The 12-Day Inspection

In which I learned a great deal about the fact that planning really does help the inspection of a hive, and I actually FIND evidence that the queen is amazing and doing really really well. My husband was wonderful and helped keep me on track and focused for the whole thing, and did an amazing job as cameraman.

I really love that you can see John's shadow in this picture, too.

But one of the main things I started with was deciding to use smoke for the first time. I had only used sugar water to spray the girls so that they would clean each other off before this. The feeding mechanism makes them full and the belly distension seems to make it impossible for them to sting.

The same mechanism is why smoke works, or so they say. *laughs* There is more lore about bees than I even really want to think about; but smoke makes the girls gorge on honey in case they have to fly away, and when they're full they can't sting. Usually the last thing bees have to worry about when the forest is on fire is a bear intent on eating them.

When I bought my bee suit, I got the smoker, too, and while the discussions on the Boulder beekeeper's list indicated that I might not have to use it, that sugar syrup was better, I decided to do it anyway. During the windy, cold day I was scared that I was going to draw too much heat out of the girls by spraying them with liquid, this way I didn't have to worry about them being wet. The nights are still going down into the 40's, so I thought I'd play it safe.

The smoke worked like a charm, too. When I got the feeder and empty box off the top, they were all well within the slats of the frames, and hovering over their stores. Also, since this time I did it in the middle of the day, on a sunny, calm day, a lot of the workers were out, and the hive itself wasn't quite so full. Still, as you'll see, there were plenty of the girls inside, still, to make it very interesting. You can also see here that the frames were pretty close together, and that there's a much bigger cap between the third and fourth frame from the left. Yes, that's where the doubled comb ended up.

The difference seems minuscule to my eye, too...

Two of the frames on the right were completely empty, and this time I took them out and just stood them upright to the side. That gave me enough room to move the other frames around before taking them out so that I could move slowly and get all the way into the box.

This is the next frame over, and you can see that they're building already. A small network of bees drawing comb, and they were drawing equal comb on the matching side of the frame next to it. So they were getting good and busy and building out a pretty good deal. It was interesting that it looked like they'd begun to build where the queen was first caged, and then started spreading from there, eventhough it was off of center by a frame. I guess she really is irresistible to them.

This is pretty typical, with the honey on the outside cells, and capped cells more to the middle with the brood and pollen and the like. You can see that they're all over the faces of this, and each tending to their own thing all at the same time.

It was surprising and really cool to hold these frames up and look at them in sunlight and not really bother the bees at all! I was surprised at how easy it was and how little notice they took when all I was doing was looking at them. They just kept working at all the things they were doing. Another cool thing was seeing how they all varied so much. Some were really dark and others really bright yellow, and I loved seeing the contrast across them all. It made it much harder to actually spot the queen, though! And I found out from Ken that when the Northern Colorado Beekeepers did their buy, they decided to not ask the breeders to mark the queens. It's something that stresses them, so I'm okay with having to be a better beekeeper to find her! *laughs*

I really loved being able to study each and every frame and with John's urgings actually take my time doing it. There were so many bees, and they were festooning all over the frames, building comb as fast as they could.

It turns out that they need a lot of sugar to be able to build wax, and these girls seemed really well supplied as they were building like mad. There were three completely full frames, and three partial ones like the first one that I looked more closely at. And the bees stuck to them all like they were glued in place. Nearly none of the girls took off or fell off, which was a relief for me as I always hated the idea of the queen just falling and getting crushed or something.

I added more smoke in the middle of the inspection because John said that the note of the hive was going up a little, but also because the next frame was the Big One that I'd felt like I'd failed at really looking at the time before.
So I added some more smoke, let the girls settle, and then got my courage together. I moved the frame over a few centimeters, grabbed both sides and removed it from the box, slowly and gently and didn't shake anyone off. One of two of the girls just took of into the air, now and again, but none of them were really bumping into me, or buzzing at that hum that really alerted ALL the "get ready to dodge or duck" instincts. They were pretty content, and doing all right. I also wasn't breaking any comb the way I had last time...

This is the infamous doubled up comb. It is pretty organic, and the weight of it is actually stretching the wax at the top of the comb, which was intriguing to me.

The bright orange cells are filled with pollen! Which is what they need to feed brood, which meant that they were raising brood, so that was my Really Good Sign.

I still couldn't see under the wax to see if the queen was there or laying, and I was mildly frustrated by that, until I got to take a very close look at the lower corner of the other side of this frame...

If you go to this picture and look into the uncapped cells around and under the bees, you'll see little white rings of larvae!!!

I was so happy to see them. I was just so relieved to actually see them, big, fat, glossy and happy. And the texture of the caps next to them meant that there were probably hundreds, if not thousands, of workers all laid, growing, and sealed off to cocoon and develop into bees! But it was amazing to see that the laying pattern was such that the queen was probably hitting every single cell, and putting eggs into all of them. The swarms of workers here were feeding, capping, cleaning, and otherwise caring for the babies.  I also love that you can see one of the nearly transparent all-yellow workers in this shot too, a little above the center.

Putting the frame back in was a lot easier with the extra space.

No pushed around bees. No angry bee, nothing that seemed to make any of them any unhappier than they were.

I was even able to give the broken off piece of comb to a kid that was fascinated by them, and he loved seeing how it fit together and how it broke. *grins*

The amazing thing to me was seeing it all go back together without any problems at all. And it gave me the courage to just go through the rest of the box!

So this is the last of the built frames, and it's about two-thirds full, which I was really happy to see. The workers on this one are "festooning"... where they're all kind of linked together, and connected up in order to build comb in a synchronized fashion. For some reason it seems to make it easier for them to build the stuff when they're all doing it at once.

And, of course, they were completely ignoring me and John, who had the camera and no protective clothing but a veil. We got the veils from a couple of friends of ours who had bought them for a Halloween costume party. They had no use for them, so when they heard that I was going to actually keep bees, they sent me the veils!

Buttoning up was pretty easy, though I was kind of squimish about closing the gap between the Fat Frame and the others, but the bees are really used to very very tight quarters. The bee space is practically exactly the amount of space a bee needs to get through, so they just build to the point where they have to just squeeze through. It makes for good insulation.

But I basically scootched (that's a technical term!) the frames over until they were as close as they could get with the workers still between them, and finally fit all the frames into the box.  Since they'd built out six of the eight frames to some extent, I decided to add another box of frames on top. It would just give them more room. I also set up more sugar syrup and a watering station for them, with a tray filled with sand and rocks that could get water from our automated drip irrigation! So they'll have water and everything else, too!

So this second inspection was much, much, much more successful than the first, and I was so relieved about being able to see real evidence of the queen being just fine that I just collapsed for a while. Adrenalin and relief are a potent dose. *laughs* It's been twelve days since the queen was released, so I guess this is as good a time as any to see that she's been doing well.

  • Current Mood: accomplished accomplished
Fun with Bees
Congratulations to your AND your Queen! Thanks for the pictures and story.
Re: Fun with Bees
*beams* Thank you so much for your encouragement before I did this! It really did help.
These are gorgeous pictures, but I love them even more for having such clear context for them. Thank you!
Wow! I love the photos and the descriptions so I can tell what's going on and what's notable. How lovely to find that the hive is doing so well and the queen is busy laying; I know I'd be at the edge of my seat until I confirmed that.
*beams* Very happy that this conveyed things well... yes, I was pretty worried until I could actually gather the courage up to do this. It was good to do.
Thank you for another fascinating installation in this series. I've been reading these faithfully, and looking carefully at your excellently described photos. It's just that, what with putting the garden in, I haven't responded yet. Thanks for doing this.
*beams* No worries! Life first!!

I've been in China for the last two weeks and am finally getting to comments... so, yeah.. *laughs*