It’s November 2018 as I take a second look at this post from 2010 so I can tweak away any bits that could be misleading to new beekeepers. I’ll jump in with comments as we go. So… let’s go.
I decided to do a thorough inspection of my honey bee hives today. It was supposed to rain all day, but the sun came out in full force in the early afternoon, so I took advantage of the sunshine and put on my bee suit.
I rarely wear a full bee suit anymore, only when I’m digging into a massive hive full of bees that aren’t in a good mood. Today, to inspect a single-deep colony, I use a veil or maybe a bee jacket. Gloves would be optional. I play that by ear. Mist. No smoke.
I need to find an experienced beekeeper to help me identify exactly what I’m looking at. I know I saw plenty of honey and plenty of uncapped brood. At one point I could see the little white larva at the bottom of the cells filling one full side of a frame. It was impressive. I couldn’t find the queen in either hive, but both seem to be laying plenty of eggs.
I’ll fess up. I don’t think I was able to spot the queen in any of my hives for the first year. My bees weren’t marked with paint to make them easier to see, so that didn’t help. I don’t believe I spotted the queen until my second summer when Aubrey Goulding dropped by to help me requeen one of my colonies that had a nasty queen. He found the old queen in no time and after that I didn’t have much difficulty spotting queens. Once you see how big the queen really is and notice how she moves, how the other bees move around her, how her abdomen (most of the time) is so elongated that her wings only reach halfway down her body — she’s unique and stands out among the thousands of bees in the hive. But it helps to get the ball rolling on this by having someone point her out to you like I did in 2015.
I’ve decided that I don’t like smoking the bees. The Seldom Fools beekeepers in Ontario spray their bees, and now so do I. Whenever the bees were agitated (I could hear the difference in their buzzing immediately), I just misted them with a little sugar water and five seconds later they were back to normal. I probably could have used plain water mist, but a little sugar never hurt no one. The last time I 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 a while to recover. Today, using the water mist on them, they were totally cool. You’d never know I’d completely dismantled their houses and put it 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.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using a smoker on the bees if it’s done right. I use a sugary mist on my bees 95% of the the time. I don’t do it because it’s more natural. I do it because most of the time I get the same effect (easier to control bees) using mist instead smoke. In general, though, I don’t break out the smoker until the bees are well into filling a second deep. Then I keep it on standby just in case I need the little extra umph that smoke provides.
I didn’t take many photos. I concentrated more on not dropping the bees or squishing the queen. The inspection went well, though. I 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):
This, by the way, is the perfect frame of brood. A frame fully packed with capped brood from edge to edge is usually the sign of a robust healthy queen. It’s lovely. Also, it would be unlikely to find swarms cells this early in the life of a colony (but at least I was on top of it). The bees at this point hadn’t filled in a full box and were nowhere close to running out of room.
I had no problem separating the frames connected by comb…
The comb connecting the frames was empty anyway, so no harm done. But the honeycomb I sampled yesterday was still there on top of a couple of frames, so I scraped it off.
I got about a Mason jar full of loose honeycomb from it. Half the comb was empty. Half was full of honey. I sampled the comb full of honey. Delicious and chewy.
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. I’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. I’ve been feeding them a honey-sugar-water mixture, sometimes just a sugar mixture. I plan to keep feeding them at least until I’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 comb from the top of the frames in Hive #1:
Nothing else to report.
November 2018 postscript: It’s interesting to see how much I didn’t know at the time. For instance, not knowing for sure if I was looking at capped brood, honey or pollen. It doesn’t take long to figure that out, but two weeks into my beekeeping, I didn’t know much of anything. It’s also kind of funny how I wanted to go all natural when I started beekeeping. I used foundationless frames eventually, 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 top bar beekeepers 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, mainly because it looks like fun.