Monday, July 05, 2010

Another Weekend, Another Hive Inspection.


The bees in the Elizabeth Taylor hive are doing really well. We gave them another box of frames, about ten days ago, and they've been building wax comb which they've been filling with nectar. Beautiful, isn't it? When the nectar has the correct water content for storage, the bees will cover these cells with wax caps.

This photograph shows many of the things that the bees seal up in their wax comb. On the top edge of the frame, one can see mature honey with clear white cappings.

Directly below, are cells with dome-shaped caps. These contain the developing male bees, or drones. Drones are significantly larger than the female workers, so the cells that they mature in have to be larger than other cells. I'm quite taken by the patterns created in the space around these cells. It reminds me of Islamic tiles.

On the lower right side of the photograph are capped cells containing immature female bees. I'm not sure, but I imagine that the bees are still working on closing up the tops of those partially-open cells. To my eye, there's a distinct different in texture between the wax that covers honey, than that which covers the brood cells. I wonder if that's a matter of wet versus dry contents, of if there's something else at work?

Here's that irregular comb, that I keep photographing. I think it is interesting to see the changes in the pattern of the bees' brood. In this picture, there's a band of honey at the top of the frame, and the bulk of the cells contain capped brood. You can't really see it on this picture, but the open cells are full of teeny-tiny larvae.

It's notable how the capped cells form straight lines. Did the queen lay eggs in a straight path?

On June 20th, the brood pattern was very different. This comb of brood continues to evolve over time. When the baby bees hatch out of their cells, the 'house" bees clean the cells, and then the queen lays more eggs in those cells.

And here's what that same comb looked like, back on May 22nd. The edges of the structures are rounder, and the comb is being used to store nectar, not brood.

I keep taking pictures of this particular frame, because it's so unusual in form. I suspect that if I tracked some of the "normal" comb, it would also "tell a story in time."

The bad part about allowing the bees to build eccentric comb is that it often gets damaged when we're inspecting the hives.

Here we've accidentally ripped open some brood cells, exposing what I think are called pre-pupae. These are immature bees, in the stage between larvae which look like c-shaped grubs, and pupae which look almost like bees. I think that's what we're seeing. I could be talking complete nonsense, and making any experienced beekeepers who happen to be reading this blog roll their eyes in exasperation.

The one good thing about tearing open the brood cells is that it gives us a chance to see if any parasitic mites have latched onto the developing bees. The mites are a dark red, and would be clearly visible on the white pupae. These look good, and mite-free.

Although I move carefully, oddly-built comb does get ripped.

Without meaning to, I tore up a huge chunk of honeycomb. This made a terrible mess, and many bees were drowned.

The honey dripped all over the place. You can see bees on a lower portion of the hive, lapping up the spill.

We hadn't planned on doing this, but we made the decision to harvest this frame. Leaving it in the hive was just going to cause trouble.

This is what's known as "chunk" honey. We've cut out some of the comb, which floats in the jar of extracted honey.

Harvesting was a lot less of a gooey mess than I had anticipated. We cut the comb off of the frame, and dropped the prettiest parts into clean jars. Then we dropped the remaining comb into a hop-straining bag that Robb had for beer brewing. We stuck this inside of the wide-mouthed canning funnel, and mashed the wax with a teaspoon. We set this to drip over a pitcher, and in no time at all, we were enjoying fresh organic urban honey.

Thank you, bees!


WinginIt said...

Know that one of your readers is jealous. That honey looks wonderful.

Mark and I live in the woods outside Cincinnati now, but originally we are from Sacramento. Just noticed your SF local. Where is your new home?

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

We live in East Oakland. We bought a little 1925 cottage about a year ago, and a slowly, slowly cleaning it up.

Christine said...

Drowning in honey, while tragic, sounds like a pretty romantic way to go. I'm so jealous of your harvest!

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

It's pretty ghastly. Bees die really slowly. Ick.


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