First Hive Check

Yes! I had made it through the week without disturbing my little colony even though I really wanted to take a peak. So finally it was Saturday and the day had come when I would be able to pry that lid off and see what my little friends had been up to and how they were settling in. So I packed up my gear – veil, smoker, hive tool, fuel, lighter and spacer and headed out the door. I dropped my oldest two off at a friends place, popped by the school to water the garden (a never-ending every day task – will it EVER rain???), then drove the 11 kms to my beehive. It was so exciting to get the first glimpse and see that, not only was the hive still standing, but there were bees flying in and out of the entrance! I took a few moments to watch the activity at the front door. I noted that not a lot of the returning bees had much pollen in their baskets, which is similar to the bees I have watched foraging in my yard and meadow at this time of year, so I will have to keep an eye on the amount of bee bread that is stored around the brood nest. Bees actually collect 4 different things when they go out on a foraging flight – nectar, pollen, water and propolis (tree resins). The nectar is turned into honey by fanning it with their wings to remove much of the water content which they then store until needed. This is their carbohydrate, or energy, source which will fuel all those busy bees all year long. The pollen is packed into the hexagonal cells with a bit of nectar or honey and saliva to make what is referred to as “bee bread”. This is fed to the developing worker larvae, with the pollen providing the protein that is needed for growth and development. The water is for drinking and the propolis is used to seal up cracks and crevices and coat the inside of their hive.

So I got my smoker lit and set to work removing the lid and inner cover. And there were all my beautiful bees! I removed the now empty queen cage that had kept the queen safe during travel to the new home – she had been put into the small plastic cage and sealed in with fondant which she and the workers chewed through so she could escape and join the crew. Next I carefully removed and inspected the frames, one-by-one, starting on the outside and working towards the middle. There was evidence of comb being built on the brand new frames that I had just put in last week. In the older frames, which had come in my box of bees, I saw all the life stages – eggs, healthy larvae, capped brood and workers. I was lucky enough to see a few bees emerging too – their little antennae’s poking out as they chewed their way through the wax capping that had covered them as they pupated. I even saw one dreaded varroa mite, emerging along with one of the new bees. Its inevitable that varroa, a honey bee parasite, will be in my colony, and I plan to check the mite level within the next two weeks (and regularly thereafter) after the bee population grows a little and the colony gets more established. There was also a fair amount of honey along the outer edges, with a band of bee bread alongside it. And I found my queen – easy to spot as she wears a bright green dot on her back indicating that she was born this year (beekeepers will mark queens with a different colour dot on her thorax according to an internationally established colour-coding system).

This is a wood frame with plastic foundation – a sheet that is marked with the beginnings of the hexagonal cells that the bees will build the wax comb upon. They have started to build it up in the area where they are congregating.
Emerging bees. At the end of the larval stage, worker bees will cover the cell with a wax capping under which the bee pupates and then emerges as an adult bee.

I had put my husband in charge of the smoker, as he was helping me while our youngest napped in his car seat – a good thing as my toddler really, really LOVES bees and wants to pick up and cuddle with any bee he meets. Anyhow, my hubby is not yet comfortable with bees so I figured this task would be manageable – just squeeze the bellows on occasion to make sure the fire stays lit and ready in case I need it. Well I guess he took this job to heart as I had to ask him to please stop – at one point there was so much smoke I couldn’t see what I was doing! I think he feels protected shielded by a wall of smoke – if he can’t see the bees then they can’t see him either. And then, not surprisingly, we ran out of fuel…

So with my smoker out of commission, and having seen what I needed to see, I put all the frames back in place, spaced them evenly and replaced the inner cover and lid. I will be back again next week to check on them, hoping to find a larger brood nest and more of the new frames built out. I am nervous they will not have time to build up enough going into winter, but with the plan to check them weekly I know I can help them out if they need me.

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