"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Opening the Hives

Sooner or later, I knew I would have to open the hives again. The last time I opened them, a few days ago, it was to remove the bee-boxes and replace the frames. I did it, despite my abject fear, but not without injury (A Bee Bit my Butt). I was rather reluctant to hurry up and open the hives again. However, I needed to know if the queens had managed to escape from their boxes, plugged as they were not with marshmallows (as recommended) but with bread dipped in simple syrup. If the queens had died in their boxes, well, not only would that be horrible and make me feel really, really guilty, but also my hive would die without a queen to lay eggs.

So, it being an absolutely glorious day, I girded up my loins (and put on some pants this time) and went out to the hives. Once again, I decided not to smoke them but just to spray them with sugar syrup. Above, you can see me in full beekeeper regalia, wielding my spray bottle as I peek under the lid of hive number two.

Here is what it looks like under the lid of a beehive. As you can see, most of the bees are clustered in the middle around that bright yellow square - the queen cage. If you look closely you can see a silver strip to the left of the cage - that's an aluminum tag to grab it by. In my big fuzzy gloves, I couldn't grab it, so I had to take off my gloves and reach in barehanded. Very slowly, I pulled the cage out, being careful not to hurt any bees.

About thirty or forty bees adhered to the cage, as did a long strip of burr comb. Burr comb is comb that is not neatly laid out in straight sheets in the frames, but rather is built up willy-nilly wherever there is a vacancy. Beekeepers don't like burr comb. I'm not totally sure why, except that it makes it hard to see what's going on.

Again, if you look carefully at the picture of the inside of the hive, you will see that the frames are not put in totally straight. They are a little crooked. That's because I was starting to freak out last time I opened the hives and put them in, as the bees got angrier and angrier and began to dive-bomb me and crawl up my skirt. I kind of just shoved the frames in and fled. Today, I saw that my cowardice and haste has allowed the bees to start building up a lot of burr-comb. That's bad, though once again I have to go read the book to remember exactly why.

The queen cages were both empty. That's good; the queens were able to eat their way through the sugar-soaked bread and escape. Now I was worried that I might have pulled the queen out of the hive as one of the bees attached to the cages. I carefully examined all the bees, looking for one that was a bit larger, longer, and with a spot on her back (marked by the beekeeper, not by nature). I couldn't find the queen.

Theoretically, I should have pulled out the frames one by one and examined them for brood (eggs in the newly formed comb) and searched thoroughly for the queen. In fact, I once again chickened out when the bees began to get aggressive. They will only stand for so much tampering before they decide they are under attack and begin defensive maneuvers (stinging).

For now, I'm going to assume that my queens are alive. Maybe within the next couple of weeks I can get my beekeeping mentor out here to help me do a real inspection.


AnyEdge said...

Just guessing here, but I bet that Burr comb is bad because it fouls the easy sliding in and out of the slats? Beeswax is pretty sturdy stuff when it sets up, right? After there's a lot of it mushed around, I bet it can be damn near impossible to get the frames out at all, without cutting wax or spilling honey.

polly's path said...

I think you are doing fine. So glad you have someone you can call on for bee wisdom. Just think of all the fantastic products you will have around the farm once you start harvesting!
Of course, being as clueless as I am about bees, I have no clue if you CAN harvest the first year.

Lamb Chop said...

...again... JEALOUS!!! We just moved so we are still getting settled, and I am 6.5 months pregnant... But, next year we are SO having a hive!!!

Until then I guess I will just continue living vicariously through you. 8-)