Saturday, July 5, 2008

Bee check-up

A hot, humid afternoon is never a good time to open the hive, but with the schedule I have been keeping, this was the only time I had a chance to see what the girls were up to.
After a ten minute battle with the smoker, I was finally ready to make my trip into the hive. The majority of the girls were home when I came to call and they were not happy to be disturbed.
Everything seemed rather unchanged from three weeks ago when I was in there last. The upper hive body has four and a half frames drawn out and one of them was full of honey, the others have brood and honey stores in them. These three are the brood frames I moved up when I added the second hive body in an effort to encourage the bees to draw out the comb. It looks like the only thing they have been doing is propolizing everything together. I scraped about an ounce off of the three frames I pulled out, the inner and outer covers, and the hive body.
The way they look now doesn't lead me to believe that they will be producing any extra honey for me this year, but that's fine. I have no problem with letting them have everything they produce this winter. I just hope both of the colonies survive the winter.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Bee space is not to be taken for granted

Okay, this picture doesn't show what Langstroth meant by bee space (3/8 of an inch: anything less will be propolized closed and anything more the bees will fill with comb.)
I didn't have 1/8 inch hardware cloth for my bee vacuum, so I thought 1/4 inch folded over on itself would do the same...Boy, was I wrong.
This is what I drove home from Huntsville with in the back of the van. The bees are Shakespeare's girls and are doing very well now, but as you can see, there was a mess for a few hours.

The Bee Storm

CJ called me at work the other day to tell me that there was a bee tornado in the bee yard. She videoed it. I was afraid it might be a swarm and told her to watch if they swarmed and landed somewhere nearby. Bees generally don't swarm this late in the season, especially if they have not filled their hive space to capacity. The Shakespeare hive is considerably smaller than a regular hive would be, so swarming will definitely occur. I have to decide if I want them to get away and reestablish the feral bee population in north Alabama or if I want to catch all swarms and use them to strengthen my colonies and/or increase them. I don't think this is a swarm, but it may be a preamble to one...All the same, it's easy to understand why CJ and the kids don't feel like playing in the garden.

Pollinate, Bay-bee!

Here are some photos of the bees doing what they do the best. It's amazing how well suited they are to their job.
Contrary to popular belief, bees are necessarily single-minded and the girl in the photo has been focusing on collecting pollen from the cornstalks in our garden since she decided it was worth her time. She has not been collecting nectar, nor has she visited any other plants since beginning work on this corn. Bees don't go from corn to sunflowers to marigolds on the same trip, and they won't collect nectar and pollen on the same trip.
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Note the pollen packed onto her back legs. Bees have "pouches" that they pack the pollen onto. This all goes back to the hive to be stored as food. Bees mix pollen with honey to make "bee bread" to feed to larvae after their third day. For the first three days they eat royal jelly.
Sadly, if this bee were to lose her pollen between the corn and the hive, she would still go through the motion of unpacking it into a cell. This shows that bees don't have the higher thought processes that we so willingly ascribe to them. They are purely instinctual, which is why they are so successful, but that instinct can also lead to their destruction. For example, if a bee brings home toxins in nectar and pollen, the rest of the hive is in danger, often bees will collect nectar from fields of weeds that when evaporated turns to near cement texture. This makes it impossible for them to eat and therefore worthless when they need it to winter and feed the larvae. All they see is pollen and nectar. They don't realize it's bad for them.
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