Friday, July 24, 2009

It's the Little Things That Get You

It's true what Linda commented on in a previous blog, that bees die every time you open the hive.

It's not a deliberate thing at all. After all, the bees are technically (or legally speaking) considered as 'livestock' and no wise farmer would abuse the creatures that bring in a livelihood.

But it happens, not as abuse though but as an unavoidable circumstance. The frames inside a hive (called a deep) are packed in very closely. In fact, they're packed in precisely, leaving 3/8 of an inch in between each frame. This space is called a bee space. When frames are set at the correct distance apart, the bees can travel up and down both sides of the frame and they can cross over to adjacent frames. When this space is violated by putting the frames farther apart, the bees then fill up the gaps with their burr comb. The burr comb creates little bridges so that they can move from one frame to the next more easily. This burr comb glues the frames into the hive making it difficult for the beekeeper to remove the frames to inspect the hive.

Inspections are really important to look over the bees and combs to monitor the overall health of the hive.
So, this precise space makes it difficult to remove frames of bees without injuring or maiming somebody. The frames are first very sticky, from honey and also from propolis, otherwise known as bee glue. Propolis is made from tree sap that bees collect and mix with their saliva. They use it to weatherproof the hive and to stick things down. The frames are stuck down and must be unstuck. Next, the frames are heavy because over half the frame is filled with honey.

The beekeeper makes their best effort to pull the frame out straight up without rocking back and forth, and don't forget the frame will often be covered with thousands of bees.

I do my best. When opening the hive I will sometimes see the body of a bee, squished totally flat because it happened to be on the edge of the hive when I set a box on top. It's a small regret but you know the death was a quick one.

The ones that bother me though are they injured bees, specifically the ones that I've accidentally injured.

This little gal is pretty young and would probably still be a house bee. A house bee is usually a young bee that does 'chores' inside. There is a fairly wide range of chores that go anywhere from feeding the baby larvaes to guarding the front of the hive. I'm not sure of her injury. Her wings on the right side are upright, looking like what could be "K-wing" (my Varroa sticky boards haven't shown any mite drops so far) and she appeared to have some type of injury or disability to her left side middle and hind leg, almost like they were paralyzed. I don't know if this was a hive related injury or something else going on.

I picked her up from the ground with my bare hands and held her a while. She was not interested in stinging. She was too preoccupied with her other issues.

The mosquitoes began to close in on my bare flesh though and so I put the gloves on. The little worker and I visited for a bit. I could admire her while she stood there and take a moment for photos.

She still has most of her fur because it hasn't been worn off yet due to toiling in the hive. Her fur still has the new whitish hair of a newborn and her body is still golden and not darkened with more rings of black as it would be when she's older.

(photo of frame from honey super, capped honey with the whiter cappings and a bit of brood marked by the more yellow-beige cappings).

I found a drone too, wandering around on the ground (sorry no photos), so I picked him up to say hello. He was content to sit and clean himself for a few minutes while I looked him over. After about ten minutes he took to the air, looping back in forth in front of the hive a bit before spiralling up into the air and flying off. I wished him well and good fortune finding his queen.

I think each bee could tell a story. Wouldn't it be amazing if they could talk?
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