Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Beekeeping Gets a Thumbs Up

My friend Meredith came to visit one weekend in September.  She wanted to see the bees and we ran out of time for her to go to Bee Hill. But, she did get to visit a bee relocation project. I think we spent more time getting her suited up than we did looking at hives, but her enthusiasm was evident.


Monday, October 3, 2011

A Lucky Day in the Bee Yards

Today while we were working with our bees, I saw many things I've never seen before. Some were perplexing. Some were amazing. Some were things I'd read about but never experienced. I even managed to capture a few of them with my camera.

First, the first of two queen stories. Mark has been working on stabilizing a hive some neighbors no longer want. So far he's been treating the beetle infestation with our oil trap bottom board to try to reduce the pest population. He also added a deep super and feeder to help them build up through the early fall dearth of nectar. Today we removed one of the old supers. The bees were bringing in lots of pollen in their pollen baskets, most of it bright orange or dark yellow.

In the process of smoking the living daylights out of that super (because we had to carry it off on the 4-wheeler), Mark paused to watch the few remaining bees struggle out. Then, shocked, he watched the queen crawl out onto the top of super -- which was standing on a short end. He put his finger in front of her, she climbed on, and I quickly took the lid and feeder off the hive (we'd already closed it up) so he could deposit the queen back in the hive. WHEW. Catastrophe averted.

The "whompus" frames stuck together. Bees do not like empty space, and if left to their own devices . . .

The old super has frames welded together with honey comb and brood all stuck together and, in Mark's terminology, "whompus." We set it out on the stand where we'd put the bucket feeders, used a hive tool to scrape open a few cells to let the honey flow, and figure the bees from Bee Hill will rob it all out within a few days. (Note: as of Monday afternoon, the report is "robbing in earnest."

Before Mark set the super out, I took a drone bee off of it. They can't sting, but I had my gloves on anyway. He sat on my glove and used his front legs to repeatedly rub his "hands" over his head, as if to say, "that was the CRAZIEST ride ever!" Then he fell over backwards. I don't think he's cut out for 4-wheeler riding with the Lewises.

Since it was so incredibly beautiful outside (in the 70s I think), we decided to do an inspection of the hives on Bee Hill.

On Hive 1, I noticed the evidence of pollen-laden landings on the bottom board.

The bees are blurry but you can see the color of pollen on some of them and the yellow pollen stripe on the landing board.

When we opened Hive 1, we had a perplexing experience.  First, no aggression. Previously, these were the meanest bees in the yard. Next, queen cells *everywhere.* I mean, every frame had multiple queen cells affixed to the sides and the bottoms of the frames. We found one that we thought might have been chewed through, indicating a queen was out. Now, bear in mind there were eggs, larvae, and brood galore in *all four boxes of the colony*. (Note for next year, when we return empty honey supers for "cleaning," add a queen excluder or someone will look at all that empty space and go to town!)

Then I heard a high-pitched tweeting noise from inside the hive and think it might be the first time I've ever heard a queen piping! For the record, it did not sound like Scottish bagpipes. It was rather like a quick whistle. I was thrilled. That leads me to believe a queen had already hatched (thus the calmness of the bees) but may not be mated yet -- and she could have been challenging the existing queen. Thankfully, every hive on Bee Hill was loaded with drones so with luck she'll mate and this hive will continue to be strong.

Mark removed one "peanut" queen cell to examine, and after Hive 1 was closed up he noticed the inhabitant of said queen cell was chewing her way out. So he helped her, and out came a lovely little virgin queen.

Since we didn't know what else to do, he set her down on the bottom board and she walked right in. No guard bees pushed her back out. So, somewhere in that hive there is a bee battle going on for the crown.

At this point, Mark said, "I really wish I knew more about all this stuff." Because, there we were, with a totally abnormal arrangement in a hive that is supposed to have brood in the lower two chambers and a super of honey this time of year, and weird queen bee stuff going on too. But, we know more than we did this time last year, so hopefully the more we keep bees, the more we'll learn.

Fortunately, the rest of the hives are in much better shape, both in terms of organization and resources. They have plenty of honey to survive the winter, strong populations, and loads of pollen.
Ideally, pollen and honey will be stored around the edges of a rounded area of brood, like this.

We even found some brace comb filled with a bright yellow honey. Sadly, it appears to be the infamous "goldenrod honey" which translates as "yucky." Mark tasted it . . . and wished he had a breath mint or something to take the taste out of his mouth.

My favorite picture of the day is this one, showing bits of pollen someone dropped on top of a frame and the workers on pollen duty coming to deal with it!  Bees are such tidy creatures!