Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Ingrates

Were I not leaving for a month, I would not have bothered my bees today, but since I am leaving, taking the dog, the cat and the torts, the harsh reality is that my bees will not make the travel team. My friend and fellow new beekeeper, Susan, will check the hives in a couple of weeks, but she hasn't seen inside them for over a month and she needed to see how they are buzzing so she'll know if they continue to make good progress. We started off by checking her hives together. She has two hives, one doing okay, the other not. We did a little frame swapping to boost her weak hive. The most interesting thing I saw in her weaker hive was some spun silk in the corner of the lid. It was not beelike. I poked at it and a seriously large, black, fat-bodied spider fled. I know what that arachnid has been eating. It has a sweet tooth for honeybees.

In my own beeyard, I knew Hive 1 would be ready for another super (hive box) and that possibly Hive 3 would be also. I suited up and got the smoker going. As usual, I started with Hive 2, my weakest colony. Actually, it's looking very good! I saw lots of calm bees, capped brood, capped honey, and larvae in cells that have already housed larvae and pupae from which bees have emerged. I pretended to look for eggs, but didn't pretend I saw any. I didn't see any real eggs, either. I also found a few queen cells at the bottom of some frames, so I removed them. What I didn't see is the queen, but she has certainly been there since my inspection last week.

Hive 1 is still picture perfect and with most of the frames drawn out in comb, was indeed ready for the next super. The bees were calm. The queen eluded me.

Hive 3 seems to be going strong. I saw plenty of capped brood, capped honey and comb being reused, but I couldn't find the queen. Three strikes on Where's Queenie? It seemed to me that there was not as much larvae as I should have seen which makes me wonder if the queen is still there. Time will tell. The topmost super was about half drawn out in comb, but since I'm going to be away, I added a super anyway. I also moved some well developed frames into the bottom hive box, as a couple of frames there had not been drawn out in comb. I had this hive open for a while as I inspected all the way to the bottom, looking for the queen. I could tell by the amplitude of the buzzing that the bees were getting agitated.

I removed the feeders from all three hives, setting them on the ground. Each feeder had several bees walking about, so I left them to give the ladies the opportunity to mosey back to their hives. Here is a photo of the hives, with four boxes on two of them and three boxes in the middle. The embellishments are partially obstructed by the telescoping covers. If I get to add a fifth hive box some day, the designs will be completely visible. Hive 1 sports a caricature of my husband. His alter ego, Har-bee, is holding a dollar bill. My caricature designed for my labels is on Hive 3.

I put the empty feeders away in my basement. I'll need them again in the fall. It's always a good idea to keep the bees in the loop, so I went out to tell them I would be gone for a while and to say goodbye. I was dressed in my wicking walking clothes--no bee jacket or veil. I noticed that there was a gap where the top super of Hive 3 sits the hive box below it. I thought there might be some mulch or a stick acting as a shim, so I gently lifted the corner. BIG MISTAKE! Several bees shot out and came right at me. I felt a sharp sting at the top of my left leg as one of the guards defended her hive. Two other bees were viciously stinging a fold in my shirt, hurting no one but themselves. I was backing away from the hives, all the while being chased and pursued by ungrateful worker bees. I was lucky to have gotten only one sting, my ninth. Infinitely wiser, I suited up and lit the smoker, determined to adjust that box and close the gap. By now, I had Harvey's attention and he actually did the honors. I have reframed my thoughts about that gap, since it remains. It is ventilation! If the bees don't like it they will seal it up with propolis.

In my reading about bees, one beekeeper wrote that opening a hive without smoking it first is something you will do just once. Since I was stung through my shorts I got to skip the chapter where the imbedded stinger pulses bee venom into my skin. I got some Benedryl into my system and some topical medicine on my skin and so far, there is just a little swelling. I hope to not have another big, nasty reaction. Ever.

Sting count: 9.

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