Saturday, March 20, 2010

All Hail the Queen(s)

First, thank you to everyone who suggested catalogs. I think it's Baker Creek, but their online catalog doesn't show what I remembered. The Solomon book is here, patiently waiting for me to assemble ingredients.

It's been a biggish week in the garden, and it feels like the time of year when there's more happening than I can keep up with. The fall planting of "True Siberian" kale was going to seed, so I went out with kitchen shears and lopped off all of the leaves. There are enough seeds left from last year that I didn't need any more, and the tomatoes want to come out and play.

Almost ten pounds of nice greenness. I gave away five grocery bags full, and Sarafina and I ate a big bunch for lunch, with sweet sauteed onions, goat cheese, and toasted pine nuts. Amazing how so much cooks down to much less!

On Thursday, a new beekeeping friend and his wife came over to see if we can't make some queens from my terrific hive. Another, sadly unphotographed friend, came and took pictures and got her beekeeping feet wet. I think we made another convert!

It was great having so many hands to do the work, and great to have someone with a P-L-N. (Extra points for knowing the source of that one.)

So, for those of you to whom excruciatingly detailed beekeeping posts are lots of fun, let's go! First, we took off the honey supers, set up a spare deep hive box on top of the swarm hive, and split the two hive bodies on the bottom. We were looking for brood -- both open and closed. The next picture gives you a good idea of why we want to continue this queen's bloodline -- a beautiful frame of capped brood. She's laying in a great pattern, and that's what you want to see. The open cells are either brood the workers have cleaned out for some reason, randomness, or leftover stores or something. Hey, there's a LOT I don't know.

This is probably open brood or honey stores. No capped cells here, and you can see the darker area where brood has hatched out in the past.

Now you can see how we're set up -- honey supers on the junky old coop behind me, Alan telling me what he's seeing, Lisa waiting by the box we're isolating brood in, and the extra box on the second hive. We put all brood in the box on the ground, and all honey, nectar, and pollen stores in the unpainted box on the coop.

The wire frame thingy is a queen excluder -- the idea is to isolate the queen in one box only. It would have been great to have seen her -- but queens move fast and mine aren't marked. Yet. So we're going to do the isolation by making the hive into three distinct zones, between which only workers can move.

The bees grew more agitated the more we messed with them, of course.

Eventually, we divided the hive into two bodies of brood plus stores. Into one of the brood bodies, we put the capped brood -- brood that is going to hatch first. The other one got any open brood -- eggs and visible larvae. That box should have the queen, but we're not sure, not having seen her. We also put an empty frame in the middle of each of the brood bodies, plus some pre-formed plastic frames. These aren't so fun for the bees, so the idea is that, in their cramped, messed-up state, they will draw fresh, soft, new comb on the empty wooden frame. There's a strip of wax along the top to encourage this. As they're avoiding the black plastic frames, the queen will lay in the fresh combs as soon as they're ready. Because they've never had larvae hatch in them and leave behind their pupae shells, like the old brood comb, the bees will more easily be able to alter these cells into queen cells when we make that happen next week. I'll tell you how we're going to signal to the bees to do that when we do it!

By the time we got to "reassembly," we'd been at it for a while. Lots of unhappy bees, but I wasn't as wiped out as I usually am after a full hive inspection. I hadn't had to lift any heavy boxes alone, and there was a lot of good humor. We all took turns helping to identify whether we were seeing what we were thinking we were seeing.

One box, with excluder, ready to be the bottom of the hive.

Time to reassemble. I picked up the new bottom box, Alan picked up the old one with the screen board still stuck to it with propolis, and we counted, "One, two, three, go."

Lisa prepared the old base to be the new base while we stood there and thought, "We should have done this part first."

And after she placed it on the stand, we asked her to pry the old screen bottom off.

Finally, and to all of our relief (including the bees, of course), it was time to reassemble the hive, with a queen excluder on top of each box of brood. Wherever the queen is, we'll find her by evidence next week. Then we'll put the new comb in that box, switching them to get eggs in both new frames.

That third unpainted deep box was all the honey stores for the brood box, save that which we put back around the brood. It might be a nice full box of honey soon. Yay. We had to work to straighten out the hive -- with so much height, the tilt of the bottom was pronounced. Eeek.

Finally we got it all cleaned up and repaired indoors for a cold drink.

One thing that struck me afterwards was how many beekeeping pictures are actually pretty dull -- people in white suits holding frames of bees in front of their faces. Over and over and over. It's exciting to do, but the pictures? They get repetitive. You can click on it and see the same thing over and over again -- but bigger.


So next week should be exciting, and we have some woodenware to prepare before then. I'm glad someone knows what they're doing!


Ribbit said...

I love it, I love it, I love it!!!!!!!!!!

I'm loving learning so much about beekeeping!

kitsapFG said...

Quite the undertaking. I am sure I would never get the knack of spotting a queen and identifying her properly.

Heiko said...

Aah beekeeping! I was looking at the pictures first and thought you had an invasion by aliens! Gosh this sounds all very involved. I'd love to have a go, but I'm just not sure I'll ever quite get the hang of all this.

Engineeredgarden said...

great post! Y'all looked like a bunch of scientists in the backyard. Ha!

Kate and Crew said...

I'm one of the freaks that loves overly-detailed beekeeping posts. I find it beyond fascinating. I mentioned your blog to my husband today and he cut me off by saying "we are NOT getting bees." Sheesh. Not that I was going to... Have you ever posted about how you got into beekeeping? I can't remember... was it a family thing? Or did you pick up a book and some bees one day and go at it cold?

And another bee question. What do the bees do with their honey? I assume it's a food-product product for them. Is it a big deal to them when you take their honey? I'll stop now - LOL. I could go on forever.

Mr. H. said...

Boy, there really is a bit to it isn't there. What a challenging endeavour. Does being out there dressed like that make your neighbors a bit nervous?:)

Look at all of that kale! I think you need a bigger bowl.

Stefaneener said...

Ribbit, it's all for you! I know so much less now about beekeeping than I did at the beginning. . .

kitsapFG, only if you want to raise queens. I took a class this past weekend and learned some good stuff, too. I'll have to get a shot of the queen soon.

Heiko, we did look like a Hazmat team, didn't we? There is much less involved in just basic keeping -- I've done low-level stuff for years.

EG, we can only hope.

Kate, you all have Africanized bees, so you wouldn't be keeping swarms, just package commercially raised and artificially inseminated queens. Florida has a GREAT beekeeping program, statewide. Anyhow, the honey is extra fuel for winter, mostly. The larvae and workers eat a pollen product, while the nurse bees use nectar for fuel too.
Good keepers always leave enough honey for the hive to get through the winter. They are such overachievers that they store a LOT. I expect to get quite a bit from the best hive this year.
Ask away; I don't know everything but I do know some.

Daphne said...

Wow ten pounds is a lot of kale, but you are right it does cook down a lot.

And what a nice bee post. I get confused with all the beekeeping names at times, but I'm starting to get the hang of it.

Kate and Crew said...

Just wanted to say thanks for answering my questions...

What do you mean we have Africanized bees down here? We don't have any **real** honeybees? Are all the bees I see in my yard somehow Africanized? I know about Africanized bees - it means an African swarm melded with a local swarm, right??