Saturday, April 30, 2011

True Confessions

I have read about how beekeepers love their bees and I thought that was a bit of a stretch, but I confess I am falling in love with my bees.

I examined the hives today and found pollen being stored in some cells. It looks like colorful (orange) splotches. The workers are drawing out the comb on seven sides of the frames. I saw both my queens. Because I was reluctant to shake the bees off the busiest frames, I was unable to see what was going on in the honeycomb, but I am starting to see cells that are capped. It's too soon for capped honey, so I'm going to assume the capped cells contain developing larvae. The capped cells are so perfect, creamy smooth tops in perfect hexagons.

While seeing the drawn out comb, stored pollen and some capped cells is fascinating, that occurred early this afternoon and I was not yet smitten. I didn't fall down the rabbit hole of bee love until dusk tonight. I went out to water some plants and stood by the hives for about 15 minutes. Since it was close to dark, there wasn't the kind of energetic activity I see in the afternoon, bees zooming out of the hive and others coming in for a landing. What I saw this evening was bees homing in on their hives, not a lot, but a steady stream of workers coming in for the night. Many more of them are bringing home filled pollen baskets. I was standing about a foot away from their doors and they just sort of materialized out of nowhere, landed and went in. It reminded me of a magician plucking quarters out of someone's ear, except that's an illusion and this was truly magical. And while the hives are less than two feet apart, there was not a bee that didn't fly directly to her own hive. No guesswork, no moments to think about it, just a beeline (ha!) to the correct hive. Reflecting on their tireless work, clannishness, perfect understanding of geometry and their infallible GPS did it and I fell in love with my bees.

I accompanied Susan today to check her hives and am delighted to report no new stings for either of us. My sting count remains at 5.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Shall we dance?

Two important things observed on this blustery day. Hive 1 (the one on the left as I look from the house) is abuzz with comings and goings. Hive 2, pretty quiet. Some of the girls in hive 1 are returning to the hive with pollen--not too many pollen bearers and with only one pollen basket stuffed (oddly, only on their left hind legs), but the tiny nuggets of golden pollen are starting to be brought back to the hive. This is very good news because it means they are feeding brood. The queen is laying and A's Bees will be increasing in population. When I open the hive next week I should be able to see eggs and developing larvae.

The second important observation is one of the girls is doing a waggle dance, one of two kinds of communicative bee dances performed by a forager who has found something worth sharing with her sisters. It could be about nectar, pollen or water, but this particular dance is telling them it is at a distance from the hive. She is dancing above the front door/landing pad of the hive.

New beekeeper, new blogger

No one has ever accused me of being the first to try something, but as of this week I am a beekeeper (a pastime recorded at least as far back as ancient Egypt) and as of today, a blogger.

This blog will bee concerned with all aspects of my beekeeping.  I will share my successes, my failures and  my stings.  I may also comment on the meadow about to be planted and other fauna in our yard, such as the nest of six adorable baby bunnies I found in the flower bed by our garage.

About the bee stings--prior to last week, my one and only bee sting occurred while running through the sprinkler on Portman Avenue when I was a little girl.  The clover was blooming in the grass and I stepped on a bee.  It hurt me but it was far more serious for the poor bee.  Last week, while helping my friend Susan install two packages of bees in her new hives, I was stung on the inner upper right arm when one of the worker bees was squeezed there and once on my left leg above the knee.  I was wearing jeans but didn't have the cuff cinched with the handy dandy velcro strip Harvey had made for me.  I learned the hard way that bees like to explore openings.  Since we were at the construction site of Susan's Dublin home, I had to ignore the stinger that continued to pulse venom into my thigh.  

After practicing on Susan's hives, she accompanied me to the meadow to install my two packages of bees.  The practicing paid off in that my installations took a fraction of the time hers did and we finished without having to use our goose feather bee brushes to brush off hundreds of bees from each other's clothes.  I picked up two more stings on my left wrist. These stings were 1/2" apart.  I learned the hard way that I should either remove my bracelet to keep bees from getting squeezed there, or I should wear my beekeeper's gloves which go all the way to the elbow and have elastic openings.  One wrist sting was a nasty thing and I immediately scraped out the stinger, but the other was just a little jab.  Nevertheless, my wrist and hand were painfully swollen for a day and itched for close to a week.  I need to buy more Benedryl and will experiment with every bee sting remedy known to current civilization until I find something really effective or just get better with the bees so I don't get stung.

Just to keep the count accurate, when I worked on the hives Sunday (one had a leaky feeder that needed Harvey's attention) I got one more itty bitty sting on my right leg just below the knee.