Saturday, May 26, 2012

Queen Beatrice

Long live the Queen!  Queen Beatrice that is.  (We let Dick, the man who let us put the beehive on his land, name our queen bee.  He thinks all the bees should be named Beatrice 1 through 9,999, but we really only wanted to name the queen.)  Last Sunday Sarah and I went out to do a check on the hive to ensure the girls were building comb and the queen was laying eggs.  The results were . . . less than impressive. 

Initial indications were good; we saw many bees flying into the hive carrying pollen on them, "buckets" full, so we concluded they were foraging successfully somewhere.  This was good to see, because while we're providing supplemental "nectar" in the form of sugar syrup, the carbs, they still need the protein provided by the pollen.  We saw yellow, orange, and red pollen being carried in.  Several bees were even considerate enough to stop and let me check their cargo out.

Bee carrying orange pollen pausing on my pant leg
We refilled the feeder, then started smoking the hive in preparation of checking the frames.  (For those of you who care, yes, I did manage to keep the smoker lit this time.  The problem later was ensuring it was out before loading it in the car.)  We opened up the top, sent some more smoke down, and checked out the general condition of the hive.  We noticed there appeared to be some burr comb on frame #3 (numbering left to right, facing front of hive).  This also coincidentally happens to be where the queen cage was hung when we installed the package.  I think between that and not pushing the frames together completely allowed just a little too much space between the frames, and the bees didn't like this.  There is a natural distance referred to as "bee space" which is a space a little less than 1/4 inch or 3/8 inch (5.3 mm or 9.0 mm) that provides for the passage of bees in a hive, or for 2 bees to work back to back.  When you have less space than this, they tend to seal the cracks with propolis, any larger and they will start building burr comb, as we have discovered.
Frame 3 showing the comb built out in weird shapes
You can see the comb extending out past the frame, and when we pulled the frame out to check it, we couldn't tell if they were building comb double deep or what.  There were also too many bees on the comb to tell if there were eggs or larvae yet or not.  (Have since learned that we could have blown on the bees to get them off of the comb we wanted to inspect.  Much to remember for next inspection!)

Holding Frame 3 with burr comb towards top
Actually, we didn't see any eggs (although they could be easily missed as little white dots against a pale yellow background).  We could have done a better job looking for larva, as there should have been some by last Sunday (day 15 for hive, although only day 10 after ascertaining queen was out).  Worker brood becomes larva on day 3 and is capped on day 9, as shown in the figure below. 
Frankly, I forgot all about looking for larvae once we found the queen.  Her highness was actually easier to spot than I had worried about, and it wasn't just because she is marked, although that really helps.  She happened to be on an emptier section of comb and I was able to spot her quickly.  Her abdomen is significantly longer than the workers, and she's also not striped so darkly.
Queen Beatrice with the yellow dot
Doing an inspection of all the frames revealed that only 4 frames have any significant comb developed, and 2 of those on only one side.  I had hoped/expected more comb development by day 14, especially with the sugar syrup feeding.  Not quite sure what's realistic for this timeline, as far as comb and brood laying.  Sarah and I both feel now is a good time to ask a mentor from the Pikes Peak Beekeeping Association to come do a hive inspection with us to give us some advice and a better perspective of how our hive is doing, since we don't have anything else to compare it to. 

Queen Beatrice again, being surrounded by her attendants
We added another quart jar feeder above the inner cover, and set an empty brood box around it for protection, then replaced the top cover.  We're hoping that with 2 quart feeder jars we'll only need to refill them once a week.  So right now our bees are going through 2 quarts of syrup in a week.  Is this a realistic amount?  I have more questions every time I see the bees.

Overall, we were very pleased with our foray into the hive last weekend.  The girls are building comb, Queen Beatrice was accounted for, and we added a feeder.  We took off our veils when we finished and spent some time just enjoying watching the girls work.

Bee carrying pollen

1 comment:

  1. I often wonder if I share DNA with you, but the graph chart reaffirms our paternity.