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June 22, 2012

Opening the Hives: At One Month

Bees working bits of burr comb removed from between the frames and placed at the entrance

Two weeks ago, my mentor from the local beekeeper's association came over to visit my hives for the first time.  It was a great experience.  Both hives, Willow and Briar, were growing as expected.  There was beautiful brood, capped honey, pollen and lots of bees.  We even saw the queen in Willow.  It was so nice to hear from my mentor, who has been raising bees since 1989, that everything looked great.  We added on the second deep super to Briar so that it would now match Willow. I had added the second deep super to Willow four days prior.  For a diagram with parts of the hive click here.

Today marked two weeks since I had entered the hives. It was time to inspect them again and to see how they were doing in building out the 10 frames within the new second deeps. Over the past few days it has been sunny, beautiful and very hot. The weather has been optimal for bee viewing. Last night, the kids and I built out the smaller frames for the honey supers, just in case we needed them. I went into the hives at 10 am.

Bees in the Northeast need approximately 60-80 pounds of honey to survive through the Winter. This is roughly equivalent to two full deep supers. Often new beekeepers in the first year, strive to get their bees to completely build out two deeps. It is a great deal of work for the bees. Not only do they have to make beeswax to draw out the foundation on twenty frames, but the queen has to lay lots of eggs, the bees need to collect nectar and pollen, and create honey stores.

Willow was first. Willow has had two deeps on since June 5th. As I removed the outer cover, I found the feeder empty. Bees were still surrounding the opening but it was light as a feather. I removed it and placed it on the ground. Next, I removed the inner cover. The bees were very quiet. They hardly seemed to notice me. In fact, I could barely hear them buzzing. I had never heard the hive this calm or quiet before. I worked methodically and slowly to avoid causing any unnecessary vibrations or jostling that upsets the bees. I had soon discovered that the bees had been very busy! As I inspected each frame I found that eight were fully built out with comb in the second deep super. There were plenty of bees-both workers and drones. Five frames were full of brood and there was capped honey, pollen and nectar in the cells too. I found the queen on the third frame. There she was in the center of the frame and capped brood. As I inspected each frame, I also found it necessary to remove burr comb. Burr comb is comb that does not belong where the bees place it. In this case, they "bridged" the small gaps between the frames in the upper and lower deep with beeswax bridges. With the hive tool, I methodically scraped off this comb and placed it on the bottom board near the hive entrance. The bees will clean this comb of everything useful (see photo above). Within seconds, the comb was covered with worker bees. I finished peeking inside this upper deep and decided to forgo the lower one. Everything was as it should be. In fact, it was time for me to add a honey super to this hive.

Honey supers are about half the height of a regular deep. It is shallower. When full it can hold up to 100 pounds of honey. I decided to forgo the queen excluder. It is an item of huge debate in the beekeeping world. It is not recommended for first year beekeepers by our association. The idea behind the queen excluder is to prevent the queen from going up into the honey super and laying eggs. Worker bees can fit through just fine enabling them to build out the foundations. Without a queen excluder, it is possible that the queen can go up into the honey super and lay eggs. However, the bees will have plenty of work drawing out the new ten frames that are inside the honey super. They may only have enough time this season to draw out the comb or they may fill this super with honey and I might even have to add another! If the queen does lay eggs in the honey super, waiting until Fall to harvest honey should ensure that no more hatching eggs are laid in the honey super. Time will tell.  Once the honey super went onto Willow, it was time to stop feeding them. I removed the empty feeder, added the honey super, replaced the inner cover and the outer cover. The bees hardly knew that I was there. Next it was Briar's turn.

From the beginning, Briar was my gang buster hive. I placed the second deep on this hive on June 9th, four days later than Willow as it was a tad bit slower. I was very pleased when I opened this hive. In the same fashion as Willow, I entered the hive. The feeder was also empty. I inspected each frame in the upper deep. Six out of the ten frames were built out. Three were covered in brood. There was pollen, capped honey, nectar and plenty of bees. I never did see the queen. This hive too, like Willow was incredibly docile today and I decided that I had seen enough evidence of a thriving hive with a laying queen. Briar did not receive a second deep as I wanted to see at least seven frames completely built out with comb.

So in a week or so, I will open Briar back up and recheck the progress of the bees. This hive might just get a honey super too. It is still early in the season here on Cape Cod. My fingers are crossed that I just might get some honey. I talked to my mentor today. He was surprised with the bees' progress. From what he tells me, sometimes new hives are like this. He said the real test will come to see if they survive the Winter.

Photo Credit:  Tilly's Nest


This post is linked up to Deborah Jean's Farm Girl Friday Blog Hop.

3 comments:

  1. I had no idea that there was so much to learn about bee-keeping... It is fun to read your posts! maybe, one day, I will feel comfortable enough with the process to get started :)

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  2. There is so much work to beekeeping , not to mention the knowledge you need to be successful. Good luck, I hope all turns out well.

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