Friday, April 10, 2015

bring out your dead

The past few days have been warm here.  And the bees are out and about, but I was a bit concerned about just how messy the outsides of my hives were looking.  Honey bees take cleansing flights on warm days after a long winter season of being cooped up with a large number of friends.  Healthy bees go outside the hive to relieve themselves, and a fair amount of yellowish and light brownish staining on the hive boxes and on the snow around the hives is normal.  But being a relatively new beekeeper, I was worried that the staining I was seeing might indicate some sickness inside, which it can.  Think dysentery, for bees.

And so, I got suited up. Grabbed my hive tool.  And a bowl of warm water.  Though tempted, I decided against the disinfectant and the scrub brush I had used post-stomach bug inside our house.



You can see here just how yucky it was looking.  Messy ladies, they have been.





I began, after watching their deliriously happy flights out of the hive entrances and off to forage and then return again loaded with gorgeous white and yellow pollen, by removing the tar paper.  Not their best look.


The tar paper has given them an extra layer of warmth and protection from the wind.  Something they definitely needed this past winter.  And I removed the insulating board I had in each hive, placed under the outer cover.


I took a peek at the inspection boards under each hive and was happy with what I saw.  No sign of messy droppings, which is good and likely means that the bees were well enough to be relieving themselves only outside the hive.  And, many signs of activity.  You want activity.  An active hive is...well...an alive hive.  Which many hives are not in these parts after the winter we have had.  Wax capping debris indicates that they are eating, that they still have honey stores to uncap, and maybe...even some brood hatching?  Perhaps.  There were some very fuzzy and young looking bees out there.  

Where the debris falls on the panel also gives you a sense of where the cluster is hanging out in the hive.  In the case of my first hive, it is toward the front left of the hive boxes, exactly where the sun first hits the hive each morning.  


My second hive seems to have a larger cluster of bees, and more activity, the cluster also located in the area where the sun shines longest on the hive each day.  And less goo.  Whatever that means.


Given the signs of moisture inside the hive, the oozing honey and sticky goo on one of the inspection boards, I removed the boards and was glad I could give them a bit more ventilation with the removal of the insulation board up top as well.

As I worked away in the bee yard, I noticed the girls were doing a bit of spring cleaning themselves.  On the left here is an industrious bee carrying a dead bee out of the hive.  Hugging the dead bee from behind and standing behind it in an almost human pose.  Sort of loving looking.


With her respects paid, she not so lovingly leaves the corpse behind on the landing board, rigid and curled.  Then she heads back in for another.


Another bee, carrying out a dead bee.  Using a between the legs embrace and waddle method.  This is the move I use when carrying a 50 pound bag of chicken feed.


And a bad picture -- because they really do move fast as they take off and swoop down with the weight of their load, and then fly a short distance off to drop the deceased.  A don't die where you eat kind of thinking.


Another awkward disposal.  This bee is using the dragging backward method.  Can you hear the dragging sound?  Of that strangely bulbous and lumpy carpet roll?  Nothing to see here.  Grunt.  


And then, a quick look inside each hive.  Things are looking good inside both hives.  No signs of dysentery that I could see.  And some active, well spread out, warm and happy bees.


I closed both hives back up and then got to work with a towel and some warm water.  And gave the outside of the hives a bit of a bath.  I don't think the girls liked this part very much, and it certainly wasn't anything that was ever recommended in my bee classes when discussing early spring maintenance.  A scrub behind the ears.  But they certainly looked better for it.  And I felt better.



Traffic jam.


Filled pollen sacks.


And there is space for the splits I may be able to make once the dandelions are in bloom.


Next stop on the spring cleaning parade?  The chicken coop.  The flock is spending their days in the garden right now, giving it a turn while they hunt for bugs and grubs and worms and any green they can find.  The coop needs a thorough cleaning and all their winter bedding will be spread in the garden for fertilizer.  


Given that we are back in gorgeous hues of eggs by the handful here, these ladies certainly deserve it.

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