We’ve acquired the beginnings of our beekeeping adventure, including the adoption of a small, yet ‘strong’ colony. Here’s the story & what we’ve got:
2 deeps, 2 supers, inner-cover, telescoping top, screened bottom, ‘waste-tray’, stand, strap, 20 medium frames, 20 deep frames, a queen excluder, full suit, zip-in veil, gloves, frame tool, brush, comb, smoker, & associated bees & honey. What’s this all mean? Well, nothing really… until you start keeping bees.. then it means EVERYTHING!
We got the bees from just across the way, near Berkeley Labs, so they’re quite adjusted to the area already and the drive wouldn’t be too horrendous. I picked up the hive on Thursday and began by strapping the hive bodies together and closing the hive entrance with a dowel and some tape so that I didn’t have bees flying about looking for honey or bears in the back of a volvo where, we all know, there are no flowers or bears to speak of. Then I put the whole shebang in the back of the car. Quite pleased, the boxes fit perfectly and painted bright green, seemed to complement the car so very well. I even considered painting some permanent fixtures of the car to keep the motif after I would remove the boxes. I have yet to match the color though. The bees were quite for the whole ride home, a very short yet terribly bumpy and windy jaunt. Then, with the help of Kira, we moved the hive down into the yard. The bees were still quiet as as we all know, “no noise, means no bees.” I admit I was fearful, for I expect to rile them up by all the jostling about. That night we went out for beers with David . Properly hydrated, we all went home to rest for the hive opening in the morning.
We were up early at 6:30 AM. Since we were messing them WAY out of season, it was important that we get a jump start on the day and not interfere with the bees too much. The whole process was was easy and straightforward. I pulled the tape of and pried the dowel out of the hive opening. Then we waited, almost too easy. Nothing. – so we went inside. About 20 minutes later we retured to find an accumulation of dead bees at the opening, about 5. This was good as the bees discard their dead out the front of the hive where they’re then carried away by other insects, like wasps. So the little changes proved there were at least some bees in there. The kind of bees that respected their home too. (that’s why they’re all named Kira) As the day warmed (several hours after we woke up) the bees became more active and showed their existence and I did a little dance by wagging my butt.
Now came the trick. I was warned by the previous owner that there were a couple of frames missing from the brood box (that’s the deep boxes where the bees and the queen live) and that the bees had build some ‘burr comb.’ This is comb that is build by the bees without the use of man-made frames. Burr comb is not bad in any way, it’s just really hard to do anything with it, so it was important that it be removed and this was a task I was suppose to do sooner than later. I was itching to open the hive and prove to myself that a) I had bees and b) I wasn’t such a scardy-cat.
Prepping myself, I pulled up YouTube and watched everyone else do it for an hour. I watched everyone else get excited, then frightened, then terrified, then acting calmly, then acting like there was nothing to it. The development was quite necessary and by the time I was done, I was ready to walk right out there like the other YouTube pros and just bust open the hive and get things done.. no suit necessary. Yet, I got up and put my suit on, because, “hey, I paid for it right?” .. yeah.. and I was terrified.
Suited up and ready I realized I still didn’t know what to do with the smoker, so veiled and coveralled I typed on the keyboard “YouTube – usinging a bee smoker.” This returned “YouTube – using a bee smoker.” I swallowed my pride and accepted the minor changes and spent another half hour learning, holding the smoker up to my face so I could familiarize as the TV told me what I was looking at, pumping the empty billow and smoking out the fictitious bees flying about the television, then opening it and filling it with all the imaginable combustibles lying about me. I got up again, this time ready to open the hive.
Standing outside, smoker in hand, camera in pocket, bee-suit on, I felt I was missing something. Then I found my confidence and proceeded forward. I stopped again at the hive half in fascination with the diligence of the insects flying about me and half in utter disbelief of my confidence to continue.
This hive in front of me didn’t contain a puppy or a rabbit or a cat or any one little life, but THOUSANDS! I was about to firmly disrupt thousands of little organisms, knowing full well I’d crush, decapitate, impale, and stress-to-death a great number. I hadn’t yet figured out how I was going to cope with that fact and now it all struck me like cement about my legs. Immobilized.
After a bit of observation, however, this feeling melted away and my psyche returned to normal and I prepared myself again for the job. I lit the smoker, puffed it a bit and set it down never to use it again. Then I approached the hive and went to town.
First, I pulled off the telescoping top and saw the mass of bees sitting atop the inner cover, and spilling out of the top hole. Seeming like a good sign of population I smiled. With the frame tool I popped the inner cover off and found the first of a frustrating problem. The burr comb was good and strong and had built it’s self to the inner cover, making it quite unruly. Covered in comb and consequently honey too after I inadvertently smashed much of the comb, it was a mess. I attempted to brush the bees into the box, but then gave up and set the inner cover aside and began my work on the burr comb.
Removing the surrounding frames, I ‘looked’ for the queen but soon found my eyes were not as trained as they’d convinced me they were. So I set the frames aside and considered my options with the burr comb. I had been expecting small sections of burr comb, like pockets. Instead I found two frame-like structures, within millimeters of each other, and covered in bees. “Hmmmmmm…” I said to myself as I stood in awe of these incredible beings, still mostly un-effected by my presence and disruption. Remarkable.
Then, without thought, I reached into the hive, gripped this comb, and tore it from them. Placing it gently in a tray in front of the hive. The bees were still quite indifferent to my action. I then pulled the other burr comb out and went to work cleaning the space to make room for some man-made frames. I replaced them and then, after inspecting the burr comb brushed the bees into the hive vigorously. Then fell in with respect and went to work in on their new comb. Remarkable.
I then cleaned and replaced the inner cover, then the lid and sat in amazement. I puffed the smoker a couple of times, but it had gone out long ago. I set it back down and took some photos with my honey-covered camera. Good thing we went for the water proof version.
Settled up, I made a list of mental notes that were important. Purging all the unexciting or unimportant facts as I mindlessly cleaned my gloves and camera. Standing now inside and two stories above the hive, I looked at the fliers, still working, seemingly too good to be even interested with the drama surrounding the rape of the hive’s comb. They were apolitical. I can respect that.
My next duty was to do something with the burr comb I’d pulled out. Most of which was full of honey. I licked my fingers and enjoyed the flavor they had. I dropped a hunk of comb into my mouth and quickly associated the two flavors. After a little more internet research I learned of all the not-so-effective ways to extract honey and went to work on one of the methods using the oven on low and a baking pan. Hours later I had a soup of blackened wax and hot honey. Through the course of the day and evening I eventually got this honey separated and into a jar and settled up. Our first honey. Delicious. Though, those interneters were right, don’t think I’ll use that method ever again.
After a phone call that evening I was informed of all the things I should have done differently and I prepared for the next dry day. Fortunately, this morning warmed up a bit and the rain hasn’t yet come, so I informed Kira of her new duties. Graciously, she dawned the suit and began the process to familiarize herself with the bees, in the process accomplishing some tasks I had for her. The primary objective I had was to put the secondary deep box back on the hive. She accomplished this with great precision, skill and success. A real ‘keeper’ that one.
As of this morning, there are about three frames of bees collecting pollen and honey and seemingly quite happy.