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

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Death in the Afternoon

The green hive on the right was the star this year, at one point supporting THREE active honey supers.  And now it is dead. 
The sunny scene and busy bees distracted me from noticing what was really going on.  See those emerging bees?  They are all dead.  And the worst part?  Every single capped brood cell in this photo contains a dead bee.  This is a hive with no future.

There is a window during the late summer season when mite populations can explode in the hive.  I was busy with other events in my life and didn't take care of the bees as I should, and they paid the price for my negligence.  Lesson learned the hard way.

These are bees I pulled from brood cells for closer inspection.  The culprit is Deformed Wing Virus, a disease transmitted by Varroa mites.

Here is a young bee exhibiting the classic symptoms of the disease - distorted, twisted wings.  Compare them to the bee on the left.

What a sad realization.  Do you see the queen?  She is presiding over a hive with a death sentence.  At this time of year, the bees developing within brood cells are the ones that will see the hive through the winter. There is no new generation of bees to sustain this colony.  

To make matters worse, this was also the time of year that yellowjackets were at their most vicious, tearing into colonies and killing bees. A weakened hive struggling with disease is an easy mark.
Once I determined that this hive would not survive, I took off the honey super that was supposed to be their reserve for the winter and reduced the colony down to only two brood boxes. 

A few days later I opened the hive to silence.  Thousands of bees gone in a matter of days, and frame after frame of dead capped brood. Not a single bee, except this one. The queen was the sole survivor!  With no attendants, she was struggling to stay alive. 


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Out of the Comb and Into the Bottle

I miss writing about bees!  The world has slipped away from me these past few months, but I'm slowly finding my way back.  

For those of you who bought honey from me this season, here are some photos of how that magic was extracted from the hive, poured into bottles, and placed in your mouth.  Look at that photo above.  Hours and hours spent working in the hive lead up to that.  A heavy, dripping, crawling-with-bees frame of honey.  Yes, please.

Shhhh...that's my glove in the photo!  I have become fairly well-trained at judging bee temperment, and these ladies were feeling pretty hot that a bear in white clothing was messing with their honey.  So on they go.

After sitting in a hot room for many days, the frames are removed from the hive box and prepared for extraction.  That's an electric uncapping knife that we use to scrape off the wax cappings that seal the honey in the cells.  It's very hot and melts the wax on contact. 

These are frames in various stages of preparation.  All heavy, all luscious, all just sitting there waiting to release their honey.

A freshly uncapped frame of honey.  Look at that glowing world inside those cells.  Perfection!

Thank you, Karessa, for letting me use your extractor.  And your kitchen.  And your hot room. Those are heating coils to keep the honey flowing.

This is the fun part - using the hand-cranked extractor to spin honey from the frames.  No, those are not my arms.

After the honey is extracted, it needs to go through a strainer to remove large chunks of wax and the occasional bee wing or leg.  Raw honey is the best, but it requires a bit of attention at the start.

Sticky, sticky, sticky.  Everything gets STICKY.

After several levels of filtering, the honey is poured into gallon-size glass jars to sit for a few days.  This allows air bubbles to dissipate and wax to collect at the top for easy removal. 

Cappings wax is literally a hot mess.  But think of the possibilities!

The extractor is a disasterous mess, so outside it goes to be cleaned up by the bees.

And just like that, you have summer in a bottle.