Sunday, July 17, 2011

Fascinating days with bees

Besides the hive in our back yard, I keep an eye on a hive for a friend in her yard. During a routine check yesterday (to ascertain if it was time for another honey box on top of the single super that was there) I made a different kind of discovery. The hive was lousy with bees:

It was also bursting with stores. Honey, pollen, uncured nectar, every frame displaying something. But had not a single egg, larvae or brood. The huge bunches of bees must have been from the capped brood I saw during my last hive inspection, the one that led me to put that honey box on in the first place! Either the queen is dead or ineffective. No queen cells, either. A couple of cups, but not finished ones. Fortunately, it's not all drones, as it was once before. So there's not a laying worker in there.

No probem, thinks I. Time to combine my two smallest hives (the swarm from Esperanza and the feral roof-dwellers) and take a queen from there and put her in the friend's hive. Well, as you can read -- and please do -- over on Lisa's blog, that wasn't such an option as we'd thought. Yesterday's planned hive combination turned into a very different kind of bee work -- less a cut-out than a take-apart. The small hives are okay, but not ready to combine right now.

Plan B. I'd take a single frame of eggs and young brood, along with the attendant nurse bees, from my best hive, and requeen the hive that way. It does push back the development of the hive, because they have to raise a queen (some 15 or so days from today), then she has to fly to mate (20-24 days from today) and then there would be evidence of their success in the week or so following that. This puts us well into the first week of August. My friend may yet get honey from her hive, which I have never successfully managed for her in a few years (!). Bad hive, or bad beekeeper? You decide.

Anyhow, I figured that the big hive was dynamic enough to kill any wax moth on old comb:

So I would exchange this frame for one with teeny eggs and tiny brood on it. Ellie helped smoke the hive before we opened it in search of eggs:

I'm trying out a queen excluder for the first time. I hope with well-drawn frames it won't discourage the bees from storing honey up top. The wires are too close together to allow a fat queen to pass through, but the workers can get up there to put nectar in storage, making it easier for me to gather only honey at the end of the season.

While I was out there, and with such willing help, I checked the small swarm hive. For obvious reasons, we didn't get into it yesterday. It's still quite small; only brood activity on a few frames, but with a laying pattern like this:

it won't be long before the population booms. I may end up combining it with the feral hive, but I'm going to give both of them a chance.

Camera forgotten, I drove off to the neighbor's house with my nurse frame. Leaving my smoker at home made it easy to decide to do a smokeless drop'n'run. One frame has to leave for another to fit, so I pulled a frame of stores from the outside of the top brood box and levered open a spot in the middle of the box, where brood tends to be in hives, for warmth. The new nurse bees should be accepted because they smell of baby bees, and the baby bees should help that hive remember what it needs -- a laying queen. I won't go in and check to make certain there are queen cells, because I'm afraid that I could hurt any one they start. When a new queen should be laying, I'll look for eggs, starting the whole cycle again.

I really really wish I'd had my good camera working (do check out Lisa's blog, because she has great photos). There's always so much good stuff to see, and even though beekeeping is hot, and sweaty, and demanding on my aging back, it's a great way to experience total presence. Even though I feel kind of like the impostor beekeeper (though I've finally found a smoker fuel in burlap that stays lit!), because I'm acutely aware of how little I know about beekeeping, I'm completely absorbed from the first peek to the last "buttoning up" of the hive afterwards.

Changing out of my sweaty bee clothes before going out with friends tonight, I realized how very focusing bee work was for me. The entire time I was "doing bee stuff" this bruise from a fall Friday

wasn't bothering me at all. Talk about apitherapy!


Ribbit said...

Now that's an amazing bruise! Yikes - but think of all of the lovely colors it will turn as it heals.

Lovin' keeping up with the bees! Thanks for another perfect post.

Erin said...

OUCH! I cringed LOL! Lovely bee photos...

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

I'll be interested to see how the queen excluder works out for you. We left them off this year, figuring we won't be taking honey this year, but every time we ask other beekeepers, they seem to love the excluders or absolutely hate them. I dropped by Lisa's post, I hope the rubber bands hold up long enough. Last time we used them, the bees almost immediately chewed them off. They're a little tricky to retrieve from the bottom board ;)

Kristin said...

What a beautiful frame of brood. Too bad about the fall. That looks very tender.

Stefaneener said...

Ribbit, it's changing right now. It's like art. The bee posts are all for you.

Erin, glad you like the bees. Some day I'll get better pictures.

CVS, I hope they attach the comb first. If they pull off the bands the comb will fall. We'll see about the excluders. On a strong hive, with pre-drawn comb in the supers, I assume it will be okay. Never used them before, though.

Kristin, isn't it? Some days it's like a nature show, being out there.