My first season of beekeeping.
Several people have asked about my bees and my first season of beekeeping so I thought I would share some photos my daughter, Claire, took of a hive inspection yesterday. When I’m working alone, I don’t have enough hands to take photos very easily, and I haven’t yet created a setup like some beekeepers to take video. Maybe I will someday, but now, I’m doing good to hold the frames, smoke the hive and watch out for the small insects.
They don’t always take kindly to being disturbed.
Beekeeping has its own language.
The first thing I had to learn was all the different beekeeping terminology. Just like gardening, beekeeping has its own language. I may mention one or more of these terms throughout this post so I want to explain them as best I can.
Hives are the structures you place your colony in so when you refer to your colony, you’re referring to the bees themselves. The hive is where they live. A Langstroth hive is composed of many parts, but usually has a bottom board, two hive bodies (sometimes called boxes, deeps or mediums) and one or more supers for honey. Supers are not usually as deep as a hive body because they hold the beekeeper’s honey, and capped (finished) honey is heavy stuff. The Langstroth hive also has an inner cover, a base, the top cover and a queen excluder. Hive bodies may have ten frames or eight frames, and they are very heavy when filled with honey, brood, and bees.
[Click on the photos in the galleries to enlarge them.]
A full hive inspection.
I try to do at least a partial hive inspection every two weeks, and I visually look in on the bees almost daily watching them going to and from the hive. I can often tell what is going on in the hive just by watching their front door. For example, if we’re having very hot weather, many of the bees will hang out on the outside of the hive to give the nurse bees and their brood space for better airflow. Other bees will use their wings to fan the front of the hive. In the evenings, there is often a traffic jam as the bees return to the hive, the pollen baskets on their legs and their honey stomachs full of pollen and honey for the colony.
By our pond, I watched on a really hot day as worker bees sucked up water and carried it back to the hive. Water is also used to cool the hive.
The day before yesterday, I opened the entire hive down to the bottom hive body and did a full inspection. We’re two-thirds of the way through summer. I was trying to ascertain whether the queen was laying well, and just generally, whether the colony was happy and thriving. They are, although I’m not sure if they might be a little honey bound. I did see the queen for the first time since the bees released her from her queen cage. The queen bee is very shy and moves very fast. Sometimes, it’s hard to find her, and she, being the most important bee in the colony, you don’t want to accidentally squish her.
Bees can become honey bound and then the queen doesn’t have anywhere to lay. My beekeeping mentor, Pat White, told me to try putting on the super (the smallest box on top) without a queen excluder and check on things in a week. This is to prevent the bees from possibly swarming this fall, or not raising enough brood to get through winter.
Beekeeping keeps a red-dirt girl humble. I feel like I learn one thing and then forget two things every time I go out to the hive and check on my little colony. In late March, I started with one package of bees. Knowing what I know now, I would buy two packages or nucs because you can sometimes solve problems with one hive with frames of brood from another. A three-pound package of bees has about 10,000 bees and a mated queen whom they don’t know. That’s why you carefully introduce her to the workers, and they hopefully accept her. A nuc or nucleus of bees has three to five frames of bees with brood, honey, and some pollen, along with a current year’s mated queen. I think I’ll invest in a nucleus next year, but I’ll talk to my mentor first. A nuc is, of course, more expensive.
In the beginning, I fed my package of bees regularly to help them make honey when there weren’t many flowers, and I also fed them when our temperatures rose to over 100°F for two weeks about four weeks ago. I stopped feeding them a week ago when temperatures moderated. It is hard to know when we’re in the middle of a honey dearth in my part of Oklahoma. The heat sure makes things hard, but goldenrod is starting to bloom so it, with the asters and simple mums, should keep the bees happy. They are all still feeding on the summer flowers. Hopefully, I’ve done enough to prepare them. I’ll know more in a week or two.
After talking to Pat, I went down with the super and empty frames to install them. I thought I might look again at the top hive body, but the bees were still angry from the day before and weren’t having any of it. I knew that when one immediately stung my glove. No, it didn’t hurt because she couldn’t sting through my glove. So, I just pulled one honey frame from the outside and then decided I could look at things more closely next week.
It was a bit breezy which also puts them in an ill temper, and my colony isn’t the friendliest one I’ve ever seen anyway. They are pretty mighty though so I don’t take it personally. I am, after all, breaking into their home. So, I pulled one honey frame and looked at it and then decided to just install the super and be on my way. No reason to upset them further that day.
I think having gardened for years and years it’s easier for me to get into the zone of calm you need to keep from being frightened of your bees even when they’re upset. I’m respectful of them, and I appreciate the job they do helping to pollinate my garden. I also admire how they care for each other. I’ll leave you with one more bee pic, and it’s my favorite of the day. Check out the small honey bee returning to the hive. Most of the foragers were out gathering nectar and pollen because I always check my bees in the middle of the afternoon. Fewer bees. Fewer problems.
So, that’s this week’s honey bee fun. I find the whole process rather miraculous. Please comment with any questions you have, and I’ll try to answer them. If I don’t know the answer, I bet I know someone who does.