Yesterday was a big beekeeping day. I had been feeling guilty about neglecting my bees the past few weeks--not that they really need me to do their thing, but a beekeeping manual I read emphatically stated that the difference between being a bee-keeper and a "bee-haver" is actually working with the bees. I wouldn't want to just be a "bee-haver."
Recently Rog had to wear a pair of white tyvek coveralls to tour a clean room at Mayo Clinic for work. When he realized they were going to be discarded he asked if he could take them for me--now I have two lightweight (but rather hot and unbreathable, I discovered) beekeeping suits.
My assignment was to install a "Super." My small beekeeping set-up has two boxes where the queen lays eggs, new bees are raised, and honey and pollen are stored to sustain the the hive. Last time I checked the hive, the frames were getting pretty full with honey. It was time to add a "super" - another box for the bees to start storing honey for us. If I didn't add a super, the industrious bees would run out of space and would raise a new queen; then half of the bees would swarm off with her to start a new hive. That would be a serious setback to my hive's production.
Here is my little hive, ready to add the super. The concrete block on top of the hive weights the top down so the wind or some predator (or curious cow) doesn't take it off. The metal grid is the "queen excluder," which allows the worker bees up into the super to store honey but the larger-bodied queen can't get through. You don't really want her laying eggs in the part of the hive you want to harvest. The box with frames inside is the super. Last weekend I assembled and painted the super box, and glued and nailed the ten frames that go inside it. Each frame holds a sheet of wax with a hexagonal honeycomb pattern embossed into it to give the bees a headstart in construction and encouage them to build on the frames in a way to make it easier for me to handle.
I took off the cover and wafted a little smoke from the smoker across to calm and confuse the bees. My photography was done one-handed, viewed through a bee veil and while wearing leather gloves. There are some things I wanted to show you but couldn't take the photos with these constraints.
I took out the first frame, which was heavy with honey and completely capped over with wax. (I learned one reason it is a good idea to check your bees more frequently--the bees create a sticky wax called "propylis" that sort of glues everything together. A lot of propylis had built up and the frames were rather challenging to get out!) I removed and inspected each frame--all ten frames in the top box were full, heavy and capped. The bees really did not have any room left to build!
View into the hive box with the first frame removed. The smoke makes the bees retreat into the hive. The most nerve-wracking part for me is trying not to squish or injure any bees --much harder this time because of how heavy each frame is and how many bees there are now. When I lifted off the top box to inspect the lower compartment it was astoundingly heavy with honey, wax and bees. I am pretty strong but could barely lift it, and sadly, I did squish a few poor bees.
All of the brood cells where young bees were being raised were in the bottom box. For the first time I saw my Queen, busily laying eggs! Then, I took out each of these ten frames and checked their bottom edge for queen cells: Because the hive was so full, it was likely that the bees were raising new queens to split the hive. Indeed, I found several of the long, dark protruding queen cells on the bottom of the frames. There were several queen bee larvae in some of the cells, and some looked fully formed but still colorless. I suspect they were almost ready to emerge! There were swarms of bees gathered around the queen cells --were they just waiting for her to emerge so they could take off with her? I scraped off the queen cells onto the ground in the nick of time, I think. In this photo you can see some of the light-colored queen bee larvae forming in the queen cells.
Now drenched in sweat inside my tyvek suit, I reassembled the hive, adding the queen excluder and the super to the stack. Some of the bees seemed a bit discombobulated, but I checked back an hour later to find what seemd like normal hive activity. In a few days I will open the super to see if new comb is being built. If so, we should have honey this fall!