Thursday, April 14, 2005

Did They Stay Or Did They go Now?

By Monday AM, it was getting seriously important to figure out whether things were going alright. Or at least I thought so. If the queen was gone or injured, the colony would self-destruct or fly away. Other than the sadness of ending a few thousand lives in vain, it's not at all clear that I could find some more bees to victimize.

So how to figure out whether to try to get a new queen or two without ensuring the demise of the ones I got? Easy: flutter obsessively around the colony, look for omens, and email other beekeepers for advice.

Signs and portents

First, the dead bees. There seemed to be maybe a hundred, maybe two. But there had not been that many casualties in the packages, and the numbers did not seem out of line with the beekeeping book. Also, there did not seem to be an increase over time.

Second, bee poo. Oh I know this sounds absurd and funny, but what mother is not relieved to see her charges chowing down? There are little yellow spots all over the skylights on our roof – five skylights, and the yellow dot density increases with proximity to the colonies.

I'm calling this mixed, but leaning toward the positive. "(Glass one third empty)"

Emailing the Experts

I sent this email (more or less) to three beekeepers: one was a member of the local beekeeping association that sponsored my class, another was a teacher at the class, and the third was a state bee inspector.

Hi {beekeeper name} --

This is one of the students in the recent Beekeepers Short Course (the "cookie lady"). Because the weather caused a rescheduling, I missed the installation session and may have done a bit badly on my own. Would it be OK to ask if you have any advice for telling if things went alright?

On Saturday evening we installed two packages of Italians, and I had some trouble with the queen cages. This has made me worried about how to tell whether the queen(s) are injured or whether it was now too easy for the workers to get to them and ball them. It also turned out that one bay of one of the hive top feeders leaked, so it might (or might not) be a good idea to put more syrup in the non-leaky side. Opinions welcome!

There are online pix of the many mistakes at if that is any help at all. It's how we plan to keep notes, and it may just seem like a hilarious list of errors to an expert.

What do you think? Also, please let me know if you'd rather not get email in future!

Well, it turns out that beekeepers spend more time with bees than keyboards, so I did not hear back for a couple of days, but here is what they said, and it's mostly comforting.

The first person is a woman, who with her husband has many hundreds of hives and is a master beekeeper. She paints her hives pink and I think she rocks.

You asked for suggestions and help, I'll bee happy to bee there if I can bee. {My husband} does not even turn on the computer, just moans when I complain about it's erratic behavior. He is connected by telephone wires and the US Postal Service.
Don't use the leaky side of the feeder, any feed they get is better than no feed so one side is better than none. I don't know about installing your package in 2 hive bodies. (Actually I do know) Bees work UP and hardly ever = never, work down, especially when building comb. Your bees will build comb in the top hive body since that is the one you installed them in and ignore the lower one.
You may want to watch them very closely and reverse the two boxes when the top one is 90% drawn. (Please don't call me a liar if they prove me wrong. While I am female like the workers, they sometimes surprise even me. Unlike {my husband} who is surprised quite often and doesn't understand why. Men?!?!?!?!)
I do understand the benefits of the city hive. We have a jar of honey from the roof of the Paris Opera House that one of our summer students brought us a million years ago. Very sweet (of the bees and of him).
We have been to the Canal in {the city} in the summer and seen the Gazillions of Basswood trees. Excellent honey and the Boy Scouts on the hike had to watch {my husband} being dragged away from the flowers with tears in his eyes for the fact the trees were not within flying distance of his bees.
I think {my husband} will bee at the meeting of MCBA tonight. I have tax customers that are waiting until the last minute and wanting me to avoid getting a good night's sleep.
Enjoy the bees......they are getting a kick out of you! (Nice jacket)

P.S. I bought the jacket from her!

The second response came from the state inspector, who seems like a gentle, birkenstocky kind of guy.

I just installed some bees on Sunday from packages too - must be a same source supplier. Anyway.. the queen cage is tricky because if you are using foundation on frames and not drawn comb it's tight. My suggestion would be to only use 9 frames for a day or so 'til hopefully the workers release the queen. I'd left mine 'til today and then re-opened the colony checked to the queen cage by gently prying the frame apart I had the queen cage on and pulled it out to see if they had released the queen. They had not, so I gently pulled off the screen and put her on a frame.
They can't talk but I sensed relief - "Now I can finally lay all those eggs" - from the queen. Again, gently I slid the frames over and added the 10th frame and closed the hive. I'm also feeding my bees with inverted quart jars of sugar water - bees are already using it to make new comb. they won't drown on the hot days we've had, but tonight will be cold- and wet and cold are not good for the bees. Maybe seal up the bigger holes and limit the available drops of sugar water. Hope this explanation helps.

I consider this mixed (of course), but even more positive than the omens were. ("Glass two thirds full!")

Later today, when the field bees are more definitely out, I will go in to release the queens, if they need it, and to see whatI can about current status without doing any heavy manipulation.

1 comment:

Reptilicus said...

You probably have many happy bees.