Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Bee Man

Roy checked our honey bees this afternoon and found things to be looking good.

Here he's "smoking" the bees to calm them down before taking the hive apart.

Opening the hive and looking to see what condition the hive and bees are in.

A nice, heavy brood pattern which indicates a healthy, vigorous queen is in the hive.

This past winter wasn't an easy one for the bees. There aren't a great number of beekeepers in our area but nearly everyone lost some hives; quite a few lost all of theirs. We went into winter with eight hives; we lost four. Why? It's always a conundrum when it comes to beekeeping Up North.

Although the winter wasn't extremely cold, it was a very gray and sunless one. The bees need a few sunny, warm days over the winter months in which to take critical cleansing flights. This could have been a problem this year. Or perhaps there weren't enough bees in the hives to generate enough heat to keep themselves warm. When Roy checked first thing early this spring, there was still honey in the hives we lost which means they didn't starve.

Last year at this time we had had about nine swarms. This year we haven't had one. What's the difference between last summer and this one? A month of cool, wet early summer weather that kept the bees dormant because of poor flying conditions and lack of available food. That in turn made the first-of-the-season build-up of bees and hives go much slower.

So far, Roy's managed to build the bees back up to seven hives. He reports three are quite strong and four are only moderately so. Three of the new hives were started from scratch by making nucs and splits.

A nuc is made by taking a couple of frames of brood along with young bees sitting on the brood and putting them into a small box with a few frames of honey and pollen for food to help things get going during the time the bees build themselves up. The bees, incredibly enough, take a started worker egg and put it in a specially constructed cell. Then they make a "magical" food called royal jelly and fill the cell with that. The emerging larva feeds on the royal jelly and instead of turning into a worker bee, she becomes a new queen bee. The nuc can then be used to establish a complete new hive.

A split is taking one strong hive and dividing it into two hives forcing the bees in the second (new hive) to raise their own new queen in the same way described above.

I readily admit Roy is the bee expert in the family. I do know bees are fascinating creatures to study because of their many unique traits, social behaviors, and incredible beneficial aspects to farmers, gardeners and our environment as a whole. There is much more to understanding bees than I have the brain cells to absorb. I gladly leave that aspect of our homestead to The Bee Man in the house.

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