Driftless Prairies: Native Habitat Restoration

Nature inspires awe!

What’s All the Buzz About?

Jim has had a fascination with bees since I’ve known him. He’s now putting that fascination into action with a new hobby!! After talking with some good friends who are beekeepers Jim learned of the Dane County Bee Association. It conducts 4 classes over the course of the summer on how to build hives, locate hives, introduce the bees, care for the bees, and harvest the honey. It’s certainly not a “build the hive and they will come” scenario. 
The hive boxes and frames (where the bees store their honey) come unassembled.  The basic hive has five separate hive boxes with ten frames per box.  We have two sets, meaning he built ten boxes and painted them then assembled 100 frames with 100 foundations. The foundations provide the starting point for the bees to build their honeycombs.
The bee package was given out at the end of the second class.  The classes are held in Madison, providing Jim with plenty of time to bond with the bees during his 1 ½ hour drive home.  There were 3 to 5 bees that came along for the ride that were not part of the package.  They flew around the interior of the pick-up, but they were more interested in the bees in the cage.  Jim couldn’t help but think of the Far Side cartoon with a giant bee in the back seat, with the driver saying “it’s only a bee!”
Installing the bees in the hive can be stressful and nerve-wracking. If done wrong, the bees might fly off and not accept the hive as their home.  The bee package includes a queen, who is contained in her own cage (see picture) and about 6 to 8 pounds of bees. The queen must be placed in the middle of the hive and will stay in her cage for about three days. After that Jim will release her by placing her at the small entrance at the bottom of the hive. (Note the small opening at the bottom left side of the hive).  By keeping her caged for these few introductory days, it ensures that this hive is home and she doesn’t fly off to establish a hive elsewhere.
Since there are no flowering plants at this time, we made a 1:1 ratio of sugar to water to feed the bees. We used this same mixture to spray on them to keep them calm before we introduced them to the hive. Once the bees were “dumped” into the hive a jar of sugar water with small holes in the lid is turned upside down and slowly drips. This will keep the bees alive until there is nectar in the surrounding prairie.
We don’t expect to harvest any honey this first year. It takes about a half year for the bees to grow the colony. In this time, the bees need this honey to live on, grow their family, and survive the winter. If the queen is happy with this new home, she’ll lay eggs in 3 days and the larva will mature in 21 days. Within a month, we’ll be well on our way to adding 60,000-80,000 bees to our happy family!


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