Thursday, May 14, 2009
New Hive: Demo and Reconstruction
Inner cover of new hive, loaded with bees and unruly comb!
Joe realized last night that the swarm we caught and hived on Sunday was building some pretty unruly comb in their new hive box. He discovered this by peeking in the entrance with a flash light. Instead of building in the frames that we’d placed in the hive, they built comb from the inner cover and the follower board almost all the way to the bottom of the hive box.
After consulting with our teacher, Alan, Joe got to work. We couldn’t wait; this had to be done today, much to my sorrow. So I stayed at work and missed the show. Joe suited up completely: veil, gloves, long sleeves and pants. These bees have been wild for two years that we know of, so working with them is different from working with the Italians we bought in a package 5 weeks ago. And there are simply way more of them.
To get started, Joe assembled all of the tools he would need – bee brush, hive tool, frames, rubber bands, and the smoker, stuffed with burning strips of burlap. When Joe smoked the bees, the volume of the hive instantly rose, and it was clear that they were agitated by the smoke.
First Joe had to lift the cover off. The bees had built comb not only in the empty part of the hive box but also between the tops of the frames and the inner cover, making the cover hard to remove, basically waxed shut by comb. Joe tipped the cover up to a 45 degree angle, and one of the big pieces of comb fell to the bottom of the hive box. The comb wasn’t just one sheet. They didn’t build it in parallel lines. They built a few rows one way and then the next 90 degrees to the first, sort of a Tetris construct. Joe was amazed at how many bees were there, and it was just like a swarm again hanging from the inside of the cover. The bees had actually begun to build comb in just one of the frames, but only about a three inch disk. There were thousands of bees on every frame, some of them hanging in chains, so it’s possible that some were beginning to build in the frames.
Joe didn’t really know how to remove the comb from the cover, so he just grabbed the comb up toward the top (i.e., at the cover) and it pretty much broke free from the wood. Once he got all of the comb off, he just laid it on top of the hive and on the cement and set the lid aside. The lid was covered with bees by the way. Joe then proceeded to rubber band the big pieces of comb into the frames as instructed by Alan.
It was pretty much like catching the swarm all over again, lots of bees in the air, bees crawling all over him. Anything that got honey on it, the bees would stay there.
Good thing for gloves. At least 5 bees stung Joe’s gloves, then took a couple steps away from their stinger and venom sack, and started fanning. This is in contrast to other bee stings we’ve observed, where the bee just falls over and slowly dies, its insides essentially pulled out when the stinger leaves its body.
Joe left in the five frames that we originally put in the hive box – never took them out since bees appeared to be busy in them. He checkerboarded in the 4 frames with the rubber-banded comb, and added the tenth empty frame.
Joe smoked the bees twice, once at the beginning and once in the middle. And by the way, one of the burlap sacks that we picked up from the coffee roastery is actually made of hemp and definitely smelled like weed.
We had put in a quart jar of sugar-water when we hived the bees on Sunday. They had drunk ¾ of it by this afternoon, fueling their tremendous comb output.
Joe did not see the queen, but did see eggs. Not many. Most of the comb is either not fully developed, shallow, or was full of honey and pollen.
Joe brought in a plate covered with broken pieces of comb, which has made for some great observation and tasting. The variety of colors of pollen is amazing: purple, orange, gold, greenish gold, blue like eye shadow, and yellow. Very interesting taste. I can’t say that either of us has ever eaten pollen like this. The honey is very thin and fruity, probably because it is really more nectar still than it is honey.