Saturday, July 25, 2009

Expert Hive Inspection

I was at work when the phone rang. It was a fellow beekeeper Henry Heimstra.

Henry has been in beekeeping for over 30 years and ran Clovermead Apiaries in Aylmer, Ontario, until his son took it over when he retired.

Saturday was supposed to be the annual Bee Beard Competition at Clovermead but due to an especially wet and cold summer, the decision was made to postpone the event until 29 August 2009.

That meant Henry had his Saturday free, and so did we. He said he wanted to come and see my bees. I gulped! It was such an honour to have Henry willing to take time out on a busy day to come and see the bees and to offer his advice but I was a bit nervous that I might have done everything wrong!

But at the same time I wouldn't pass up an opportunity to learn and get some advice from an expert.
At the swamp it was strangely a mosquitoe free day, actually the first time I've been to the swamp when I never had to put my gloves on at all.
The hives looked placid, with their normal buzz of activity. It was again an overcast day with the threat of rain and thunder showers.

We had a dry break in the morning so we all decided to make the run to the bee yard and hope to get through opening the hives before the rain came.
Henry commented right away that everything looked good. He said he could tell from the outside that everything was fine on the inside.

I can't wait to have that kind of experience. It will take time I know, but I do make a point of taking time to watch and listen from the outside so I can learn the sights and sounds of a normal happy hive.

I lit up the smoker and Henry, not wearing any beekeeping equipment at all, opened the hive. He commented right away that I had gentle bees. I was so proud of them I beamed.
I knew they were gentle, requiring almost no smoke and I actually had not received a single sting while working inside either hive since I started in June.

The bees had progressed very well in the second purple honey supers. Hive #2 were very busy building comb and they even had HONEY! Henry dipped in the hive tool and tasted it.

I immediately saw the huge disadvantage to wearing the veil but I snuck my finger into a spot of honey and slipped my hand under the veil to have a taste too.

Delicious. Especially delicious because the purple super contains the honey they are making from nectar only--no sugar water feeding after this second super was put on so it's pure flower nectar.

The pink super was the first box put on the hive and they were being fed sugar syrup at that time (to help them make wax to build comb) so that honey will be a mixture of nectar and sugar syrup. Mind you it still tastes like honey because I've tasted it a couple weeks ago and it would be perfectly fine to extract and have for personal use, just not for sale.

Henry commented too, not to feed them, despite the weather. He said they had enough honey to feed the hive and that I should expect to harvest some myself too. And from looking at the honey filling up the purple super, it's true. They are finding nectar from somewhere, despite the rain, despite the cold weather. They're simply amazing!

A couple days ago I took off the queen excluder on Hive #1 to give the bees more movement through the hive so they could build comb and you could tell when inspecting this hive that it did make a big difference. There were a lot more bees busy working to build up the comb.

Next week I will put on the third honey super box because they're approaching the 7 or 10 frames of drawn comb in the super below so they'll be ready for it.

Let's just hope the weather takes a turn. In fact, it'd be nice if the rain from Ontario would blow itself out west and help those poor people in British Columbia who are having forest fires and losing their homes because of a lack of rain. (Sometimes things just aren't the way we'd like them to be).

We found a queen supersedure cell in Hive#2 so I'm now aware that the bees have decided it's time to replace their queen. There's really no way to know for sure why they've decided to replace the existing queen. From my inexperienced point of view I think she's a great queen.

But queens should be replaced every year at best or at least every second year so it's not a bad thing. Henry suggested to let things be as they are and allow the bees to supersede the existing queen.

(Click on the photo at left to enlarge - notice you will see a tiny white crescent shaped larva sitting in a pool of white royal jelly inside this queen cup, which once completely built will be a supersedure cell). Once a new queen hatches in about 16 days, the new and old queen will fight for the right to rule the hive. The winner will take over the hive as the new queen.

On Henry's advice, we're going to let the bees make their own queen. I figure they know what they're doing.

I mentioned that I hadn't been delving down into the deep brood box for several weeks to make sure there are eggs down there because I didn't want to disturb them too much. (I was also concerned that the more I manipulated frames the increase in the likelihood that I could accidentally crush and kill my queen).

Henry said he avoids pulling frames from the deep because it really disrupts the bees. Instead, he watches for signs of young larvae to know the queen is alive and well and he relies mostly on how things look and sound from the outside.

This makes complete sense to me. If every time you pull frames you disrupt and set them back and if inspections are going on every week or two, that's a lot of interruptions. Also, I keep remembering running the gas heater to warm the room when I lived in Melbourne Australia (it was freaking cold there in winter without central heating!) Anyway, every time a door opened, great amounts of heat would escape meaning that the heater would have to run longer to warm it up again. Every time the hive is opened there's heat loss which I'm sure the bees have to re-create. So I think it makes more work all around. Also, bees die in inspections, by accident yes, but it happens.

I think inspections and monitoring are very necessary to be sure of the health of the hive, but I'm going to do my best to limit them to when I really think it's necessary.

The rain barely held off for us and it started to spit while we were finishing up the inspection. I was glad to have the trees which sheltered us from most of the rain.

I'm very grateful that Henry was willing to come out to the yard. I really did need to have an expert have a look see and let me know if I was on track or doing things all wrong.
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