Jenny and I decided to do a thorough inspection of our honey bee hives today. It was supposed to rain all day, but the sun came out in full force in the early afternoon, so we took advantage of the sunshine and put on our bee suits.
I need to find an experienced beekeeper to help us identify exactly what we’re looking at. I know we saw plenty of honey and plenty of uncapped brood. At one point we could see the little white larva at the bottom of the cells filling one full side of a frame. It was impressive. We couldn’t find the queen in either hive, but both seem to be laying plenty of eggs.
We’ve decided we don’t like smoking the bees. The Seldom Fools beekeepers spray their bees, and now so do we. Whenever the bees were agitated (we could hear the difference in their buzzing immediately), we just misted them with a little sugar water and five seconds later they were back to normal. We probably could have used plain water mist, but a little sugar never hurt no one. The last time we used the smoker on the bees, they were buzzing like mad and flying around the hives in large numbers for at least an hour afterwards. It took them awhile to recover. Today, using the water mist on them, they were totally cool. You’d never know we’d completely dismantled their houses and put them back together again. I can see maybe using the smoker next year when we harvest some of the honey and have to brush the bees off the frames, but I’m convinced for now that misting the bees with a little water is the way to go.
We didn’t take many photos. We concentrated more on not dropping the bees or squishing the queen. The inspection went well, though. We didn’t find any swarm cells and we saw plenty of brood and honey — all good news. Here’s a closer shot of what I think is a frame full of capped brood (there were several frames like this):
Two weeks ago, each of our hives consisted of 3 drawn out frames, one full of brood, one full of honey, one full of pollen. (A drawn frame means the bees have built comb on it.) Today, each hive has close to seven drawn out frames, some full of brood or honey, some half-way there. We’ve been feeding one hive the whole time (that’s Hive #1 with the honeycomb on top of the frames, and a very sticky hive, too, compared to Hive #2); the other didn’t get a feeder until a week ago. We’ve been feeding them a honey-sugar-water mixture, sometimes just a sugar mixture. (Nov. 15/10 update: Don’t use honey unless it’s from your own bees. Grocery store honey often contains spores for various Foul Brood diseases which you definitely do not want in your hives.) I plan to keep feeding them at least until we’ve added the second brood box, which I think will be in about two weeks at the rate they’re going. I won’t be doing much with the hives until then, except to refill the feeders. (I do have some plans on going foundationless, but I’ll talk about that later.) So far so good.
Here I am cutting honeycomb from the top of the frames in Hive #1:Nothing else to report.
AUGUST 06, 2011: It’s excellent having this online record with photos. It allows us to easily compare how well this year’s nucs are doing. It’s also interesting to see how much we didn’t know at the time. For instance, not knowing for sure if we were looking at capped brood, honey or pollen. It doesn’t take long to figure that out, but two weeks into our beekeeping, we didn’t know much of anything. A year later, we’re still misting the bees in our nucs with sugar water, but we often give the full hives a few small puffs from the smoker during inspections. Otherwise, we end up squishing too many bees. I’d rather drive them down into the hive and out of the way with a small amount of smoke than squish them. Squished bees release alarm pheromones which can easily agitate the colony more than a few small puffs of smoke. I don’t think the smoker was essential for our first summer or beekeeping, but I suppose it doesn’t hurt to have it around. The only things we’re doing differently with our nucs this year is feeding them using internal frame feeders instead of Boardman feeders, and we’re feeding them pollen patties.
AUGUST 31, 2015: It’s funny how I wanted to go all natural when I started beekeeping. I used foundationless frames, mist instead of smoke, and I probably would have gone with top bar hives if I had any carpentry skills. I now realize that natural beekeeping is a nebulous ideal at best and that no matter how much we idealize it, beekeeping is, by definition, unnatural. A little smoke used sparingly and with skill is no worse than mist. I say skill because it takes a practiced hand and keen attention to do it well. A smoker in the hands of a skilled beekeeper — it’s so elegant, it’s like watching a conductor in front of an orchestra playing gentle music. Much of the work of the beekeeper can be done without smoke, but it seems naive to think that smoke is never necessary. Even if it’s used only once a year, it’s good to have around.
Then there are top bar hives which are advertised as being natural. But I’ve heard arguments that honey bees naturally build comb vertically, not horizontally like they’re forced to do in top bar hives. They still need to insulate their hives and feed their bees and manipulate the frames to prevent swarming just like everyone else. There’s not much natural about any of it. If there is such a thing as a natural hive, the Warré Hive may be the closest. Like every hive, though, the top bar hive has its pros and cons. I would love to have one some day, but not because it’s natural. The whole natural claim in any line of beekeeping falls to pieces quickly under scrutiny.