Less Noise, More Green: A month with bees

Thursday, July 9, 2015

A month with bees



It's been a little more than a month since I started caring for my bees. So far the experience has been both challenging and rewarding and certainly not without some excitement. As with caring for any living thing, reading up on the subject only gets you so far, as you quickly realize your charge, or charges in my case, haven't read the manual at all. It makes for an interesting ride.


                                                                                                                                                         Photo by Michael St. Jean

I attended Bee School and helped care for a hive that is part of a URI Master Gardener project before making the decision to get my own hive. As a new beekeeper, I gave myself a bit of a head start and purchased a nucleus of bees. A nuc is a mini, established colony of bees with a queen, living on five frames of brood (baby bees), pollen, and honey. The nuc frames are placed in the hive along with enough empty frames to fill the deep box. The colony quickly establishes itself in their new home and start building out the rest of the frames with comb for the queen to lay eggs in and for the storage of pollen and honey. If all goes according to plan!

changing the syrup on a bee hive
                                                                           Changing the syrup                                            Photo by Michael St. Jean

I am keeping my bees at my friend Lynne's house. She lives about twenty-five minutes away from me in a much more rural area. The best part of this arrangement is I get to see her more often. Lynne is also helping me check the syrup levels in the hive so I only need to come and change out the bottles when I need to. Pretty soon she'll get a suit and get stuck in there with me.

                                                              Calmly waiting for my box of bees.                              Photo by Michael St. Jean

When the nuc was ready for me to pick up, Lynne was on vacation. I picked the box of bees up at night and took it to her house. The next day I drove back to install the bees into the hive. When I opened the trunk of the car I realized the bottles of sugar syrup had spilled all over my bee suit! I needed to get the nuc into the hive ASAP because it was going to be a very hot day and I was worried about the bees over heating. So I put on my sticky, wet suit and installed the bees with just a quick check of the frames. Then I drove back to my house, because Lynne wasn't home, changed my clothes, made more syrup, and drove back to the hive. What a mess! The bees were fine, which is all that matters. Needless to say, I revisited how I transport the syrup.

Bees at the hive entrance
Bees at the hive entrance. The large bee on the left is a male drone.

After a couple of weeks, I was worried about the hive because I wasn't seeing any new brood and I hadn't seen the queen. I asked my friend and bee mentor Jim to come and inspect the hive with me and he confirmed that I had a queen-less hive. There are many reasons why this could happen and when I contacted my supplier he immediately offered me a replacement nuc.

Bees eating honey during an inspection
Bees eating uncapped honey during an inspection. Smoking the hive makes the bees calm and hungry!
So I repacked the nuc into the box, drove to the supplier, dropped off my nuc and left with a new one. Back to the hive I went and installed the new nuc. Driving with a box of upset bees in the car is not my favorite way to spend a morning, let me tell you!

Frame inspection
Inspecting a frame.
A week later I did my first inspection of the new nuc, which is when you open up the hive, pull out each frame and inspect it, looking for evidence of a laying queen and any reasons for concern such as abnormal laying patterns, swarm cells (an indication that half the colony is getting ready to leave) or supersedure cells (where the hive decides the existing queen isn't up to snuff and creates a new queen or realizes they are queen-less and need a new queen).

Capped and uncapped brood
Capped and uncapped brood.

I was thrilled to see the queen on a frame in the process of being built out with comb. I saw evidence of her laying as well. A few days ago Jim and I did a second inspection and although we didn't see the queen, there was more build out and brood in all stages of growth.

Be bringing pollen into the hive
Top bee is bringing pollen into the hive.

My focus now is getting the hive to the point where the bees can make it through the winter. I am not banking on being able to add a honey super this year as the bees would have to fill out the deep they are in, plus another full deep before I'd put a super on for me. We'll have to see how productive this queen is and how industrious the workers are.

Not a dull hobby, this beekeeping lark.Watching the bees working in the hive is truly inspirational. They are amazing creatures and deserve my best effort to help them thrive.

See you in the apiary,

Sue





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