Thursday, April 21, 2011

Confucius Say...

Confucius say... Bee keeper with sticky fingers have sticky camera. 

Today was a good day to check out the girls again. I had plenty of daylight to go in both hives, so I was prepared to spend some time. I have one thing to say about bee keeping:
It's hot. 

So I found her. The queen. And she is a beauty. 
Can you spot her? She is the darker, long one. She is bigger than the rest.
This is the hive on the right, the one I went in last time and took out the two queen cells. So, (sigh of relief) we have a queen. And she seems to be working. I didn't spend too much time in this hive because I looked at it pretty good the other night. I found her, checked for larva, and left them alone. 

The hive on the left seemed like it was more full than the one on the right. I found numerous queen cells in this one. 
The queen cell is the light yellow, peanut looking thing.

I also found lots of larva. 
See those little worm guys down in the cells? They will soon be capped. 

I don't quite know if I saw eggs or not. It was very hard to tell if what was in the cells just food (royal jelly, I guess) waiting for eggs, or if they were the early stage of larva. There was SOMETHING in there, but I am just not sure what.  So I felt confident that there was a queen, so I got rid of all the queen cells. There were probably six or seven.

I had also a hard time telling which one was the queen. I thought I found her, but she looked so different than my other queen I thought maybe I was just seeing drones. Drones are boy bees. They are bigger than the worker bees, because they sit around, doing nothing, waiting to "git wit" a queen (not necessarily their own queen. That can cause inbreeding, which is no good for any species). That is a one time thing, by the way. If a drone is successful in mating with a queen, he soon dies. Apparently after mating, his "beenis"is ripped from his little body. 

So I don't know if I saw the queen or not. What do you think? Is this the queen or a drone?

See the big one in the middle?
Maybe this one?

It is really hard to find the queen sometimes. I noticed quite a few drones and drone cells in this hive. That may be because there are more bees in there...I don't know. But the brood pattern looked good and they are starting to make a little honey. Take a look at the difference. 
Honey on the bottom and brood on the top. The colors are different. 

I also saw something pretty cool- a bee chain! These bees were making a chain across the gap where I had taken out one of the frames. 

They were all strung together all the way across. I wonder why they do that? 

It has finally dawned on me. I am a beekeeper. Keeper of the bees. Tamer of creatures most feared. :) I'm just being a little silly there, but I am very excited to do this on my own. I have the privilege to watch these creatures who have survived and adapted since the time of creation. Honey has been found in tombs in ancient Egypt. The Jews were led into the land of milk and honey. I just feel like when I look into the bees, I am watching how they have done their job for possibly millions of years. It is an amazing pleasure and blessing. Realizing that is how I know I am a beekeeper. Realizing that you can never really "keep" bees is when you become a beekeeper. I am just enjoying my time with them. Civilizations will change and develop, people will become "advanced" and no longer do the things that I understand today. But thousands of years from now, the bees that are still around will be doing business the same way they always have. I find comfort in that. 

Queen of Errors

Have I mentioned yet that I hardly know what I am doing with these bees? I have also learned that I only listen to about half of what I am told. Or maybe I just remember only half of what I hear. Either way, I only know about half of what I should know, or perhaps much, much less than half of what I should.

Some capped brood (bee eggs/soon to be baby bees)

So the Bee Man told me I would want to go into the hives and make sure that they weren't thinking about swarming. Among the many things Dad told me, the only thing I heard was "get rid of queen cells." This was about half the story. I go in -- may I mention with much less distress for the bees and myself -- on a search and destroy mission. I find two queen cells and destroy them efficiently. I move the outside frames by switching places with the current outside frames, to give the girls a little more room, and I get out as it just gets too dark to see anything but a softly buzzing mass. 

I called to report my success to the Bee Man. "Did you see the queen?" he asked.  "No." "Did you see larva?" he asked. "No." "Did you check for eggs?" "No," I reply vaguely realizing where this train of questioning was going. "How do you know you have a queen then?" Good question. I had forgotten to really check for any signs of a living queen at all before destroying the heirs to the throne. 

You can see some larva here. They look like little white grubs in the uncapped cells. You can see them most clearly on the left of the picture at top and bottom. 

While a queen cell can mean that the bees are preparing to swarm, it can also mean they need to replace an absent or bad queen. If you see eggs, that means she has been there a day or so ago. If you see larva, you know she was alive at least three days ago. If you see capped brood, she has been alive within the last week or so (larva takes around eight-ten days to hatch). I had a younger queen cell (gross white jelly stuff inside) and an older queen cell (bright white bee-looking creature). So I would have to go in later in the week to find the queen and take a look at how she has been performing.  If you want to know more about queen bees, queen cells, or see what is inside the queen cell, take a look here or check out Dad's blog posts on the subject. 

I had an excellent photographer, who surprised me by getting very close to the frames to take pictures. I surprised myself by sounding just like my dad when I told him to get back if he didn't want to get stung. He spent some time being artistic with the pictures of the smoker.

He also spend some time slaying serpents for me. I picked up this little guy thinking he was the most awesome earthworm ever. He was no earthworm. I hope "momma 'nake" is nowhere around.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Agitation All Around

On Sunday, the day after installation, I just quickly opened up both hives to make sure all was well. I noticed in one hive, one of the frames had dropped down in the front (the frame was just a little bit too short). I decided I would suit up and go in Monday to fix that. I gave them a whole quart of sugar water and put them to bed for the night.

Monday, after dinner, I suited up to go in and quickly fix that frame. Or that is what I thought anyways. Here I go in my space invaders suit, down the hill to the hives. I have my bulky gloves and my trusty tool in tow and I am ready to totally know what I was doing. I got into the hive and started trying to get my tool under the frame to just pop it up and move it half an inch to the left. Easier said than done.

I could NOT seem to pry that frame up! I thought I was going to either put my tool through the frame or lever the side so much the side of the hive may come off! I tried to be gentle but my huge, mutated fingers were anything but. I would get the frame up a little and try to grab it, then BAM! it would drop and slam down into the hive. This was met with quite an uncomfortable level of buzzing. After doing this three times, it was obvious I needed some smoke.

I knocked on the window for my loving husband (who wants nothing to do with my new hobby) to bring me a lighter. He helped me get the pine needles lit and off I go, back down to the hive, with a blazing torrent of flame coming out of my smoker. This would not do, unless I wanted to incinerate them all. So I huffed and puffed, then realizing this was literally fanning the flame, I let it die a little. I then had some good smoke to get them calmed down. This was successful. I set the smoker in the grass to go back to my prying. Soon I was cussing myself the same way my dad always did when I smoked him. Big dummy me, had placed the smoker directly upwind from myself and I had managed to choke myself out. So I moved the smoker and went back to prying.

I felt so silly fumbling about with that tool and frame as I thought about my Dad, the hive tool merely an extension of his hand, or brain even. Neither my hands or brain seemed to want to work together. Finally, I got the frame pulled up and shifted. Once I had it where I wanted it, I wanted to just get out of there as I had traumatized these girls enough for the day. I closed them up and looked in at the other hive (blissfully oblivious to the wake of disaster in which I had left their neighbors). All looked well. I didn't want to prowl in there with out a reason, so I closed them up, put out my fire, and headed back to the house.

They had taken about half of the quart of sugar water, so I left the remainder on the hives for them to finish today. Seems as though they will take a quart every two days. So I will try to check on them again later in the week and try my best not to traumatize them more than necessary. I have a lot to learn.

It's Official

I am an official bee keeper.

Mom and Dad arrived on Saturday afternoon with the hive bodies and frames. We spent a little time figuring out where they should go, which way was South, and getting them level. I decided to put them on the South side of the house, facing east. I am not too sure that is ideal, but that is where they are. We actually didn't have too many choices. Even though it is early April, the heat and humidity were already in high gear, so after the set up, we headed in for a late afternoon nap. We needed to kill time until 7:30 until we could go pick up the bees.

At 7:00, we arrived at Jennifer Berry's house. We saw all ten nuks setting out ready to head home with us; the bees were just coming in for the day. They looked good, full, and active. The best part was is they seemed VERY calm and gentle. Jennifer arrived home from a full day of working in the University hives and it was very cool to meet her. She is pretty close to a celebrity in the bee realm. We loaded up the nuks in the back of the truck and headed back to the East side.

When we got home, we decided which bees would be mine. We used the scientific method of "which ones are closer to the back". Those were mine. :) So I immediately suited up, Dad carried the nuks down to the site, and Mom got the sugar water. We then took out the frames, one by one, to take a look at the brood pattern and to make sure that there were no queen cells (an indication they wanted to think about swarming).  Everything looked good, so in their new home they went. All of the drawn out frames from the nuk went in the middle of the hive so they could work their way out. Soon, I will be looking to move the outside frames in so they will fill up all the frames.

The bees handled the transition well and with hardly any agitation. The hardest part of the move was seeing in the dark and using my new gloves. It felt like I had Hamburger Helper mascots on my hands as I fumbled around, got the end of my gloves stuck under the frames, and struggled to handle the tools. These gloves are for the birds. One of these days, if I ever get to a point where I WANT to be stung, I may lose them. In the meantime, I have got to get those puppies broken in.

Mom and Dad headed back home with their 8 new colonies in the back of the truck before daylight on Sunday morning (this is not unusual for them to head home that early, but there was actually a need this time). They needed to arrive back home in Tennessee before the bees got up and left to get breakfast (speaking of breakfast, I believe mom, dad, and the bees may have stopped at McDonald's on the way home. I am sure some of the bees stayed for a tasty Egg McMuffin.)They managed to get home around 9am and Dad was able to get his hives installed with no problems.

I am so pleased to have my own bees now, but I have a feeling it will not be as easy as I think...