Our friend Taylor keeps bees in her backyard in Alameda. They're remarkably mellow ladies. When Taylor heard that Robb and I wanted to start beekeeping, she generously offered to give us part of her colony.
Bees have a fascinating social structure (click for video), and one of the things that's particularly interesting is how in the spring, bees will often voluntarily divide their colonies. The reigning queen and half of her bees, will leave behind a safe home and all of the honey that they've worked so hard to create. They fly off in a group, and look for a new home. The remaining bees will breed a new queen, who will (hopefully) mate and carry on the life of the hive.
The fact that the queen leaves all the colony's resources behind strikes me as quite amazing. It seems really selfless, because -- other than what they're carrying in their stomachs -- the bees are leaving everything behind, to start a new life, and to let a new generation of bees inherit their home.
Dividing a colony of bees serves the same function as allowing the bees to swarm. Plus, it's less terrifying for the neighbors, and the beekeepeer gets the peace of mind of knowing that their bees will have been given a good home.
Since Taylor's frames were exactly the same size as ours, we were able to insert some of our frames into her hive. If everything goes well, the worker bees will start "drawing out" comb on the stamped wax foundation of our frames. The queen will lay eggs. And when things look good, we'll transfer our frame into our bee boxes, and drive them back to our house, where they'll hopefully take up residence in the beautiful new beehive that Robb bought me for Christmas.
(Isn't that gorgeous? Robb built the hive-stand with redwood planks we found buried in our back yard. You can't beat that old growth redwood for durability.)