Hive Check: everyone loves a loft space in Seattle

Went back into the hives after quite a few weeks. I certainly had the best of intentions to go in sooner but

  • It was raining (one time we did try holding an umbrella open over the hives so I could do something quick – without incident but not very smart)
  • It was too hot (its roasty toasty in the bee jacket and a tad intense when working them so the sweat flows freely)
  • It was overcast (bee’s mood is related to barometer and more are at home when overcast – read, more to upset)
  • Too tired, too late, too hungry……..

Apparently out of excuses – I went in for a check. My main concern was enough space for the colony as the hives are opened all the way (avoiding swarm) and my goal was to check on brood and honey activity. I did decide this time to use the smoker and turned out to be a wise choice. You don’t always need to smoke them to go in, especially earlier in the year. Smoking “calms” the bees a few different ways. One way is that it masks any of the warning pheromones put out by guard bees or injured bees. It also masks my smell too. Smoking also triggers the bees to go on a feeding binge in preparation for evacuation due to a fire. When a bee is full of honey, they aren’t able to sting very well. They can still head butt and I certainly had some of that today. Smoking is a bit stressful on the bees, according to some, so moderation is key. It’s also not the most pleasant to be working in, especially if the smoker is extra smokey – cue up that Platters tune now…

There are lots of materials that can go in your smoker [insert all your green jokes now] but you want something cheap, available and slow burning. I use burlap strips from old coffee bean bags. Smokers do get really hot and I did singe my finger. The ONLY injury today though.

Top bar hive inspection:

Everybody loves a loft space! This was the hive I was most worried about swarming as I hadn’t opened it up all the way with a full set of bars. It decreases the amount of work to keep warm in the beginnings. Well, they got creative, hired an architect and started building up above the bars. Not good but fortunately I was able to carefully and slowly remove all the comb on top. This was brand new, snow white comb, with only honey, no brood. Thank goodness. I took a look through the rest of the hive and it is quite active, full of brood and honey. One bar was all wonkey from the first time that I didn’t get the queen cage out quick enough (hmmm, theme?). After expanding the rest of the bars, I closed up the hive using the roof off the other top bar hive we have that isn’t in use this season. How handy!

Super cool close up!

Langstroth Hive Inspection:

The first hive I investigated was actually quieter than I would expect and doesn’t look to be thriving despite having honey filled combs. Just didn’t seem to be as large of numbers. The other hive sounds like it is much bigger and was more active when I was inspecting. It did have one frame that was full of drone (male) cells and was in a creative shape. Drone cells look like pencil erasers and stick out compared to the worker bees. To avoid the eventual mess if they keep building out and to help keep the balance of female to male, I decided to leave this frame out, after checking that the queen wasn’t on it. Meaning certain death for the drones and some tasty chicken treats. Drones contribute nothing to the colony other than mating with the virgin queen, and that happens once. They don’t forage, defend, nurture, guard etc. They are pretty lazy. Hanging out at the bar all day types…. [insert mental imagery of your favorite schlub]. The queen and colony usually manages the ratio of drones to works but it can get out whack, which puts it into a dysfunctional spiral.

I think there was a possible queen cell in there too. They build these outside of the comb and they look like peanuts. But more likely it was a drone (you can see the pupae’s purple buggy male eyes), either way it is gone now. The hive will often raise a new queen if the current one is failing or they are thinking of swarming but I didn’t see much other evidence to support either activity.

No powdered sugar treatment this time partly because I didn’t want to keep them open that long and secondly, I don’t want it to get mixed into the honey, as a lot is being put away now. I think I will go back in in 2-3 weeks (read August), unless something tells me otherwise.

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