Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Bugging our Bees -- Hive Inspections

It's been five weeks since we became backyard beekeepers.  What I love most is the opportunity that it has given us to learn so much about something we really didn't know about before.  I've read four books on beekeeping from our library already to learn about what we're doing.  We rented a Nova Program "Tales from the Hive" and watched that with the boys.   They loved getting to see the bees up close like that since we don't let them go near our actual hive.  Jeremy and I, on the other hand, will go out every day and stand behind the bee hive and peer over the top, watching the bees come and go. 

 It's fascinating to watch them work. The bees carrying pollen fly so clumsily.  They clunk down with a hard landing and waddle in to deposit their wares.  You can't see the nectar that the other foragers carry--but I trust them.  The guard bees stand out in front feeling everybody that comes to the entrance making sure they belong.
Lately we've noticed some bees that stand out front, face towards the entrance, stick their rear ends up in the air and just beat their wings continuously.   They are creating an airflow away from the hive fanning out the entrance. 

Our bees reached the end of their "new bee" phase so we had a number of things we needed to go do with the hive this weekend.  We came out to the hive to see two large masses of bees hanging on the outside of the box.  Jeremy called to me and asked me if they were swarming (the great fear of beekeepers everywhere) but they were just hot.  When they can't keep the temperature down inside the hive, some of the bees have to go hang out outside.  The right temperature range inside the hive is important for the developing "brood" --the baby bees. 

But that did tell us that we definitely needed to do the two tasks we had on the agenda: remove the entrance reducer and add a second hive body.  We had an entrance reducer in because that's supposed to help the bees defend their new hive a little better while their numbers are still low.  We waited to add a second box to encourage the bees to draw comb, essentially form the new honeycomb, on all the bottom frames before moving up into another box.  The bees have a tendency to stay to the middle and move upwards when the chance is available.  However, if you wait too long to add another box on top the bees feel crowded and start thinking about swarming off. 

 So Jeremy got into the hive and started checking on things.  At Jeremy's first visit, two weeks after installing the bees, he was still learning the ropes, working on the techniques of everything he was supposed to be doing.  So he didn't come out of it with a very good idea of the state of the brood-rearing (which is kind of the most-important point of the initial hive inspection).

 This time we were able to get a good look at the bees in all stages of development.  The queen lays eggs which hatch into little larvae, which grow bigger, then they make a cocoon become "pupae" and the worker bees cap their cell with wax.  When they are finished developing into bees they chew their way out of the cells.  We were able to see all stages of development going on.  Including watching a little bee chew out of it's cell!  We also saw some drone cells as well.  The male drones have larger bodies, so instead of having a flat cap over their cell, they have a more bulbous cap.

We've not actually seen the queen yet, but the fruits of her labor are self-evident of her presence.  We'll get better at spotting her.  We got the second hive body box on--so it's looking even more like a "real" beehive now.  We're starting to almost feel like legitimate beekeepers.

 I hang out and watch Jeremy work and have him show me things.  I shout out orders and directions from all the books and blogs I've read like a good wife does.  I need my own veil so I can be more involved--thought I don't think I'll get a suit.  The bees are most defensive of the fan-shaped area extending out from their entrance.  I always stay away from that front area. That's good enough to have the bees let you alone most of the time (although when you crack open the hive you are totally in their defensive zone).

There is another interesting fact about where we placed the hive.  We faced it towards that tall fence.  It's about 10 feet from it.  Doing so encourages the bees when they fly out of the hive to then fly up over the fence.  This encourages the bees to fly off at a level above people and animals.  That is an important trick for suburban beekeepers like us to be aware of.    It's no guarantee but it's worth a shot.

There was a small amount of burr comb between two of the frames.  It sticks the frames together so you can't remove and inspect them so Jeremy scraped it off.  (That made the bees mad.).  He brought the comb inside dripping with sweet nectar and let everyone have a taste.  The boys were so excited to get their first taste of "honey" from our bees. 

We hope there'll be more where that came from!

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