In preparation for moving day, I had to assemble all of the hive components, as soon as I figured out what they were. From hanging out with Phil as he worked his hives, I had a pretty good idea of what I needed. I wanted a Langstroth hive, which is the traditional box hives seem on farms all over the world. There are other, less common types of hives, such as the top bar hive, which is typically used in warmer climates. But the Langstroth boxes are readily available and allow for easy maintenance and manipulation of the colony, especially when it comes to collecting honey.
My next decision was size, in two dimensions. Langstroth boxes come in 8 or 10 frame widths (a frame being the honey-comb-holding wood frame that hangs down into the box), and depths of shallow, medium or deep. These sizes are largely a matter of preference. Eli had used 10 frame components and Phil liked 8s. Since I was used to 8s, having seen Phil and our friend Paul Jacobs use them, I decided to go with 8s as well. Plus hive boxes are very heavy when filled with honey, and with a plan to move them to the roof on the calendar for next year, I thought it would be best to lean towards the smaller and lighter end of things as much as I could.
I talked to Phil and made a shopping checklist. His business, The Honey Exchange, supplied me with many of the parts, but since he hadn’t opened his store yet or received all his inventory, I needed to make a run down to Bee Pride, in Lebanon, Maine, for the rest. When I finally found Bee Pride (the turn is easy to miss), I met Peggy Pride, who runs the business with her husband Brian in a converted barn on their big, old farm. Peggy was super nice and helpful and as I shopped my son Ethan pulled up a chair to their huge observation hive and watched the bees behind glass like a huge tv screen.
My other choice was the strain (or “breed” or “race”) of honeybee. There are many kinds, but the most common ones are Italian, Carniolan (from Slovenia and southeastern Europe) and Russian honeybees. What about North American breeds? There aren’t any. Yes, honeybees are yet another invasive species, having come over with European settlers in the 1600s. The three strains we have today are aptly named. The Italian and Carniolans are Mediterranean in the their attitude in that they are more laid back and don’t mind too much when people start poking around in their hives. The Russians, on the other hand, are feisty and tough. They handle Northern winters like their human counterparts handled the siege of Leningrad, they are hardly bothered by parasites and illnesses, and are more vigilant in the defense of their hive.
As a testament to the toughness of the Russian stock, all of Phil’s several hives survived the winter of 2010-2011 with the bottoms of their hives wide open to the elements, only screen bottom boards in place. That sold me. I figured that an inner city honeybee colony is going to have to be tough. I can’t bothered with any pansy bees that are going to need constant fussing over with food and medicine. No sir, my bees are going to be guerilla troops in a harsh urban environment.
Finally I was all ready to go. My site was cleared, my new hive parts were all painted, and Phil had a Russian nuc ready for me. That’s nuc, as in nucleus, as in nucleus colony. A nuc is simply a small, functioning hive. In one box you get everything you need: a queen laying eggs, brood in various stages of development and a little stored honey and pollen. Bees can live quite happily in those confined quarters for a while, although they will eventually get overcrowded and want to they’ll want to take off in a swarm to find a bigger home.
I waited for a day of clear weather when Eli would be at the farm, and gave Phil the heads up the night before. Phil went out to the nuc in his backyard and stapled a screen over the opening to the nuc so everyone was trapped inside, making a nice, neat box o’ bees. The next morning I picked it up, put in in my car and drove to the Fermentory.
I put them on their stand. Behind the screen, they were attempting to chew through the metal screen, which is creepy and aggressive looking, so I thought they might rush out of their confinement and take out their anger on me. But when I took off the screen, they slowly creeped out and took off to orient themselves to their new home.
Within a day, they were very busy coming and going. The knotweed was in bloom, the weather hot and sunny and dry, and the bees happy. All of this had taken longer than I thought it would. It was now mid-August and time was running short for the colony to build up their population and get ready for winter.
One more potential disruption was bearing down. An out of town guest named Irene was going to blow through town.