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Hive Inspection: III

We did a quick hive inspection this weekend. Things are looking crowded. THe bees had comb drawn out in all eight frames, and brood out to the sixth frame. Things are going well. Looks cozy, eh?

I was nervous about expanding the hive, “How will I know when I should add the second box?!” I have read too much about building out too quickly and causing confusion and troubles for the bees. In the end, I just followed my instincts and built up when it felt right. I added another 8-frame medium brood box Saturday (5/22). I poked around in there the next day, and there were already bees drawing lovely comb on the foundation.

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queen spotting

We opened up the hive again tonight to make sure that all is going well and check to see how crowded it’s getting in there. You have to add the second box before the bees get too crowded, but not so early that they have too much room and not enough bees to fill it. I estimate we have about 1.5-2 weeks before it gets overcrowded.

We smoked the hive a little bit and cracked open the box. The boxes are starting to get stuck together with wax & propolis as the bees get more comfortable and glue things into place. It was definitely more work to get the cover off this week — they had glued one of the frames to the inside cover with comb and propolis.

The bees were extraordinarily gentle, however. Only a handful were flying around, and most of them were too busy on the frames to even notice we were poking around. They were pretty docile (for wild animals), so Levi & Krista were able to get a good look into the hive. And even the chihuahua is starting to get more comfortable with the hive.

Very quickly, we found tons of capped brood, uncapped brood, lots of eggs, and a few drone cells. We found cells packed with pollen pellets and nectar/sugar syrup (we are still feeding a lot of sugar syrup). I was pleased to see how well things are going. We mocked the lazy future drones, sang a lullaby to the brood, and spotted the queen! She was holding court on the third frame from the right. There was no mistaking her. I was glad we spent the extra $1 to get a marked queen. Behold, Our Lady of the Liquid Gold!

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Hive Inspection: One

When we’re visiting with the bees, Levi is required to cover every bit of skin possible, which sometimes looks like this. I am not sure where my foresight was – I thought that working the bees would be a solitary activity, maybe if we needed to harvest honey I would recruit Levi and his muscles but in the meantime, oh just one veil was plenty for now. I was wrong! Working the bees is a social activity, with Levi asking all the questions I can’t answer and Krista taking photos for identification later. It’s a regular family function.

In any case, after installing our package of bees, we had to wait an entire week before we checked on them. Bees don’t love to be disturbed, you know. The purpose of this first hive inspection is pretty simple – just to make sure we have a healthy-looking hive and to check for evidence of the queen & her productivity. I wish we had actually seen the queen, but alas we did not spot her. There was evidence she’s been around, and she’s been doing her job, though, which is just good enough for me. On with the photos!!

We did use the bee smoker for this hive inspection, but I plan to write about that separately, so just imagine billowing clouds of smoke in your mind. Maybe you remember when we first installed the hive. I wiggled the frames apart to fit in the queen cage between two frames, right in the middle. Here’s a photo from a week ago:

But when I pulled the queen cage out, I made a mistake and didn’t move the frames back to the appropriate spacing. The bees (following the principal of Bee Space – more on that another time) took this opportunity to build some extra comb between the frames. Here’s what we found yesterday:

Totally my fault, but totally annoying! What a mess.

But it’s good news to see the comb being built, so I carefully removed the comb I didn’t want, and replaced the frames with more correct spacing. My eight frames don’t fit into the eight frame box snugly, so I had to do some careful wiggling to estimate bee space.

I carefully removed the other frames, working from the outside in to the middle. I was looking for brood, eggs, capped brood, anything that would let me know that the queen was alive and well.

On the fourth frame I pulled, I found what we were looking for. It was too close to dusk to see the eggs (they are tiny, man) but I have to assume they were there. We did see some well-developing larvae and some capped brood. Can you see the white grubby looking things at the bottom of the cells? Those are baby bees. Aren’t they precious little babies?

I was pleased to see lots of comb happening, and all the girls were very calm and tolerant of my home invasion. Hopefully I didn’t smash the queen wherever she was. (I WAS SO GENTLE AND CAREFUL) We cleaned out the rogue comb, confirmed the presence of brood, didn’t see any pests or disease, and closed the hive right back up just as quickly as possible. Eventually, some day, hopefully, a hive inspection will be routine and quick and simpler, when I know more and the hive is more established. This is the first step toward that.

Now we do our very best to leave them alone for at least two weeks.

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Long Live the Queen

Yesterday I drove out to east Olympia to pick up our package of bees from the Olympia bee club people. This is a tiny part of the order of bee packages they made this year. They arrived from California Friday night. Each package has three pounds of bees, a can of syrup and a queen in a cage.

Mark Savage gave a few demonstrations on how to hive the bee package, how to release the queen from her cage, how to place her in the hive, and how to install the feeder.

Then I signed out my three pound box of Italians and brought them home in my little Toyota. The bee club people brushed off all the hitch hikers, so I didn’t get stung while driving.

I was told to wait for “15 minutes of sunshine” to install the package. In Olympia, we cram in a lot when we get “15 minutes of sunshine.” It was raining on and off much of the afternoon. So we spent our time fussing with the hive until it was in its Final, Most Perfect resting place. Bees don’t like it if you move their hive around. They are very good navigators, but they depend on you to leave things in the same place. The clouds broke for a minute, so we suited up and carried the bees out.

As much as I wanted to hurry and get them in the hive, I was mesmerized by the package of bees. There they were, our girls, all in one box, for the last time ever. Once we open the box, it will never be the same. It’s one of those “no turning back now” moments.

I used my hive tool to pry the syrup can out of the package. Please feel free to admire my vegan cowgirl boots. I covered the whole with a paint sample sheet to encourage the bees to stay in the box.

I pulled the queen cage out. It was totally covered in bees like a magical ball of bees. This is testament to the power of her scent. These bees don’t even know this queen, but they love her so much. I gently brushed them away and they started flying around.

And then, there she was, Her Royal Highness. She’s going to determine everything about our hive, so I hope she’s a good queen. Levi said, in hushed tones, “She’s beautiful.”

There’s a cork in the queen cage, which is pretty easy to pull out with a screw. Just take care not to screw the screw into the queen. Then you replace the cork with a candy plug or a mini marshmallow. Mark Savage told the newbees that he recommends putting a small nail through the candy plug and roughing up the edge of it just to give the bees something good to hold onto and make it easier to chew through. They have to get through this to release their queen. This is supposed to give them enough time to get to know her before they are in physical contact, so they won’t harm her.

We nestled the queen cage in between two frames, and carefully, gently, with excruciating slowness and delicacy, rolled the box on top. I had to make some adjustments after this photo was taken. The queen cage should be directly underneath the hole in the box. The bees in the box think, “Hrmm, there is food, there is a queen, there is comb down there… what am i doing in this box!?” Then they move into the hive and start the business of running a hive. Hopefully!

Then, we put the second box over the whole contraption and closed it up. We’re supposed to leave it for 24 hours, then go back to see if the queen has been released yet, shake out the bee box and remove the syrup feeder. It is really hard to wait to check on them, but we’re distracting ourselves with all the other work we need to do on our microfarm. So cross your fingers for our little bee colony. We will report back as soon as we have more news. My hope is that Levi will come up with a phenomenal name for the queen. I’m also accepting suggestions of names for her – you know, the “too weird to name your baby” names are perfect for queen bees.

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