Thursday, May 05, 2005

Every little thing gonna bee alright

honeycomb in hand
This morning, something genuinely wonderful happened: help came from someone who had the power to make good things happen in her hands, in response to a request that was never even effectively articulated.

Let me tell you something about MaryEllen: she is good with bees, she is gentle and patient with people (even antsy-clueless-panicked ones), and she is an expert pastry chef. Folks, this is a Human Trifecta. I guarantee this: you wish you knew her. It is only through the greatest good fortune that I do. Thank you, Mary Ellen.

This is what we did today:

Colony 2

We started with the up side: a voyage through Colony 2, with an eye to identifying and marking the queen. While she eluded us, a number of really good things happened. First, we spent alot of time looking at bees, and it was very helpful to really get a handle on what a drone looks like, and to start understanding the wide variety of coloring that bees can have (not every blondie with a big butt is a queen, and you can quote me on that). Also, these bees are avid wax generators and comb builders, and I had let them do too much of it. MaryEllen showed me how to cut off and clean up comb with minimum damage to the bees. In searching out the queen, she also discovered that a hive body I had (inadvisably) placed below the main one, and which I had expected the bees to ignore, actually contained several frames of comb I had not suspected! The girls worked DOWN *and* UP! This is an extra relief, too, because I had pulled three frames of comb out of Colony 2 to make the nuc, and this means that I deprived them of a much smaller proportion of their bees and work than first thought, and jeopardized them less.

Other great discoveries: very white beeswax, very nice honey cappings (this is a mark of honeybee product machismo, though totally a product of genetics – another way in which bees are like people), and actual new bees emerging before our very eyes! Welcome girls! You are beautiful.

As a management note, we placed the very full hive body that had been in the middle on the botttom, put the one that had been worked more than I knew in the middle, and put the emptyish one that had just been added back on top. The frames ended up being put back in a more or less disordered fashion, which is not desirable, but it allowed us to make sure that proper bee space was maintained. This means the workers won't waste their time in future building comb and storing honey that they will lose when I have to cut it out.

Colony 1

Colony 1 is where profound appreciation for bee sense, experience, and judgement comes into play. MaryEllen recently dealt successfully with a "laying worker" situation of her own (rock on, MaryEllen) and immediately identified the same situation in Colony 1. Things had gotten worse since Sunday: there were many many cells with 2 or more eggs, not in the center, drone comb in really bad shape, and so on. But on the up side, she noticed that my bees were more relaxed than her laying workers had been, and that the situation had not advanced as far. Bees in a "laying worker" situation are in a very bad mood: they are confused and their hormones are messed up and they think they might be in charge. Colony 1 was more docile than that. This is a good thing: they will be more likely to accept a real queen if they are not all ramped up on their own.

And now the psychic bee-ness really comes in. We took a look at the nuc colony I made on Tuesday– the one with the queen I had recently uncorked but not released. MaryEllen could tell that the bees in the nuc really wanted their new queen, even though at least two of the queen's attendants in the cage had died. She thought the queen was ready, too.

We set up the hive box with the laying workers on the bottom, placed the double screen board that MaryEllen both made and brought on top, and then placed the nuc on top. We took the queen cage, and prepared to release the queen directly into the nuc box. Here we stopped.

MaryEllen told me that, if the queen did not think she would be accepted–and she would know–she would shrink when we let her out of the cage. But MaryEllen thought she was raring to go. When the screen was pulled back on the queen cage, the new queen immediately popped out and slipped between two frames, a new retinue of attendants close behind. And MaryEllen said, "she is SO home."

And I felt so good, too.

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