Sunday, June 20, 2010

As the beekeepers say, "The Nectar Flow Is On!"


Last weekend, Robb and I added another box to each of our beehives. Robb assembled the individual frames, on which he installed a slim vertical ribbon of embossed beeswax. This "starter strip" gives the bees a bit of guidance, but allows them to build comb to suit their own needs. By not using much commercially produced wax in our hives, we're avoiding introducing wax from hives that may have been contaminated with agricultural chemicals.

The girls were certainly industrious over the past week!

They built beautiful comb on all the frames in our box, and filled most of that comb with nectar. You can see the nectar in the middle of that lovely white wax. The bees will evaporate the flowers' nectar until it is has the perfect water content for long-term storage. Somehow the bees know when the honey is "ripened" and at that exact moment, they cover it over with a layer of fresh clean wax.

Right now, the flowers are producing huge amounts of nectar, which the bees are working hard to store. We're so glad that we gave the bees more storage room.

The bees are master builders. One part of the process that I don't particularly understand is "festooning." As they are preparing to build, the bees all cling together. I must read up on this, because it's quite mysterious to me.

Hang on, girls! You're all doing a great job! The wax is an architectural marvel.

One of the reason we take all these photos (other than the fact that it's just so stinkin' cool) is that it gives us a record of how the hive has evolved over time. The photo of this irregular comb (above) was taken a month ago.

Here's what it looks like now. The wax is darker, more golden. And some of the structure has altered, subtly. The bees have removed some of the comb at the bottom of the center panel. We have no idea what they're up to, but it's fascinating to observe the changes. The whiter capped comb contains honey. The golden capped comb houses developing bees, or brood.

I'm really thankful that I spent time opening hives with experienced beekeepers before we started keeping our own bees. It would have been overwhelming to learn all this from books and the internet. Learning by watching someone with years of experience is incredibly helpful, as is asking one's questions to a real-live human.

Robb noticed something else about this particular frame of comb: the bees seem to have begun building another queen cup.

Do you see it on the margin between the two areas of comb? It's the large inverted sphere shape.

Speaking of queens, we had a terrifying moment today. Although we try to be as gentle as possible, removing the individual frames is pretty disruptive for the bees. They're packed in really tight (the bees build in every bit of space available) so manipulation of the hives can cause a lot of havoc. While I was preparing to remove one of the frames, I noticed a large numbers of bees, clustering around single bee. Upon further inspection, it became clear that this bee was mortally wounded. I had accidentally crushed this bee, and many bees were attending it. The bee's head was smashed, and I convinced myself that I had -- in my clumsiness -- crushed the colony's queen. Why else would all the bees be surrounding this one member of their community?

If the queen is removed from the hive, the bees know it. They all smell her pheromones, and if that scent ceases, they bees react immediately.

We watched, holding our breath. The bees didn't freak out. I considered ending the hive inspection right then and there. Despite the fact that the bee's body was obscured by all the bees that were crawling on it, it was clear that this bee was much larger than all the rest.

When the bees remained calm, we started breathing again, and told ourselves that the bee I had crushed must have been a drone. (I hope we're right.)

Last month, I observed that one of the few full sheets of wired foundation had been significantly altered by the bees. This frame was one of the ones that we parked in Taylor's hive, over the winter.

For whatever reason, the bees had chewed away the manufactured wax. At the time, we took photos, and scratched our heads.

It now seems that the bees had a plan all along. They were building a queen cup, which is a form of "queen bee insurance." Let's just hope that I wasn't so damaging that the bees need to manufacture a new queen because I crushed the existing queen!


Anonymous said...

GREAT post! Every time I come to your blog, I’m learning new and amazing things.

Christine said...

Yikes! Totally harrowing! But aren't you just sooo excited about the honey coming your way?! I keep wondering if I'll be able to pick out the flowers they used- lemon blossom or the lavender in the neighbor's yard?

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

As we're hoping to add bees to the farm next year, I'm so glad you're doing all these posts. I do have a handy human to consult next door who is also keeping bees, but I figure it's not possible to learn too much. I do hope that you only crushed a drone, I'm expecting that's the case.

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

Yes,indeed,you can never have too much advice. The old beekeeping adage here goes:
Ask four beekeepers and you'll get six opinions.

gollygee said...

I'm enjoying your beekeeping posts so much! It's so interesting to learn all about their habits and lifecycle. I'd be freaking out about crushing that bee as well, but I'm sure all will turn out okay in the end! :)

Anonymous said...

I found your blog from your flickr (I am here on flickr), and I love catching up with your beekeeping posts.

I have some commercial foundation in my hive, too. I noticed the bees built on top of the wire, but they refused to lay or store in those cells. In other places, they chewed out all the foundation and built their own comb. Everything tells me that this is totally normal but it is certainly strange behavior that really makes me question the need for foundation at all... I know I'm a little late to that conclusion, but it's certainly evidence in support of foundationless frames.

Your hive is beautiful! I love the shade of blue that you picked for it!



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