Sunday, May 8, 2011

All My Children

It's Mother's Day and the afternoon was filled with sunshine. Perfect conditions for my weekly bee check. Because I had more to do with the newbees, I started with Hive 3, in the forefront of the photo.

The newbees had devoured all the syrup in their feeder and had industriously built a large piece of burr comb in the lid. Burr comb is honeycomb that the bees put where they want it and beekeepers don't, like in the lid. I am collecting all the beautiful white burr comb to render into cakes of beeswax for future projects.

Once I got into the frames in the hive body, I removed the queen cage to see if she had been released. Each package of bees comes with a queen in a queen cage, a wooden box about the size of a lipstick. The bottom has a hole with a cork. When I installed the package of bees, I pried out the cork. Underneath the cork is a piece of candy. The whole shebang is hung in the hive body and within a few days, the workers eat the candy and release the queen. While waiting for her release, workers feed and groom the queen through the screen. All the while, she is releasing her unique pheromone scent and by the time she is free, all the workers have gotten to know their queen. I think someone missed a great opportunity to call these carriers something spiffy, like chariots or thrones.

The queen cage was empty. I looked among the thousands of workers for the newbee queen, but her majesty eluded me. The queen is larger than the workers and more slender than the drones. It would be helpful if she wore a crown, but she doesn't. What she does wear is a painted dot on her thorax and if the workers aren't piled on top of her, it does make it easier for new beekeepers to spot her. Even so, I could not find her. In another week, I'll try again.

After examining all the frames and prying out the burr comb, I reassembled the hive, added syrup and moved on to Hive 1. The girls in Hive 1 had also eaten all the syrup in their feeder. Their queen hid from me, too, but many of the frames were covered with capped brood. She's in there.

Hive 2 also had lots of capped brood. I was able to find this queen. Uh oh, her paint spot is wearing off and looks like a crescent moon. I wonder if I can repaint. Both of my original hives are coming along.

In all three hives I saw bees with filled pollen baskets and cells in the honeycomb with stored pollen. Most of the pollen is golden, some is pale green, and some of it is vibrant red. I saw a few bees with their pollen baskets filled with red pollen. I wonder what it comes from.

This Mother's Day, in addition to hearing from my human children and checking on my 30,000+ stinging children, I visited my bird nesting boxes. One bluebird house is still vacant. In the other bluebird house, the first of the seven chickadee eggs hatched on Friday, so I expected the rest would have hatched by now. They had. And yesterday, I noticed birds flying in and out of the new chickadee house. I didn't know what these birds were, but I knew what they weren't: chickadees. I couldn't get a good look at them, even with the binoculars, so I resorted to calling Wild Birds Unlimited for a consult. Based on the limiting size of the hole in the nesting box and my description of the nest being built (just a circular pile of twigs), I am pleased to report that house wrens are nesting there. This is a new species for me. I do not see these birds at my feeders, but I welcome them to my yard. The other chickadee box which has provided shelter for chickadees for five years remains empty.

The rest of my kids, Sam the Doodle, Wanda, Ketzel, the torts and Samson the ball python are also fine.

As for flora, Harvey and I planted two hemlocks, a horse chestnut, a dogwood, some spiderwort and a number of rootings of white raspberries in the ravine. A fine Mother's Day, for sure.

Sting count: 6. An unfortunate worker crashed into my right shoulder and gave me a teensy sting. There was no stinger and I wasn't even sure I hadn't imagined the whole thing, but there is a mosquito bite sized welt. I think I have to count it.


  1. Your motivation on the yard, the ravine, the bees... it's SO INSPIRING! Hoping it rubs off on your neighbors soon ;))

  2. Thanks for giving all this graphic detail. I'm learning more than I even thought I wanted to know about beekeeping.