Monday, May 18, 2009

Pollen, Stings, and Double Deeps

People have been asking what has been going on hive-wise, so it is time for another installment in the on-going drama of our relationship with Virginia and Georgia.

We are a little slow with this update as we did the last hive inspection last Thursday the 14th of May. Everything went well. We are getting used to the whole process so there were few surprises.

We will start, however, with a few observations from the week prior to the last inspection. First of all, we noticed A LOT of comings and goings from the hives as the fruit trees in town have been in full bloom. It has mostly been apple and crabapple trees. In our own yard the apple tree and pear tree have been full of bees! We have been told by a few people in our part of town, who were not even aware that we had started keeping bees, that they had noticed a lot more bees than usual in the fruit trees. Yes! Our girls are making the rounds!

As we watched them returning to the hives we have continured to notice different colors of pollen. We have thus far noticed dark orange, light yellow, cream, tan, and white pollen on the returning bees. We have watched the bees foraging on our apple and pear blossoms to see what color they gather from our own trees. The apple pollen looks white and the pear pollen looks like an off-white greenish color. Very strange if you ask me.

We started preparing for the inspection by lighting up the smoker. It has been giving us problems- we can't seem to keep it lit long enought to get throught the whole inspection. We are getting it figured out though, and this time we kept it going for almost the entire time. We start it going with paper and twigs to get some coals in the bottom and then add balls of natural fiber twine. We have researched alternative smoker fuels and have come across a few people who use pet litter cedar chips. We will try that this week and let you know how it goes.

Keep in mind that Virginia had graduated to a second deep hive body the week before, so her inspection took a little longer than it had in the past. After smoking, we got in and inspected the top hive body. The bees had moved up and drawn comb on 3 of the 1o frames, and the queen had laid eggs on a couple of the frames. There were still not a ton of bees here. Most were still down in the bottom part of the hive.

Down in the bottom deep we were hoping to see mature bees emerging from there cells where they had been transforming from larve to adults, but all the brood was still capped. As we thought about that later, we realized that we were getting ahead of ourselves. We counted up the days and it had only been 22 days since we installed the packages. It takes about 21 days after the egg is lad for a mature bee to emerge from it's cell. A little more if the weather is cool and a little less if the weather is warm. Our weather had not been above 65 for most of that time. I'm sure it took a few days for the bees to draw a little comb so the queen could start laying any eggs. We fully anticipate that we will see new bees when we do this week's inspection. Actually, the bee populations should have been at their lowest point during the last inspection. Worker bees have a life span of about 6 weeks. So over the past 3 weeks since the bees were installed bees were dying off withoug being replaced. I suppose that means that the population of each hive had been reduced by about half. Now it is time to start building our numbers back up!

Besides capped brood on the frames we saw lot of pollen- all different colors. As bees fill cells with pollen it looks like they pack it in the bottom until it becomes little pollen cakes. We came across one cell that was empty except for two little balls of dark orange pollen- a bee must have just popped their pollen baskets into that cell and had not yet packed it down or whatever it is they do. We also saw that the bees are capping the sugar syrup we have been feeding them. It doesn't look like they had actually started making honey yet- we were a little disappointed. We thought that with all of the fruit trees we might see some honey in there. Maybe it takes a greater population to gather enough nectar to make a significant amount of honey. We were a little worried that we wouldn't be able to tell the difference between capped honey and capped brood, but after seeing the capped sugar syrup the difference is obvious. Hopefully some of the pictures turned out well enough and you can see for yourself.

By the time we made it through both hive bodies the bees were getting ticked. I guess you can get through one hive body quickly enough to not bother them too much, but 2 hive bodies just takes too long. We found a few attempted stings on my back where bees left their stingers in my shirt and died in the process. Poor little girls- they gave their lives in the defense of their home! We quickly put Virginia back together and moved on to Georgia.

Georgia's bees had drawn comb on a few more frames but still not enough to add a second deep hive body. As we inspected her capped brood we discovered a few drone cells where, obviously, drones were developing into adult bees. Drones are a little larger than worker bees and drone cells are a little larger too. They are very noticable because their caps bulge out forming a dome. Georgia, like Virginia, had lots more eggs and larvae but not much more that was particularly interesting. We closed her back up and are hoping that maybe this week we can add a second deep hive body.

Since that inspection, there has been one exciting event- we had our first bee sting! Some friends were over the other evening and the kids were running around outside. One of the kindergarten aged kids got stung on his finger. From what we could gather with everyone talking at once, he was holding a bee and then freaked out a little. Bees don't like freak outs so it stung right where it was sitting. All is well now, though. It only hurt for a few minutes. Bee stings always feel better when they quit hurting.

It looks like the fruit tree bloom is about over. Dandelions are still blooming (do they ever stop?) just not in such large numbers as they were. We don't know what the next bloom/nectar flow will be. We assume there will always be some sort of nectar/pollen source for the bees. We get a little nervous sometimes, though.

The hive inspection this week hopefully will happen on Wednesday after our niece's wedding. Congratulations Rachael! Provided there is enough time before we have to get ready for the reception that night.

We will try to keep you posted. See you later!


Masaya416 said...

"Bee stings always feel better when they quit hurting." *lol* Isn't that pretty much true of all things? :D Thanks for the updates! :) As the weather gets warmer, people will appreciate having the bees around to help pollinate the flowers and the garden! :)

Tracy said...

Again, very interesting! As I read, questions come to mind, and pow, there is the answer shortly after!

Do they hibernate in the winter? Keep producing as normal, but don't go out of the hives?

I thought of you guys this weekend: we were wathcing "The Bee Movie" for pizza night. Cute show.

Anyway, thanks for the updates! And if you get stung, just remember, it will feel better when it stops hurting!"

Eric said...

Gar or Chris, thanks for the details. Very interesting.

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