Friday, July 17, 2009

New Sting

I got stung again. The first time I got stung I just wanted to peek under the top hive feeder and look in the hive for a second. The feeder had been glued in place with propolis and by the time I got it off it came up with a loud "CRACK" that set the bees off. One of them stung me on my forhead. I barely felt it and by the next morning it had swelled up in a knot and itched for a few days.

This time I just wanted to peek in the supers to see how much comb the bees had drawn. Chris has told me never to open the hives without my gear on. Why did I do it? I think I can relate to Pippin in The Lord Of The Rings when he couldn't help himself and had to look at the palantir just one more time. Anyway, I lifted off the outer and inner covers and 2 bees shot out of the hive and nailed my on the side of the wrist and the back of the hand next to my watch. They were more painful than the first sting but not horrible and they did stop hurting within 30 seconds. That night they looked like mosquito bites and nothing more. The next day my hand began to swell. Eventually my knuckles disappeared and the swelling extended up my fingers. Below is a picture of what my hand looked like this morning.

By the time this picture was taken a lot of the swelling had gone down, but you can still see some puffiness in the middle knuckles in my middle, ring, and pinky fingers.

Now, I have taken the outer and inner covers off, peeked in the supers, and replaced the covers several times without incident. I think that as the summer heats up and they bees have more honey to defend they are becoming a little more protective of their hives. I think I will leave them alone now and only look in when I am doing inspections with the smoker and all the gear in place.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Adding Supers

I dug into the hives a few days ago. We have had a super on top of Virginia's hive for a couple of weeks now, and I fully expected to see the bees building comb and filling it up with nectar. There has been a nectar flow going on for quite a while since the alfalfa has been blooming. Maybe it hasn't been as strong a flow as I thought because when I looked into the super there wasn't much comb.

Here in this photo you can see the small amount of comb the bees had built on this frame. There were four frames with about this same amount of comb. I was hoping for more.

Once I got through the super I started into the upper deep hive body. I could immediately see that the bees had filled out all the deep frames. The first frame was really cemented in place with wax and propolis. That combined with the fact that it was full of nectar and capped honey, which makes the frame surprisingly heavy, made it difficult to remove from the hive. You are supposed to carefully pull the frames straight up so you don't damage the comb. Well, as I wrenched the frame loose from the wax and propolis, the frame twisted sideways as I pulled it up. Besides this, there was a piece of burr comb on the side of the hive facing the frame. As I pulled the frame out at a crooked angle the burr comb scratched along the honey comb on the frame and pretty well mangled a big chunk of comb. I pulled it on out as it was dripping with honey- I bet a couple cups of honey dripped out. I captured some of the drippings- just enough for everybody in the family plus one neighbor kid to have a taste. Mmmm- Delicious!

Here is a shot of one of the deep frames with mostly capped honey and some open cells full of nectar toward the bottom.

Another frame with capped honey on the top half and some capped brood in the bottom half. When we first started I worried that I wouldn't be able to tell the difference between capped honey and capped brood. The difference is obvious, isn't it?

Once I discovered that there was plenty of capped brood and new eggs in Virginia I figured that the queen was doing well. I don't know what else I could accommplish by going throught he rest of the hive except disrupt the hive operations so I put things back together and didn't bother inspecting the bottom box.
Georgia's hive still had it's top hive feeder and the bees had been taking large amounts of sugar syrup. I removed the feeder and looked down into the the deep hive body and saw that the bees had finished drawing comb on all of the deep frames. As I started the inspection I found that the bees had not filled all of the comb with nectar/sugar syrup, but they were making progress.
As I came across frames with capped brood I saw something I had not seen before. As the bee larvae grows it is capped with wax and the larvae transform through the pupae stage and turn into adult bees. When they are fully developed the worker bees chew away the wax caps and climb out. The drones need help chewing through the wax caps and climbing out of the cells from worker bees. Anyway, I looked closely at one of Georgia's frames of capped brood and discovered two cells where the worker bees inside were in the process of chewing their way out of their cells. I could see little sets of antennae and eyes poking through. I tried to take pictures but, like I have said before, we need a new camera. They turned out way to blurry to post.
After I was done inspecting Georgia I added a queen excluder, a super, the inner cover, and replaced the outer cover.

Here is a photo of the two hives sid by side. They both now consist of, starting at the bottom: screened bottom board, two deep hive bodies, queen exluder which cannot be seen, 1 medium honey super, inner cover which cannot be seen, outer cover, and a brick to keep the outer cover from blowing off.
This is not how the color scheme was supposed to work out. Virginia was supposed to be yellow and Georgia was supposed to be blue but, if you read the very first post of this blog you know that the second hive didn't arrive until a couple of hours after the bees did. We were forced to use Virginia's second deep as Georgia's first and we didn't get a chance to paint Georgia's bottom board before we had to install the packages. Now the colors are all mixed up. Oh well, it gives them character, right?
Hopefully the nectar will continue to flow and they will start drawing comb in the supers. Progress seems kind of slow but if you consider that they started with just three pounds of bees and no comb, they have really done a lot in just 2 months and 3 weeks.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Hummin' Hives

Ok- I know I just gave an update yesterday, but I have to mention what happened this morning. I sometimes like to listen to the hives- that has always meant pressing my ear against the side of the hive and litening to the hum inside. Is that weird? Maybe. But I enjoy it anyway. Anyway, back to the story- I went outside at 6:00 this morning ready to leave for work and decided to go look at the hives really quick. When I got within 5 feet I thought I could hear a low hum. I said to myself "That can't be the bees." I took a couple more steps and listened again and confirmed that it was in fact the bees humming that loudly! I have read about this on before and I am excited to hear it myself. It is the sign of a really good nectar flow with the bees in the hive fanning the honey comb with their wings in order to evaporate the moisture out of the honey. Our bees are so cool!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Sweet Honey

Well, there hasn’t been a whole lot of new news with the bees lately. We did inspect the bees last week but there was virtually no progression in either hive, which left very little to blog about. We did peek in the hives yesterday, though and there is a little more to discuss.

To start with, we have been mildly concerned about the Virginia hive. A couple of weeks ago, since she had dawn comb on 8 of the 10 frames, we added a super and removed the top hive feeder. During last week’s inspection we found that there were some eggs and larvae, but the brood pattern was kind of spotty and there was not any new comb that was not there the previous week. In retrospect we can see that we were just a little too excited with Virginia and jumped the gun a little. We should have waited one more week before adding the second deep hive body and should have continued to feed them 1 more week before adding the super. I read somewhere (and any of you who might know better can feel free to correct me if I am wrong) that it takes a pound of honey to make 1 ounce of wax. I think that when the super was added there was no nectar flow going on. With no nectar flow the bees can’t make honey. If the bees are not making honey they can’t build much comb either.

During this past week the bees from both hives have been very active. All day long the bees have been taking off for and returning from parts unknown. The way the hives are situated in the back yard they either have to fly up and over hedge about 10 feet tall across the yard to the east, up and over a hedge about 8 feet tall to the north, or up and over the house to the south west. Consequently they all fly up immediately after leaving the hive. Anyway, when the sun is shining, the bee’s bodies reflect the sunlight. It is a beautiful sight to look toward the hives and see all these little points of light constantly shooting up and coming down.

As we have watched the bees coming in this past week we have noticed that they have been bringing in very little pollen. We assumed that this meant that there must be a good nectar flow going on and they were bringing in nectar instead. This was confirmed when, during yesterdays hive inspection, we discovered that Virginia had very nearly finished drawing out comb in the deep hive bodies and filled them with capped honey. Capped honey, by the way, is the finished honey ready to be eaten. Bees fill the honey comb cells with regurgitated nectar which has been treated with various enzymes used to break down the sugars in the nectar. They then fan the honeycomb to evaporate the water until they have nice ripe honey. They cover the honey with wax caps so they can store it until it is needed. As of yesterday they had just started to draw comb up in the super. I am thinking that if we had just been a little more patient and added boxes and stopped feeding at the right times we might be a week ahead of where we are now.

The nectar flow we are now experiencing must be from the alfalfa fields outside of town. They have all been full of little purplish blue blossoms. It is now time for the first cutting of hay so those fields will be out of commission until just before the second cutting. There are several fields being used for seed rather than hay. I do not know if alfalfa will continue to blossom as long as it is not cut or if the blossoms will dry up as it goes to seed. Does anyone out there know? Please leave a comment and tell me if you do.

Anyway, I did scrape a little burr comb with some capped honey from the top of the frames in Virginia’s top deep hive body. There wasn’t a lot of honey there- just enough to smear on a couple of fingers for Chris and myself. It was a very light mild honey- and quite tasty. Woohoo! Our first taste of Robertson honey!

Georgia, as usual, is lagging just a little behind Virginia. She has drawn comb on 7 of the 10 frames in her upper deep. When I saw this I got excited and just about removed the feeder and added a super. I took a deep breath, remembered Virginia, and decided to feed one more week before adding the super. I am confident that next week there will be a super sitting on top of both hives, and, as long as the alfalfa keeps up, both will be filling up with honey.

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