One of the most joyful happenings in the last several years of our lives has been becoming beekeepers. Every time I visit the apiary, I am filled with happiness. What amazing creatures!
|Me with my beekeeping buddies|
Yesterday was Day 73 of beekeeping here at Flannel Jammies Farm. We now have three hives: the original English Garden Hive, a Split that we made a few weeks ago from that original hive, and a Nuc (nucleus colony) that we received from a local beekeeper.
|English Garden Hive|
|Nuc with 2nd story (left) and Split (right)|
We are blessed that our beekeeping guild has a thriving Nuc Program, allowing beekeepers to purchase these small, starter colonies from local beekeepers who have raised the bees and had their hives inspected. It's a great way to get started in beekeeping... each nuc comes with a queen, bees, and frames of comb and brood (bee eggs and larvae).
First up on our progress check: the original English Garden Hive. It had been 3 weeks since we split the existing queen, some bees, and some brood from this hive into another hive. The hope was that the bees in the original hive would take the hive's remaining brood and create a new queen, who would then emerge, go on her mating flight, and come back to the hive and begin laying. When we went into this original hive, the bees were healthy and plentiful, but not very hospitable! And there was the distinctive loud roar of a hive without a queen. We looked through a couple of the hive boxes. Finding the bottom box of brood nearly empty, we moved on to the second box, and found what could be the beginning of two emergency cells in the middle of one frame. But no eggs. We decided to take a cursory look at the rest of that box, and then reassemble the hive, switching the empty brood box from the bottom to the next level up and bringing the full second box to the bottom. By this time the bees were really not happy with us! We cleaned out the empty feeder, refilled it with sugar syrup, and closed the original hive. We are hopeful that the bees will do what bees do and work out their queenless state of affairs. We will be keeping a close eye on this!
|Emergency cells in the making?|
Next up: the split hive. This hive currently has one hive box and a feeder on top. We found the bees busily at work, building some (ahem!) interesting comb. But we found the (ahem!) marked queen.
|Mountainous comb on one corner...|
|The queen! (bad marking job)|
We also found nicely progressing brood. The box was filling up, signaling that it was time for the next hive box to be added. After that we filled the feeder and closed up the split hive.
|Adding 2nd box to split|
Finally, the nuc box. Now, I was looking forward to going into this hive. The last time we went in, the bees had filled their box to overflowing and we added a second story to the nuc. But I never saw the queen. I saw eggs and brood, but not the queen. She was shown to the hubs when he picked up the nuc, and she was marked with this year's color by the beekeeper before they came home to us. We started looking. These bees had built comb and made propolis to the point that it was a chore to get the frames apart to look! But we persevered and began inspecting. Hhmmm... yes, nice eggs and brood.... and even an emerging bee!!
|Tiny white eggs and larvae in cells|
|Emerging bee with the cell cap off|
Then it happened. I was holding a plastic frame and commenting that it was more wobbly and flexible than the wood frames. And I DROPPED IT. On the ground. A frame full of bees. And maybe the queen!!! I scrambled to check the bees on the ground. Most seemed to be stunned but fine. I couldn't see the queen among them, but I was sure I'd dropped her, or worse, killed her. I was shaking and apologizing to these treasured bugs when my sweet husband swooped in and gently, carefully took the frame, cleaned it off, and began moving on through the hive. I took a breath, still checking the bees on the ground and the placement of my boot-clad feet, and moved on with him.
And there she was, the queen, with a tiny, elegant dot right where it should be! This queen had obviously been marked by someone with more experience than we had. I was so thankful to find her, unharmed by my carelessness.
|Nuc queen (proper marking)|
We carried out the rest of our mental checklist and then quietly reassembled the nuc, refilling the top jar feeder before replacing it.
We gathered our tools, thanked the bees for not stinging us repeatedly, and thanked God for the opportunity to interact with His creation. And gracefully slipped out of the apiary.
Oh, one more thing. If you accidentally touch the side of the smoker while it's lit with gloves on, you may not feel it burning at first. And you may end up with a burnt fingertip on your glove and a red, burning fingertip beneath. Not that such a thing would ever happen...
|Don't try this at home!|