Tuesday, June 16, 2009

First Hive Inspection (1 Week)

The one week inspection was due on Saturday but the sky was very overcast. When I looked in my backyard there was no insect activity and I knew it wouldn't be more active out at the bee yard.

Even the squirrels weren't out. So we put off the inspection until Sunday which was forecast to be sunny and 22 degrees.

(See the queen on the left? Look for the yellow dot).
Sure enough, the forecast was accurate (thanks The Weather Network!) and we had a perfect bee day. Dad and I headed out to the bee yard and were there around 3:30.
I had gone over in my head step by step what the process would be when opening and inspecting the hive. I found the slow meditative process calming and also a good preparation for the real thing.
I imagined each step first, visualizing it, problem solving anything I thought would come up. By Sunday, I was ready.
(Photo - notice the white and brown coloured comb? I wonder if they robbed some extra wax from the nuc frame to make this new comb. Isn't all new comb white?)

We veiled up and Dad wearing gloves, was my smoker person. Later he took off his gloves and held frames for photos. Now we both can brag we've held thousands of bees with no stings.

First I took off the outer cover and laid it down upside down. Underneath was the hive feeder which was closed off so no bees could fly up. The feeder was empty with a slight residue of syrup left so I berated myself for not coming in the night before and checking it. The last time I'd filled it was on Wed night so I made a note to self that the feeder should be checked at least every 3 days (mind you I did not top it up to the brim because I didn't want the syrup to mold).

I lifted the hive feeder up a little and Dad puffed in some white smoke. Then I released the feeder and did a slow count to 30.

Next I removed the hiver feeder and laid it down cross-ways on the outer cover. Then I had Dad give a little smoke to the top of the hive where the bees were gathering.

Many of the bees were gathered on the top bars but they weren't really coming up to look at us. They just looked really busy going about their tasks. The smoke increased the buzz of the hive and the bees went down inside the hive.

I first removed one of the brand new frames with foundation from the outside edge of the hive. The bees had not worked this frame so I removed it and the one next to it, also untouched, to create space so I could shift the frames to pull them out easier.

My nuc supplied 4 full frames of bees and I had inserted 6 frames with foundation (no comb built up) when I installed my 2 nuc hives one week ago.

On observing Hive #2 four of the six foundation frames were untouched, although there were a couple of bees on these frames. The 5th frame to the centre I slid over and pulled carefully straight out. That frame had a lovely white wax being built all over both sides, with the centermost part of the frame built the most (worked on first) and the bees were working out from there. It wasn't complete yet so no queen or eggs or food could be stored on it. But they had been busy.

We both held up this frame for photos and then I returned it to the hive.

The next frame was next to the 4th frame from the nuc. It was a little stuck down so I used my hive tool to loosen it a bit and cut away a tiny bit of burr comb. I note that the bees like to glue the frames down. That makes sense because I'm sure that shifting frames could be a little scary/squishy for a fragile bee.

(New beekeeper Lorne holding his first frame of bees - no gloves!).

As soon as I started to lift the frame I could tell the bees had been very busy. It was heavy. It was also loaded with bees on both sides. I held the frame and Dad took photos while I looked over the bees. I didn't see any eggs or larvae on this frame, but I did see nectar in many of the cells. It also wasn't totally filled in yet with honey comb, but nearly complete. A few cells were partially filled with yellow pollen.

Then I saw a yellow spot moving slowly on the frame and at first I thought it was pollen on the leg of a bee but then I noticed it was on the back of the bee.... It took me a few seconds for the 'ole gears to kick in and remind me--that's my queen with her painted back! The yellow spot would mark her as a 2007 queen.

So, I knew I had a working queen on Hive #2. A very good sign indeed and exactly what we were hoping to see.

I remember a friend and fellow beekeeper Henry Heimstra who started Clovermead Apiaries many years ago giving me some sound advice. He said, "Don't love the bees too much." He explained that sometimes people are so enthusiastic about their bees that they open the hive far too often to take a look. The end result is often that they cause more unintended harm than good.

(This hive feeder is great - not one drowned bee. The bees come up through holes into a chamber under the metal square in the centre.)

At that point I opted to close up the hive and not to continue pulling frames looking for eggs or larvae. I had confirmed a live queen and my thinking was that my continued intrusion would just slow them down more and could put my queen at risk from being squished or damaged as I shifted frames (in class we were taught to capture the queen and put her in a queen cage during a hive inspection to keep her safe but I didn't want to try grabbing/handling her yet in such an early stage in my beekeeping just in case I hurt her).
I wanted the bees to focus on their production of comb, not me or the smoke. So we closed the hive up, replacing the hive feeder, topping it up with more 2:1 water sugar syrup and left them alone so they could get back to work in peace.

We repeated the process for Hive #1. This was the hive that had the mysterious syrup leak from the hive feeder--either that or a raccoon was able to somehow rock the hive enough that it slopped over. I removed the feeder so I could take it home to check it out. In its place I put a syrup ziplock baggie right on the top of the frames and slit it open with a razor blade. I did this just before closing up the hive at the end of the inspection.

This hive too had just about finished their sugar syrup so I plan to load them up with lots next time to be certain they don't run out.

As for the inspection, it was identical to the first inspection. Four of the six foundation frames with no comb had not been touched yet. The 5th frame was underway with white comb but not complete. The 6th frame was nice and heavy with built up comb. The only difference on this frame from the other hive was that they actually had capped honey along the top row on the right side (not sure if I got a photo of that).

Would you believe that the queen was also in the identical spot as the queen on the other hive? Well she was... meandering along the bottom left hand corner of the frame. So I'm having a hard time distinguishing from my photos which hive is which.

Again, as soon as I found the queen I opted to close the hive and let them get back to work and away from the distraction of the smoke.

The activity level of the hives on the outside before and after was equal between the two hives. I can see why they suggest having 2 hives so that you can make comparisons between them.

I did notice on Hive #1 that their comb was more brown and not white. I wonder if they used up some of their excess comb from the nuc frames to make this comb? Otherwise, why is it brown if it's brand new comb? Experienced beekeepers, please feel free to comment!

See the queen? Look for the yellow dot on the left hand side near the bottom of the frame. The other yellow dot to the right is pollen in a cell.

Isn't the queen lovely?

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