Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Still Life With Smoker

That's the Was-Going-to-be-an-Easter-Sweater sweater, complete with a rose over a snap (my preferred sweater closure for little kids -- the snap, not the rose). And behind it? That's my new smoker for my new beehive. The beginner's kit came and the bees are neatly ensconced in their new home, and as far as I know, busy doing what it is that bees do.

This transfer, from cardboard box to hive box, was less traumatic for me, now that I had done some reading and knew more of what I was supposed to be doing. It struck me as I was reading that beekeeping, like knitting, or dance, or learning a language, might be one of those things where the beginning is easy. As you go on, though, it gets wider and deeper, and suddenly you've spent your life doing something and yet you're describing yourself, like some crazy Zen master, as being a beginner at it. Anyhow, that's how I feel about knitting, and I think bees can have the same effect.

So, it's not so much bravery, as some comments suggested (although I don't like being stung, it's really not a Big Pain), as just figuring that people have done this for hundreds of years, so how hard can it be? This attitude is both a blessing and a curse in my life, as my spouse can attest.

Dressed in my new veil, and not yet armed with a smoker, I got ready to move them. Since the sugar water had worked so well the first time, I decided to use it again. When I opened the box, there was a smooth, almost conical comb structure, covered with bees, hanging from the lid of the box. How to get that into the hive box was the big question. They had done a good job cementing the comb on.

The books talk about "brushing" the bees off, but my hands weren't good at that. I tried using a stick to pry it, a clipboard to scrape it, and finally used a combination of scraping and smacking it against the edge to dislodge the bees.

Then I gave them a few moments to calm down again. You can see the remains of the wax on the box top.

Then I set up the box so that any bees that hadn't made it in in the great smacking could walk in under their own bee volition.

Frames, holding a pre-embossed comb starting sheet of plastic coated with beeswax, hang from the top like file folders in a drawer. It's on these that the queen lays her eggs in little cells the workers build up. Did you know that a honeybee's stomach makes wax automatically if she stores honey in it for over a certain amount of time? This is one of those facts I picked up. The wax extrudes from her abdominal scales, and the honey/wax ratio is kept balanced because if there are enough wax cells already made, the workers can dump the honey into them for storage. If there isn't, it becomes wax, and she makes storage cells. So incredibly cool.

These frames are mostly to help the hive build up strength. After the lower box is full of new baby bees, the keeper, in this case me probably, adds another box and frames above the first. When that box is half full or so, a "honey super," or half-sized box with frames, is put on top, with a screen to keep the queen out so no babies get laid in it, and that's where the honey is stored.

If that's going to happen here, it's months away. Since the bees haven't swarmed out of the box, I assume the queen is in there, happily laying eggs. Next Saturday, I'm going to fire up the smoker and see if I can find her by lifting up the frames. By then I hope they've forgiven me for crushing some of the bees with the hive top. I tried not to, as the books say helpful things like, "PLace the lid on, avoiding crushing any bees." They were a little thin on just how you did that, and I'd like to make a formal apology to the bees for the ones I killed. Sorry, bees. I'll do better next time. Next time I'll use a brush and push them away. I'm still trying to figure out how to keep the ants off of the legs of the stand and therefore out of the sugar water feeder and hive.

Before then, I'm going to take Thing 4 out in her new ensemble, and finally get that baby blanket done. I'm having guilt dreams about babies needing knitted gifts and me not coming through.


Brittany said...


I know nothing about bees or hive boxes and the like. Do they stay in the white thing until the queen dies or something?

String Bean said...

I love reading about your bee adventures! You should change your blog title to Secret Life of Bees ...and some Knitting.

Is it fun having the bees around?
I watch the bees buzz around the rhodies in our yard and especially love watching them buzz from flower to flower.

It is true about the beginning being easy (for anything). You'll surprise yourself with how much you know without even realizing it. "It's easy to do, once you know how." as my aunt says.

Boogs said...

Love your blog! Seems like you have lots going on there - I know I'm gonna have to come back and read some more once I have dinner started! *L*

meredith said...

i'm sooo glad you emailed me so i can check in on your blog and catch the progress of the bees! no bees in montreal yet - just tulips about to bloom. i love the nearly-easter sweater too.

Rain said...

*Wolf whistle* Nice outfit! You must be relieved to be out of the fencing mask.

I'm absolutely fascinated by your Bee Keeping, it's such an interesting hobby albeit an accidental one.

Apparently ants won't cross chalk lines, but i'm not too sure how true that it. It might be worth looking up natural ant repellents and checking they don't affect bees.

Emma said...

Amazing! Both the baby cardi and the bees. You know, I still live in a small apartement, and I can't wait to get a house and a garden. I just need a job first. Meenwhile, I blogs like yours make me happy...

K said...

Gosh - you are living such an exciting life! I feel boring by comparison. I am just happy that DISH now has OLN and I can watch PRC Rodeo.

Love the sweater and the bee tales!


bfmomma said...

wow... you look "official" now! (although the outfit you patched together was cute, too). When I was still teaching, I did a big unit on bees and went to a local "bee farm" and bought comb honey (which I love...) to share with the kids. I was so sad that when my own kids were big enough to learn about bees, the farm had closed... :( I'll keep sending them to your blog, though.

And the sweater is great! Can you share how to make the rose? (or send a link or soemthing... I saw felted roses like that for sale in our LYS for $20 apiece!)

sewingsuzee said...

You look like Truly Scrumptious (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang)! Love the veil.

I can't wait to watch it all unfold...and unlike Pooh, I won't even ask for any honey (nasty sticky stuff).

The sweater is GORGEOUS. I think I like it the very best of all the things you've made so far, and that's saying something! Can't wait to see in on Miss T4 - today would be the perfect day for a sweater, don't you think?

amy said...

That's a wonderful sweater.

SewingSuzee's mom said...

Hi Stefani. .. I think my grandmother used to put her card table legs in glasses of water to keep the ants from getting into her jam when she would put it outside to set up. Hope this might help with bees/ants. Love your blog. Sharon