Reverie - n. a state of being pleasantly lost in one's thoughts; a daydream or fantasy; a visionary or impractical idea

"To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,—
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.

The revery alone will do
If bees are few." - Emily Dickinson

Saturday, April 28, 2012

First Hive Inspection

Cute little blondie

Friday I took a full peek inside my hives for the first time since introducing the queens two weeks ago.  We have had some warm sunny days and pollen is being brought in frantically to feed all the new babies.  The bee above is one of several I have seen that are especially blonde; so much so that they hardly have any stripes.

I use 8-frame medium hive bodies

These are the hives in their final configuration.  I use a slightly nontraditional hive size, but it's getting more popular.  They are 8-frame boxes instead of the typical 10, and all of my hive bodies are mediums.  This means that all of my frames are the same size and are interchangeable between all the bodies.  A typical hive would have deeps, mediums, and smaller honey supers that all use different frame sizes.  Besides, 8-frame mediums are much lighter and easier for me to lift (the real reason). 

Three frame experiment:  Full foundation (left), wax starter strip (middle), foundationless (right)
In addition to the non-traditional hive size, I'm trying something different with the frames. One hive will have alternating frames of full foundation and smaller wax starter strips.  The other will alternate full foundation and foundationless.  I hope to convert all of my frames to foundationless in the future, but starting with a bit of full foundation mixed in helps the bees build nice straight combs.  Foundationless frames allow the bees to build a comb that is entirely their own, with shape and cell size determined by the bees.  Less pesticide buildup and possible mite reduction are two reasons to go this route, but it just seems very organic-y and romantic to have the bees designing their own home.  Thank you, mentor extraordinaire, for indulging me in my endless experiments.  There will probably be more to come.

Wax starter strip frame after two weeks
Starting with a 2" strip of wax, the bees have drawn this comb to fully fill the frame.  Drone cells are on the left, multi-colored cells contain pollen, sparkling liquid filled cells at the very top are full of nectar being cured into honey, and the rest are worker brood cells.  I was very surprised to see the amount of work they had accomplished in two weeks.  To see the cell contents under a mass of insects, the bees are asked to move by blowing gently on them with short breaths.  A puff of air, a scattering of bees, and the puzzle pieces are revealed. 

Foundationless frame after a few days
A few days earlier, I snuck a quick look inside the hives to refill the syrup feeders and get a quick sense of how the bees were doing.  Unlike the wax starters, the completely foundationless frames are being drawn with comb in very organic shapes. This is entirely different than the way they work when given sheets of foundation and is fascinating to watch. 

Full foundation frame with amazing capped brood concentration

I put a small cluster of full foundation frames in the center of the hives, and this is where most of the more mature brood is concentrated.  Brood cells capped with wax indicate that the new bees are in their final stages of development.  The tight cluster of these capped cells surrounded by bands of pollen and nectar suggest a strong queen lives here.  My population is about to explode. 

Two Italian queens with varying appearances
We were able to locate both queens, although their presence was already confirmed by newly laid eggs in both hives.  Each queen is supposed to be Italian, but the the one on the right is more slender and a bit darker.  And yes, they have names.  Of course they do.  I went for references to historical queens who met a fate similar to what these ladies may have in store.  Marie Antoinette is on the left, and lives in the fancy painted green hive.  Anne Boleyn is on the right, and is my personal favorite. Ms. Boleyn was a bit of a rebel, whose love of Henry VIII was doomed from the start.  She kept her eye on the prize, and I hope this bee has the same determination. 

Foundationless frames with new comb are extremely fragile
There were so many bees on this particular frame of new comb that it just couldn't support the weight when we were inspecting it.  Fortunately, it was almost exclusively drone brood, which isn't desirable anyway.  Unfortunately, the broken comb fell right into my open hand.  Before they stung there was a sweet second of feeling lots of bees vibrating against my skin.  Literally just one second.

Ummm....drone brood....
Nothing goes to waste here in the garden.  A broken piece of comb was first cleaned up by the bees and then given to the chicks for an afternoon protein feast. I better watch it or they're going to develop a taste for honey, too.

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