Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Today I felt like a beekeeper.

Learning beekeeping has been quite the process for me. I would have loved to have had a local mentor; I didn’t. Thank goodness for online mentors. They saved my honey on more than one occasion. I do have a few local folks I can ask questions of, plus I read a lot about beekeeping. None of that, however, takes the place of a stand-by-your-side mentor who will come to your apiary, or allow you to go to hers, and take you step-by-step through the process of everything involved in this awesome and wondrous craft. It is possible to learn beekeeping without a mentor (I did), but it is a much slower and more risky (to your bees) path. In the realm of beekeeping, that is most definitely not the best thing.

I’ve been keeping bees for four years now. Every year I have learned a little more and every year I become more comfortable with the tasks at hand. I am learning to take notes. I say “am learning”  because this does not come easily for me. It goes completely against my ADHD bent. But man, has it been invaluable. Duh. So I am learning to be methodical. Yes, me. Organized and methodical. (You would laugh sometimes at what that actually looks like, but this too progresses.) Sometimes it is several weeks between times I get into a hive. How the heck could I expect I would remember what I had done the last time I was in a hive? Can’t. Not gonna happen. I have five hives (soon to be seven!). Imagine if I had hundreds or even thousands of hives. Oy! Notes are imperative, truly. Get in the habit if you are not already.

It is said that an inspection will set the colony back for days. After all, I am disrupting the everyday workings of thousands of bees. With this in mind, I try not to go to my apiary without a plan. What specifically do I want to accomplish when I get into a hive? If I know this, I keep their disruption to a minimum and they can get back to collecting nectar and converting to honey, or repairing what I’ve just torn asunder. With notebook in hand, immediately after an inspection I write down the state of the hive, is there brood, did I see the queen, are there honey stores, is the hive testy? If I see something that needs addressed the next time, I write what I anticipate I will need to do during the next inspection. Before my next inspection, I pull out my handy dandy notebook, refresh my memory with the anticipated necessary tasks, and in one glance I can then set forth to gather any equipment needed for the inspection I am about to undertake.

My inspection back on March 10 noted two things in my notebook: a possible queenless nuc and another nuc that had tons of brood. With those notes, I could think about my options: I might be able to simply add a nuc box to the booming colony or I might prefer to take it from a nuc to a full hive. I gathered both kinds of equipment - standard hive bodies (several, just in case), all the necessary frames, and a few nuc boxes in case I went that route. (I use almost exclusively 8-frame medium equipment, so any frame can be used in any box - nuc or hive body or super, which is a medium hive body.) I keep a tool bag that houses my hive tools, brush, frame holder, etc., so that is always at the ready and always goes with me. For transporting all my equipment, hubby yet again tolerated all my wants and needs and bought me a really cool dump truck sort of cart. It’s not too big, not too hard to pull, and it can hold a lot of equipment, minimizing my back-and-forth trips to the house for something I need but forgot. If you are like me and have your hives near your house, it’s a worthy purchase for around $100.

March 30. I decided to address the booming nuc colony first since it would be the easiest. All my hives got checker boarded on February 18 and I was hoping that did the deed to prevent swarms. I had planned on getting into this hive a week ago, but as often happens, something came up. Delayed maintenance can often spell loss of lots of bees by way of a swarm. I was thrilled to see when I opened this nuc that there was not a single swarm cell! Was it the checker boarding? I just cant’s say for sure, but I’ma thinking it was. And brood - oh my! NOTED: Temperament was excellent and a potential hive for making new queens. Yeowza! This is what you want to see! I quickly took it to a three-high full-sized hive from a three-high nuc. Have you ever taken a plant and transplanted it to a new, bigger pot and then looked at it in its new, bigger pot and wondered how on earth it was ever making it in the size it was in before? That’s exactly how I felt with this colony. Man, it filled two boxes to the brim, full and fat. I added an extra box for honey, hoping with all my might my girls will do as well with nectar gathering as they are doing with expanding!

Now it was time to address what I suspected was a queenless nuc. At the entry, the bees appeared lackadaisical - a sure sign something was probably amiss. Watch the outside of your hives, it gives many clues to inner happenings. Inside, sure enough, no brood, no queen. But, thankfully, also no laying worker yet - woooo hooo! That made me happy. My task at hand now was to find a frame of brood in another hive and insert it into the nuc. Not just any frame of brood, however. This needed to contain eggs that were 3 days old or younger so they could make a queen. There is a hive adjacent to this nuc hive. What was its condition? Could it spare a frame of brood? NOTES! Oh thank goodness for notes. I checked my notes from the previous inspection; not stellar notes, but it did say this hive had a queen and eggs and brood were seen. That should not have changed and if not I could steal from it. Now here’s the tricky part. Stealing eggs is simple. But you must steal eggs and not transfer the queen with said eggs. You have to find the queen first and then put her elsewhere. Amazingly (to me!), I found the queen rather quickly. I looked on the frame she was on and there were freshly laid eggs - a perfect frame to steal. I must admit I could have handled removing her a bit better. I kinda “shooed” her off the frame to a frame below. I was afraid to touch her. Afraid I would damage her, hurt her, drop her, squish her - a million thoughts ran through my mind. So I shooed. “Shoo, Queenie, shoo!” Her Majesty deserves better. I will work on this. Did I mention - she is F A T ! Fat must mean happy, right? So my queen is Fat and Happy. I retrieved the frame of eggs, inserted them into the nuc, sealed it, put an empty frame in where the stolen frame was and put that hive back together. Done!

Having notes told me what to look for on this inspection. I went prepared to do just that. I expanded one hive, I found the queen so I could egg a queenless nuc, and I got Humptys put all back together again. When I was done, I was quite proud of myself and felt I had handled this inspection in quite the beekeeperly fashion - something I often feel is sorely lacking. I went with a mission and mission was accomplished. If I hadn’t taken notes, I surely would have been quite helter skelter. If you are not a note taker, I strongly encourage learning this habit. In the apiary, it will save you major effort and take your beekeeping to a more efficient level. Bee well!

1 comment:

  1. wow, you have learned SO much in four years!

    thanks! you bee well too! hope that was a wish for non-bee keepers as well!


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