Monday, June 20, 2005

Cool Bees

roof viewThe early blast of July-ish weather finally subsided late Wednesday, giving us several heavenly days of highs in the 70s and nights in the 60s. The first of two Bee AC devices, "Bee Cool," arrived just before the temperatures broke, but after several days of nearly comic intervention on my part.

The "lovely" picture today shows you the only truly practical measure I was able to take against the heat: every skanky old rug, nasty tattered bedspread, and light colored trash bag in the place now graces the roof, toning down the heat absorbed by the black asphalt-like surface. Before putting this assortment down, my bare feet would begin to blister during the few feet it took to walk to a hive. With the admittedly ugly coverings, I can stand there indefinitely.

My husband and I had discussed a different approach: a roll of (white) Tyvek spread neatly like carpet, and held down with the roof patch stuff I like to apply spring and fall. But the Home Depot was out of stock, and the bees were baking, and now I understand how farms come to look like farms, rather than movie sets. You gotta do what you gotta do, and looks be damned.

This was not, of course, the only approach attempted. When the wind wasn't bad, it was possible to rig a makeshift tentlike thingum using an old bedsheet, a number of garden stakes, sisal twine, and (of course) a couple of bungies. The stakes were tied down to various potted plants, skylights, and the ugly trellis that was supposed to host bounteous bean vines (but doesn't). My pride stopped all photography in this area. This probably worked for 36 hours, but as the weather changed, the contraption became a threat to bee navigation (and the neighbor's roof). We may revisit this idea later.

I also did the traditional things: cracking the roof of each hive back to aid ventilation, removing inner covers, and hovering in an impotent fashion.

But now the news from inside the hives:

Hot weather meant more bees hanging around outside the hives than working within, and more fanning of air than collecting of water, nectar or pollen. Going in to see the girls today, my questions were:
  • Had the hives been damaged?
  • had there been excessive bee mortality?
  • Had any work been done at all?
  • Was Colony 1 doing any better?
  • Were there any more of those suspicious-looking queen cells in Colony 2?

Rather than keep you in suspense, you should know: things are basically good.

This does not mean that the bees were happy to see me, of course. In fact, the gals in Colony 2 were basically in a crappy mood. To be expected, perhaps, after the recent stress.

It was interesting to observe a lot of Undertaker Bee activity as well. Around the hives and at the tops of the hive bodies as soon as I lifted the roof, bees could be seen taking away dead bodies, even pitching them over the edge, more so than I had ever seen before. Considering that the colonies are now 9 weeks old, and that the first bumping batches of bees started arriving about 6 weeks ago, it is natural that we would be starting to see the workers who were born here beginning to pass on in observable numbers.

There were some bee deaths that seemed a bit more suspicious, though: these were young-looking workers that may have starved. Brand new bees become nurses, and depend on food to come to them from outside as they look after new brood. Some of them probably starved when the workforce was floored by the heat. During the worst of the heat, it also seemed like there were drones with their wings chewed off pushed outside the hive. This is a behavior associated with preparation for winter: the girls off the slackers in order to preserve food supplies for the winter. I have been trying to find references to this as a heat behavior, but have not yet. If it isn't, those girls MUST have been in a lousy mood.

The hives, as structural units, were fine. Extreme heat can warp the shape of the cells, making them odd widths or causing them to point down a bit, pouring out their contents. We do not appear to have gone there.

Since the "Bee Cool" unit went in less than a week ago, it appears that alot of work took place in Colony 2. The workers spun out the entire medium deep box of frames, and have begun to fill it with nectar. Some is even capped. This means that Colony 2 now has two boxes full of honey stores, and three of brood (with some honey packed around them, too). I need to give them another box, and with a bit of luck they will make enough for the gals in Colony 1 as well.

Colony 1 is busier, and on check today the Queen is still doing her best with the workforce she has got: she is laying everywhere they have drawn comb, and there are some new tracings of more comb in the second medium deep box. The workers seem to be showing more interest in the sugar syrup, and there is more traffic out the front. The beekeepers in the local club did not think that I should give up on these girls, and after seeing how much brood there is in Colony 2 and how much spirit there is growing in Colony 1, I am inclined to keep trying.

Colony 2 had stopped making those silly queen cells, leading me to believe that they really needed that super last time. They are definitely getting another SOON.

The second Bee Cool arrived today, too: the man who makes them puts them together as orders arrive, and they are wonderfully thought out, and executed, devices. I will take some photos of the new one before installing it (since there is not quite as much of a temperature crisis right now) and show them to you here.

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