and rapidly beating their wings.
  2. As a last-ditch effort, I decided to drape a towel from the entrance to the ground, dump whatever bees I could onto it, and see if they would really “march” up to the hive like I’d seen in other videos. It seemed like an odd thing, but what did I have to lose?
  3. I stood back in amazement and watched.

AND NOW FOR THE GRAND FINALE – THE MOST AMAZING PART OF ALL!!!

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE! ONE MORE TRICK! USING A FEATHER TO HELP THE BEES (as opposed to a bee brush to shoo them away)

Epilogue: What I Did Right:

  1. Yes! From a detached perspective, I did EVERYTHING right! (well, maybe not Everything). I took out the feeder can, removed the Queen’s cage, replaced the cork with a marshmallow, and hung the cage inside the hive. I dumped quite a few bees inside with her. THAT WAS KEY. These bees were able to let everyone else know that the new hive was established with an honored Queen inside. From then on, everyone else wanted to go to the hive and protect the Queen and get busy doing what they do best: building comb and nurturing their Queen.
  2. I am not sure why the towel trick works, but it does. Without it, the bees flew around a lot. With the towel, they almost ran right in! They seemed relieved to get there! Numerous bees stood close together at the entrance with their little butts in the air, rapidly fanning their wings. They seem to be saying, “This is IT! This is our new home!”
  3. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING I DID RIGHT:  I got out of their way and let them take over!

 

[Note:  Want to raise bees?? Seriously – such a worthwhile endeavor! They teach us so much! And I truly believe the answer to the bee crisis in our world is for more individuals to have a hive or two in their backyards. Small-farm beekeeping as opposed to mega-farm beekeeping. It just makes sense. We build and sell Warre hives. I am convinced they support strong, healthy colonies of bees because they allow the bees to “be bees” – i.e., to build their own comb and survive with minimal interference from us humans. Check out our Warre page and contact us for more info! ]

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