zoethe: (Pooh Bee)
Today is sunny and calm, so we opened the hive for the first time and pulled the frames.

Which means lifting bee-covered frames out of the hive box and getting up close and personal with the bees. To say that I was a bit nervous about it is severe understatement. But it turns out that the actual handling of the frames went off without incident. You can watch me do this on Ferrett's journal. You can also be amused by Ferrett, standing back with the camera, admonishing me to "just go ahead and take out the next one," nevermind the bees where I want to lift it. And then admire that, showing great self-restraint, I didn't sock him with the hive tool. The good news is that it all went very smoothly.

The bad news is that we may have a queen problem. When we bought our bees, the shop owner offered to substitute out a superior, Cordovan, queen for the one with which the bees would arrive. Only when we picked up our bees, there didn't appear to be a queen cage at all. The shop keeper said that there might be a queen cage in amongst all those roiling bees, but he wasn't looking for it. He provided us with a new queen and cage and said that if we found the old one, we should just do away with it.

Well, when Ferrett dumped the bees, he reported not seeing a queen cage. And when we checked the hive Tuesday, the Cordovan queen had made her escape. But today, when I moved one of the frames, a queen cage fell into the bottom of the hive, and sure enough, a live queen was still in that cage. She was alone in the cage (no attendants), but surrounded by other bees. We couldn't tell what they were trying to do: attend or attack?

We went through the rest of the frames and never found our other queen, so I suspect they never accepted her and killed her once she got out. So we decided to dump the other queen out of her cage and figured that either she was the accepted queen and would begin to function in the hive or the other queen actually was there and the bees would kill this one. Only Ferrett inadvertently dumped her into the bottom of the cage, which is a no-no because she's not supposed to be able to get back up from there. Only I looked down and saw her reach up and start climbing onto a frame, and then couldn't see her anymore but then thought I saw her walking toward the cluster of bees. So I think she's our queen and I think she's okay.

But I'm really not sure. There was certainly no brood and only a hint of any drawn comb, but it's early in the season. We have to give them a few more days and then we'll get back in there again.

The other interesting thing was that our trash collector came along while we were veiled and asked us what we were doing, so we took him to the back yard and introduced him to the bees - and explained to him that the ground nest he'd stepped on as a kid was not honeybees. He was aware of the bee shortage problems and after his initial fears were allayed said "This will be great for the flowers around here. Maybe everyone should be doing it." So I feel like we did a little bit of community service and public relations there.
zoethe: (Pooh Bee)
I'll make a confession: I'm pretty scared of bees. I'm okay walking around the hive and having them bopping around me, but when I have to actually approach the hive and do something with the bees, I get a bit heart-in-throat. I've gotten pretty good at changing out the feeder - partially because we realized that there was a leak in the base and it was dribbling out and causing us to refill more often. (Repair has been effected.) But since the installation of the bees, we hadn't gone back into the hive.

That had to change. When we got home from Penguicon on Sunday, we had planned to open the hive in order to make sure the queen had escaped her cage (queens have to be introduced slowly or the other bees will kill them). But it was cold and rainy, so we decided to wait for Monday. Monday, however, turned out to be just as cold and rainy, so we put off the hive opening one more day.

Today? Perhaps even worse weather. But it couldn't wait any longer. Because if the queen was dead in the bottom of the queen cage, or hadn't escaped, then our hive would not be filling with new brood and would be falling behind as the season progresses.

The problem with cold, rainy days is that the bees are all at home. The idea behind hive management is that you try to open the hive on a calm, sunny day when most of the inhabitants are out flying and the hive is relatively empty. But looking at the weather forecast, we aren't going to be getting any of those this week. So we waited as long as we could, and in a misty drizzle we ventured forth to open our hive.

There are a lot of firsts involved in this work. First fire in our smoker, which came with no directions. I thought I had it all ready to go when Ferrett suggested I give a couple trial puffs of smoke. Firey bee death shot out the snout of the smoker like the breath of a metal, bee-hating dragon. Yeah, maybe wait a few minutes....

Eventually we headed out into the mist, me bearing the smoker, Ferrett carrying an umbrella. We smoked the hive and took the top off.

I had this fear that we'd find a hive of dead bees. I knew this fear wasn't reasonable - they aren't flying around outside because of the cold and the rain; they're all indoors. But irrational fear isn't about reasonableness, so I was greatly relieved to find masses of buzzing critters.

Then came the alarm - masses of buzzing critters!!! I hope this will fade, but at this point there's still a bit of flight!! reaction upon seeing all those bees. Nevertheless, I took a steadying breath and removed the inner cover. To our tremendous relief, the candy plug in the queen cage was eaten away and the queen was out. I had to remove the queen cage, which meant putting my hands right down by the bees. I admit to being a bit shaky, but I managed it.

The next step is pulling out the frames and finding eggs, but that was not a job for today. Not on a rainy day. I'm hoping the weather will clear and we will be able to check the frames and assure ourselves that eggs are being laid and all is well.

And be a little braver each time.

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zoethe

September 2012

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