Saturday, May 14, 2011

What's Going On In There?

What parent has not uttered the question, "What's going on in there?" I opened up my hives today and in two out of three cases, I know the answer.

The first hive I examined today was the middle one, Hive 2. When I looked last week, things in Hives 1 and 2 seemed to be pretty much the same, except there were many bees in Hive 2 that had drowned in the feeder. Hive 2 has been noticeably less active than the other two all week. There were many drowned bees again this week; some were left over from last week. I dumped out the remaining syrup and the hundreds of dead bees and continued my inspection. I found the queen, I found lots of drawn out comb and very little capped brood. I found a few queen cells.

Queen cells are brood chambers where larvae are being fed royal jelly, the special food that turns an ordinary larva into a queen instead of a worker. They look like peanuts in the shell. Workers create new queens when they sense something is wrong with their queen or if the queen is dead/missing/gone, or if they are crowded and want to split the colony by swarming. These bees are not crowded and should not be wanting to swarm. Her majesty is there; I saw her. She is laying fertile eggs or they wouldn't be able to make a queen cell. I could see larvae. I have more questions than answers for now.

In the middle of the inspection it started raining. All the literature says not to open hives when it is windy or raining. And bright sunshine helps make it easier to see the tiny eggs, at least that's what I hear as I have yet to see an egg. When I finished inspecting Hive 2 I was soaked and ready to quit for the day. The rain stopped.

On to Hive 3, the newbees. This has been the most active hive this week. The workers are drawing out the comb, storing pollen and doing everything they are supposed to do. They are not very far behind Hive 2. I found the queen which is all the more to cheer about as she is unmarked.

Hive 1 was a real treat to inspect. There is frame after frame of capped brood, wall to wall. I did not see the queen but she is certainly in there. I saw larvae. The frames in this hive are mostly drawn out into comb and these girls are getting crowded. They had built some beautiful burr comb in the lid. Harvey, dressed in his hooded NAPA coveralls, started scraping off the burr comb. We noticed there were larvae in the burr comb. The bees were NOT happy with him and a couple took off after him resulting in two stings on his hand and a bee in his hood. When I peeled off the hood, the bee was sitting on his cheek right in front of his ear. She did not sting him and I brushed her off.

Harvey was not feeling the love towards the bees and noticed that they were all lined up at the tops of the frames. I remember reading about this in Beekeeping for Dummies (for real) and when they do that they are sentries guarding the hive. This would be the time to use the smoker, except that it had gone out. I just kept working, hoping that the ladies would humor me and not sting me. I hastily admired all the capped brood, did not find the queen, gave the hive a second story (I gave all the hives second stories), poured the syrup, finished scraping the burr comb and buttoned it up until next week.

Sting count remains at six.

One last story. The burr comb, like all the other comb in the hive, is full of "honey." Actually, for now it is the syrup from the feeder which they are storing for food for later. Scraping the fragile comb makes it ooze and it is very sticky. I left the scraped burr comb near the front doors of the respective hives knowing the bees would take the syrup out of the comb and put it back in the hive. A couple hours after the inspections, the sun was shining as if it had been a pretty day all along so I went back out to see if all the workers had left the burr comb, in which case I would collect it. They had, but at the back of Hive 3 there was one worker on the ground that was drenched in syrup to the extent that her wings were stuck to her body and she couldn't move. I picked her up and put her on top of the hive but I could see that she didn't have much of a future. I moved her to the landing pad at the front door of Hive 3, as I knew that bees will clean syrup off of each other, and immediately, she was surrounded by several sisters who got right to work. Within 10 minutes, she was cleaned up, her wings were functional and I was no longer able to tell which bee was the one that was surely doomed.

How nice to see that they care for each other as much as I care for them.

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