I found out that bees come in small packages. Transporting bees is nothing like transporting hay. Not even close.
If you buy something and it comes with free installation, you should almost always accept it. If it doesn't, you should still try to talk the seller into it. To me, that's even more important with the purchase of bees.
Turns out there's paperwork and government intervention in the bee business. Let's say you live in one state and raise bees. You decide to move to another state and set up residence there and you'd like to take your bee enterprise with you. That can be done, but it requires inspection of your bees. Your other option is to buy new bee equipment and new bees when you get to your new residence. If you have paid attention the last few weeks, that's the route Sherill and I took. (See “Gotta bid to buzz.”) We got the bee equipment one week, and now we were going to a different place in central Iowa to get the bees.
Sherill said she had ordered a couple packages of bees, so I figured we were heading to central Iowa to get a couple of boxes. I was clueless enough that I asked if we needed the truck or just the car. It seemed to me that a hive is pretty good sized, so a package of bees must be pretty big, too.
Not so. The packages Sherill bought were two pounds each. She got five of them. They would be delivered to a beekeeper's "farm" in central Iowa. Once they arrived, we had 48 hours to show up and claim our bees. Payment was made in advance, so there was a little bit of an incentive to show up.
So we headed out to Lynnville, Iowa, and got there late on a Saturday morning. This was definitely a bee farm. The yard was cramped, to put it mildly. Granted, I'm used to yards where a semi can pull in and turn around without backing up, or do it with a bare minimum of time in Reverse, but this place was kind of snug for a pickup and gooseneck trailer. Actually, with two or three other customers there already when we arrived, it was a little snug for my Buick. That's when I decided that maybe bee people are a little bit too close to nature and not really on board with large-scale agriculture, or at least large-scale transportation. One of the cars was a relatively new Jaguar, though, so this wasn't a complete VW bus hippie crowd.
We got our five packages of bees. Each package was basically a wooden crate frame of a foot square and six or eight inches high with lots of wire mesh. The swarms of bees were contained within the mesh walls. Each container had a small tin can in the center of it, as well as a tiny little matchbox-sized container. The tin can contained sugar water as a source of nutrition for the bees in transport. They were originally gathered from a large group using what amounts to a giant shop vac. The shop vac hose spewed bees into the container until the package contained as many pounds as was required of that particular swarm of bees — two-pound packages, three-pound packages, etc. When I say swarms, I'm talking swarms. There was a low buzzing sound coming from the containers as Sherill picked them up and headed for the car.
This was nothing like transporting hay. Not even close.
To keep myself with the program, I had asked on the way down where exactly the bees would be on the way home. I kept envisioning massive swarms of bees loose in the passenger compartment as we made our way down the road, because these bee people are really, really into the free-range thing. If you keep your bees contained, in my mind, all you'd do is tick 'em off and make 'em want to pretty much Africanize and sting you to death the minute you got home with them and tried to let them out. I come from a long line of people not known for looking on the bright side of things. Worst-case scenario and certain death are pretty much my default settings.
The weather was reasonable enough that we put the bees in the trunk and headed out. Yeah, it might make for an interesting situation if we got rear-ended in traffic on the way home, but maybe all that buzzing would generate some propulsion to get us down the road more efficiently.
The schedule allowed us to stop in rural Maxwell to buy a bee hat. Sherill figured I’d need some apiary headgear, because I was going to be an active participant in this endeavor. Without the hat, my activity would be limited, or it would be intense and accompanied by a lot of stinging. She had such confidence in both my ability and my medical tendencies that she had one of the doctors at work give her a prescription for an EpiPen — an injector full of epinephrine to keep me from swelling up like Jiffy-Pop when I ultimately get stung and discover I'm allergic to bee stings.
A photo of me in my bee gear is at right. Sadly, they did not have any available with brand logos. I'm seeing a lot of potential marketing opportunities squandered there. Look for some kind of Two Guys Farming Apiary logo in the future.
Once we got home, we placed the bees in the basement for the night. When the weather was decent the next day, we'd go about the installation process and get them placed in the great outdoors.
Easter Sunday was the time to let nature take its course. We got the bee packages gathered, grabbed the various hives and equipment from the auction the previous week and headed out to begin Sherill’s new chapter of Iowa beekeeping. Sherill pretty much did all of the work. She did a really nice job of explaining things as she opened up the packages of bees and got them transferred to their new homes. (Here is a link to a YouTube video of some of the installation process: www.youtube.com.)
The container of sugar water is sprinkled on the bees to keep them calm when it's time to release them. A cover of some kind is placed over the opening in the package where the sugar water container was. Then the matchbox container is removed and the queen is placed in the bottom of the hive frame. The now-sugar-mellowed bees are then shaken from the container onto the hive as they spend their time primping each other to clean up the sugar water shower (instead of coming after ME!). They proceed to follow the scent of the queen and get themselves into the hive for the most part. A few stragglers may not follow the entire procedure, but enough of them do to get things in order shortly. The worker bees begin to get to work making comb and getting the honey production machine into gear. The drones are there to mate with the queen and create more staff. Everyone has a job, and they know their collective mission: to serve the queen. Long live the queen.
That point was repeated to me a lot. A whole lot. Wild guess, but it was starting to feel like a not-so-subtle hint.
We put one hive close to the buildings at headquarters and four other hives deep in some timber I own not far from a natural coldwater spring. The good news is that I never got stung during the whole process, even though I wasn't exactly elbow-deep in it. Keep in mind, what I had for an antidote was a prescription for an EpiPen, not the device itself. Had the bees swarmed me, I'm pretty sure I could have whipped out my prescription and showed it to them and they'd have screeched to a halt mere inches from me.
When I finally get to the pharmacy, I'm going to ask about free installation with the EpiPen. You never know.
Guy No. 2