Friday, April 27, 2012

Bee Math: 1 + 1 = 4

Today I spent the late afternoon and evening observing my unofficial beekeeping mentor Coyote and "helping" him install what was to be his second hive.  I say "was to be" because at the end of our adventure he has potentially ended up with four hives.

In his words, "I'm having an interesting bee problem. So, I was SO SURE that the big hive (hereafter known as the Green Hive) was queenless. They acted crabby, there were no eggs, no larva, and the brood comb was being filled with nectar. So I order a queen. Then the queen isn't shipped as soon as expected and then I find she'll be here even later than I thought. I get worried that the colony will get all PO'ed and take off.  So, today, I pick up my 2nd package of bees to start my second hive (the Dragon Hive, since Ivy painted psycho dragons on it). I also am convinced to buy an extra queen just in case the ordered one doesn't ever show up. And that if she *does* show up, I can just make another hive by taking some bees from the Green Hive. Cool beans.  WELL. I get home, and with help from Becky, we install the new colony. It goes smoothly. Then I open up the Green Hive. And what do I find??? Larva and eggs. Lots of them. There is a freaking queen in the Green Hive. I mean, what? So, not only do I have this unexpected queen, I have this extra queen sitting on my kitchen counter, AND I have a queen in the mail.  I'm going to make a third hive with the new queen I have and bees from the Green Hive. But I'm baffled as what I should do with the queen being shipped. I can't cancel the order - she's already coming. I would make a fourth hive, but I don't any more hive boxes. I could probably cobble something together Sunday, since she won't arrive until Monday. But ... I just abruptly went from one hive to four!!"

While he may end up with more hives than he was originally aiming for, it was interesting to hear him discussing splitting the hives and queens with NKY beekeeper Jack Hunt.  I also enjoyed getting to work with his established hive (the Green Hive) and thought it was really fascinating to look around, manipulate the frames, see brood, and use a fume board to take some early spring honey.  We spent a majority of time in the established hive since the new package install went so smoothly.  Rather than dumping the bees, as we did with my install, we simply set the opened package in the brood super and installed the queen cage.  Coyote keeps Italian bees, and it will be interesting to compare their temper, over wintering, and honey production to my Russian bees. 

Inspecting the queen cage.
Opening the travel box.

Helpful dog is helpful.
Discussing the action plan.
The only downside of the day was that I received my first sting as an "official" beekeeper.  To be fair to the bees, I wasn't paying close enough attention and was standing in front of the established hive's entrance.  A bee on the grass crawled onto my foot and stung me after I started walking.  My foot is still a little sore, but the sting wasn't nearly as bad as I remember them being when I was a kid.   I hate to admit it, because the bee had to die in order to sting me, but seeing the stinger still pulsing after it had been ripped from the bee was interesting.  Understanding the sting mechanism and how it continues to function independent of the bee is a topic I find very ientesting.  How Stuff Works: Bee Stings

My sting. Never mind that the arrow is bigger than the actual sting.

Being that I only have one hive as a new beekeeper, I feel lucky to have been able to work in an already established hive.  While it isn't "technically" hard to work with bees, understanding their "language" is essential.  During our visit, Coyote's bees went from indifferent, to irritated, to just plain mad, then back to not caring again.  Handling yourself with calm and knowing when to walk away are skills that will no doubt take time to develop.  With bees, practice truly does make perfect.

Opening the Green Hive and really getting to work.

Full frames!

Rhett is working hard!
New spring brood on the frame.
Coyote is letting his bees draw out their own comb without a base.
Beekeeping is so tough!

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