Sunday, April 8, 2012

Just in time

The weather has been unsettled, and yet the bees work on. Any kind of uptick in the temperature makes them a little more busy, a little more. . . springlike. And spring sometimes makes them think about swarming. No room in the hive, and all that. Giving bees plenty of room in the hive sometimes changes their minds. My job is to make certain that swarming remains a distant twinkle in their compound eyes.

And to do that, I have to get in there and say hi, how are you, every once in a while. Unfortunately, I had mislaid my smoker. Don't ask me how one does so; I live in the sort of family and household wherein such things happen. I kept putting off beekeeping because it's a titch less pleasant without smoke.

Fortunately, I spent yesterday in a nearby college town, being so amazingly proud of my eldest's Ultimate Frisbee team that I could have burst any buttons I might have been wearing. This pride did not prevent me from a quick spin into Sacramento, where I procured a replacement smoker at a beekeeping supply store. Getting back before that game was over was icing on the cake. All thoughts of smoking and beekeeping were driven from my head because nine high school players trounced, in order, four college teams, the last of which was twice their size, sending in a fresh crew at every point. The kids played with hearts as big as their smiles, and the air was thick with the Spirit of the Game.

But today, it was Bee Time. The kids played on, but my driving wasn't needed, and I have important things to do. Eric helped me weed, Denise and Kevin helped out in the afternoon. But in between all of this work and help, I had a new smoker, and some things the friend with the swarm said the other day kept going through my head -- she said she'd put off going through her hive and it was a mess when she finally did, queen cells all over. She was the one, not surprisingly, whose hive threw off the last swarm I picked up.

Some day, I'm going to master smoking -- using just the amount of cool smoke necessary, and of course keeping my smoker lit. Today was more like one of my usual days -- difficult to keep lit, hot when I needed it cool, and running through loads of fuel in what seems like a flash. Good times!

The top two honey boxes on the only hive I managed to get through seemed full. Full enough to extract, at least. I set them aside and walked back inside to get a bee escape and a board -- with this little device, in 24 hours, the top boxes will be bee-free after I return them to the hive this inspection, and I can get them drained and returned to the hives for more filling. Honey is faster than wax, remember, so reusing the comb is the way to go. I slapped a new box into position under those, with a queen excluder to go between it and the brood nest. They will need to go somewhere if they can't get into the top boxes!

But I wasn't there to assess the harvest. I wanted to see the bees. Down into the brood nest I needed to go. A bit more smoke, and I started pulling frames. The first two from the side were almost all honey, which is reasonable. Fortunately, I remembered to bring a pencil out, so I could mark notes on top of the frames:

This one notes the position of the frame, the fourth in from the side, and that it is filled with "perfect brood." To me, that means a full frame of capped worker brood, with stores along the sides and top. Not spotty, not full of drones, etc.

Unfortunately when I saw the queen I neither had my marking paint nor my camera ready, so she remains unmarked. Might as well look up what color I should mark her, hmmm? The other thing I noticed as I saw her was how little attention the other bees were paying her. Either there's something wrong or she was just in a hurry, but I wasn't thrilled with the scene on the comb.

Frame after frame, lots of brood, some less okay than others. . . a "trap frame" of drone brood, which I cut out and gave to the chickens, hopefully dooming any Varroa mites there and helping limit their population in the hive. . . all the way across the box. One thing that troubled me, though, was that while I saw a lot of capped worker brood, I saw no eggs (although I'm old enough to blame my eyes) and no larvae in different stages of development.

What I did see, to my dismay, all over the bottoms of the frames in the first box, was variations on this theme:

How many queen cups (in different sizes and stages) can you count? Only one of these has a developing queen in it, but there are more waiting for use. The drone comb means that any hatching queens would have at least a few drones to choose from. I actually debated leaving one in the hive, but decided that they should go. If the hive really needs a new queen, I'll see it the next time I go in, because the brood pattern will have changed dramatically. For the nonce, they're going to have to deal with the queen they have. If the capped brood is any indication, they're going to have a hugely increased workforce.

Maybe in the bottom box? And there, indeed, I saw some of what I had been hoping for. Small larvae, and space -- open space in drawn comb. Too late, if the spare empty comb from downstairs had been available, I might have been able to pull a couple of frames out of the top box.

Instead, the position of the two boxes was reversed and I moved the empty outside frames into the brood nest, opening it up so the queen would have more space to lay eggs and hopefully preventing the hive from swarming off.

That new empty honey box, in between the queen excluder and the bee escape under the full boxes, is going to come in handy! Of course, this also means I have to get going on extracting and returning the other boxes to the hive, or sheer crowding (two honey boxes down to one, plus hatching workers) will push them into swarming no matter what I do. I should probably split them, therefore getting the four hive load I'd hoped for. Maybe just pulling some frames and adding them to the new small swarm would make sense. Boosting one hive while easing another? I'll have to think on that.

Thank goodness for lots of help. Eric pulled many weeds before the bees today, and after, we all moved the persimmon tree to her/its new home in the back yard. We had lots of help from Taz.

She thinks digging is a Great Idea. Such a good idea that one of the things Kevin did was plan for a real fence around the garden. Just enough to convince Busy Puppy that she needs to be elsewhere. It was pleasant hanging out with her when I was pulling weeds between beds and she was chasing and eating beetles and spiders, but I could always let her in for those special times if needed.

All in all, it was a busy and productive day. Ten or so more of those, and we'll be all ready for the Bay Friendly Garden tour.

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