Tuesday, May 6, 2014

hail to the queen

Today was a bee day.  Please excuse me if you smell the faint traces of smoke and wax and a little bit of something sweet on me while you are standing next to me at lacrosse practice this evening.  I had a busy day.

We purchased a new hive for a planned split of my surviving hive.  This surviving hive is currently busting at the seams, a cloud of bees around it on sunny warm days, needing to be divided once the pollen and nectar sources are more robust.  We are waiting for the dandelions to blossom in all their glory.

So I started the day by painting the new hive.

if you look closely, you may recognize my paint tarp as my Fedco big bag.

I had been spritzing the package of Italian honeybees I had picked up at the Honey Exchange the day before with sugar water, storing it in the cool and dark barn, and waiting for the right weather and time for their acclimation to each other to get them in the empty hive, the one that had not survived the end of the winter.

I patched my pants up like the skilled seamstress that I am, turning my painting clothes into bee tending clothes.  Because no one wants holes in their pants when they are beekeeping.

I had my Honey Exchange package installation instructions with me the whole time.  You will see them in almost every picture.  They are fabulous.  And very reassuring.  Because today?  Despite other plans, I was doing this solo.

I had cleaned out the dead hive and left it full of honey and pollen and built out comb.

But it still needed a bit of shuffling and arranging to get it just right for the 3 pounds of Italian bees and their queen.

It was at this point, luckily, that I realized I had a hole in my glove.  Duct tape to the rescue.

Here they are in all their glory.  Three pounds of Italian Buzz.  This is before I start irritating them.

I removed the syrup feeder can.  And despite the careful instructions to not do so, I did in fact drop the queen cage...gently, back into the box.

But I was able to fish her out.  Apparently queens are green this year.  If only I had known, I would have coordinated my duct tape.

Please excuse my gloves.  They become quite filthy during a beeyard visit.  They are sticky with sugar and honey and then become covered with debris.  And, yes, they are dish pan gloves.  My expensive leather gloves began to make the bees angry, they were so full of venom.  And then, Millie, my naughty labrador, ate them.  And I kind of like my $3 dish pan gloves for their cheapness and for their thinness because I can manipulate things better with them.  Plus they match my duct tape.

A quick check of my instructions and I was reminded, bees first, queen second.  So I thumped and dumped a bit more successfully this year and got more of the bees in the hive and less in the air.

And then I began work on the queen.  I found the staple I removed to open the package to be quite handy for removing the cork from the queen cage.  This allows worker bees outside the cage and the queen inside the cage to begin eating the candy and, gradually, to release the queen into the hive.  These ladies don't really know each other yet and need a bit of time to get to acquainted.

And then, with a bit of fiddling and hemming and hawing and a solution that involved duct tape and a bit of squishing, of wax, not bees, I placed the queen cage like so.

the squishing

I gave them some syrup to help them get started.

actual photobombing

Wished them luck and closed them up.

Then, I moved on to my surviving hive.  It is an active place over there to the right.

And I wanted to check in on it to see if there were signs of swarming yet, which would have prompted me to split them right then instead of in a few days when the dandelions have really burst into full blossom here.

Plus, I wanted to take off the shim that I had placed so I could feed them through the last bit of winter when I decided their honey supply was getting low.

I popped the top.

This was definitely not what I was expecting or hoping to find.  I know you have to be careful about bee space.  Leaving open space in a hive leads bees to want to fill it, and they will fill it with their own creative artwork of comb.  And this is just what they had done in the shim space, having a bit of extra time on their hands apparently.  

Unfortunately, they had put brood into this free ranging comb, and I was worried that the queen might be up there, above the inner cover and vulnerable to my removal skills.

So I painstakingly removed each bee from the comb and put them back down below where they belonged and then removed the comb.

It was a lot of work.  And the bees were not happy with me.  It is at this point that my thin gloves failed me and I started getting minor stings.  

I then moved on to check for swarm cells and was so happy to spot last year's queen on one of the frames, right where she belongs.

Finding no swarm cells, I closed it back up and will split them another day, hopefully when I have extra hands and better gloves.

I stood back to admire my work.

The package bees that had not been helpful and had flown up or stayed in the package were slowly working their way into that hive.

That's when it started raining.

And then it started hailing.

I grabbed a table cloth I was using to cover hive boxes when they are open and exposed, and threw it over the package's hive and the package on the ground.  And stood there in the pelting hail and protected that cloud of flying bees.

I held it up with my head, which allowed me to get very close up to this italian honeybee.

The storm passed quickly, but lasted long enough to drench my veil and make it stick to my neck, allowing one last sting through the netting from a hailed upon and understandably frustrated bee.

Lest you don't believe me.

I think they are ok.  They seemed to be happily still flying about and moving into the entrance of the hive.

And the storm moved out.  Just in time for lacrosse practice.

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