Archives for posts with tag: honey

This week we have a special guest: my friend and co-worker, and experienced beekeeper Andrea. She is a far more engaging host and I greatly appreciate her generosity in sharing her knowledge and equipment through this learning process. We had high hopes for the inspection as you hear in Andrea’s introduction of our plan. As per the usual so far, we made a plan…and then life (or the bees) had a different one.

The plan had been to do some minor reorganization of the brood box. There are two frames where the bees only like one side for honey storage and have not built any comb on the other, so I thought we would move those two half frames out and let them build fresh comb so that they had ten full frames. I was simply trying to maximize usable space. If they haven’t used a part of the foundation, it’s often that there is something about it that they don’t like. In my case, the foundation is somewhat old, which could be putting them off. My goal has been to switch to foundationless frames so it seemed a good time to continue that process.

Once we pulled the feeder box and inner cover, we discovered that the bees had been very busy over the past couple weeks. I had fed them sugar syrup twice and with that they had almost completely cleaned up the old comb and drawn out the empty frames on the honey super. Plus, they had filled it at least half full of honey in various stages of completion and capping. Ahhhh, that was the delicious smell that had been regularly wafting from the hive on warm days. I do not have a particularly adept sense of smell, but it is a delectable, unique melange of flavors. Trying to describe it feels a lot like describing wine: it has hints of honey, wax, vanilla, and caramel with distinct floral notes. Marc says it smells distinctly earthy. If you have never had the opportunity to smell a beehive, add it to your bucket list. It’s a delight!

We scrapped our original plan to pull the two half-built frames and find the queen, deciding that all was well in their colony and there was no need to disrupt it to go deeper into the nest this time. Instead, we added another honey super along with the queen excluder. This super would not be filled with honey made from sugar syrup as they had plenty of resources to support themselves at this point and there was no need to continue feeding them. Instead this super, if filled, will be the excess that I hope to harvest, leaving the bees with the lower super and filled brood nest for their winter provisions.

I inspected the hive last Sunday expecting to see frames filled with fresh comb. (Remember a couple weeks how I mentioned my affinity with the virtue of patience?) Boy was I disappointed! Not a bit of fresh comb to be found. What I did find, however, were busy bees covering two full frames with plenty of bees roaming all around the other parts of the hive. I also discovered how much heavier a frame can be when it has honey in it. At best my frames have a wee bit of honey, so I can’t wait to see how a full one feels.

Looking at one of the frames.

I also observed a bit of packed pollen in another corner.

The area circled in red is packed pollen, and, I think, the area circled in blue is capped honey. The other closed cells, capped with a lumpy looking dark orangish-brown covering is capped brood (baby bees). There might also be three cells of uncapped brood (baby bees that haven’t pupated yet) in the three open cells directly above the red circled area.
The shiny fluid inside these cells is honey that has yet to be dehydrated to the appropriate level. Once that occurs, the bees will cap it with a protective wax covering for storage until it’s needed later in the season.

Again I could not detect eggs. Along with the lack of fresh comb I was concerned as the bees seem to have little room for more egg-laying and brood production. So I posted a picture and posed the question on the San Diego Beekeepers Association Facebook page to see if there was anything more to be done. Two key points emerged: 1) since my colony is so small there just aren’t enough workers to tend to all the eggs and babies were the queen to lay more eggs. These are highly intelligent creatures! Maybe not in the same way humans consider intelligence, but there is an awareness here and the queen will only lay eggs to the extent that there are workers to care for them, and 2) it is possible that we are getting into what’s known as “the dearth” when there is less blooming so queens reduce their egg production since there is not as much to eat. There’s that intelligence in nature again!

It seems that my bees are doing fine. After conferring with my beekeeper friend, I added two sticks a little wider than a bee to each side of the feeder to lift it above the cover and give the bees access to more drinking areas on the lid.

Sticks inserted under feeder to lift it above the inner cover and give additional access to feeding holes in the lid

It made a huge difference! They had previously eaten only approximately 16 ounces in a week. When I checked it on Tuesday they had consumed another 16 ounces in just two days. My hope is that now that they have more food, and more bees emerging soon, there will be fresh comb on the next inspection in two weeks. We’ll see! Thanks for following along on this adventure.

We waited about a week from when we collected the bees before we opened the hive to see if there was a queen. From the title of this post, I think you can see where we’re going, but our hope had been that somehow there was a second queen in the swarm. It was a far-fetched hope, but a hope all the same. We opened the hive to discover approximately one frame of bees, who had not done much of anything over the past week. No comb being drawn, no sign of any activity, and definitely, no sign of a queen. As I saw it, the issue was that we needed a queen, and we needed one soon. I had a jar of honey in the cupboard that I’d purchased from Max’s Honey House (excellent honey, BTW), which had a phone number on it that we called. We reached a man who is a commercial beekeeper and dissuaded us from trying to re-queen this colony of bees as it was too small and too late in the season to have a viable colony come winter. He recommended that I acquire a nucleus hive, which for those new to beekeeping is about five drawn frames filled with a queen, some drones, and some workers ready to be placed into a new hive body. That is still my next plan, if this colony fails.

In the lovetime, here were some queenless bees who would slowly die out over their natural lifespans and that seemed a little sad. I had collected them in the hopes of saving them. Sure, honey would be nice eventually, but I was and am more interested in the process and understanding of beelife. So after much deliberation, we decided we would attempt to re-queen them and see what happens in our grand experiment. We placed a feeder of sugar syrup on the hive and called it a night.

Mmm, mmm good!
%d bloggers like this: