Hive Check: Week 3

Another week flew by like a high speed bullet train. I can feel it – the days are getting shorter, the nights are getting cooler, summer is winding down. But another week gone by meant I could get out and check my hive again – something that I find myself really looking forward to as the week comes to a close. (In case you missed it you can read about my hive set up and previous hive checks here: https://doctorb.blog/2019/07/21/my-first-beehive/; https://doctorb.blog/2019/07/28/first-hive-check/; https://doctorb.blog/2019/08/04/hive-check-week-2/).

I was excited to see how well the bees had done over the last seven days, and a little apprehensive as my new hive stand was finally ready to be put into action. Thinking of my hive stand gives me a moment of pause, where I can reflect on a not-so-awesome personality trait and have a chuckle at myself. Sometimes I look at other people and marvel at their preparation. I first became aware that I was deficient in this department when I started going on playdates with my kids with other moms who had wipes, diapers, water, snacks, two changes of clothes, bibs, towels, hats, extra shoes all packed into a tiny little purse like Mary Poppins’ magical bag. This was always in stark contrast to me who would show up with kids in tow and maybe a clean diaper if I had thought of being prepared. And so it became pretty obvious to me that I was a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of person. And why should I be any different when it comes to this new project? So I had bought all my hive equipment, brought my bees home and got set up knowing full well that I wanted to have the hive elevated off the ground but not putting much thought into how I was going to make that happen. Well levitation didn’t work, but I had at least had enough sense to bring some large edging rocks to try. They managed to get the hive a whopping 4 inches off the ground – whoopee. So I channeled my inner MacGyver and managed to raise the hive (with the bees inside) on top of a deep box that was on the rocks. This was high enough to keep my bees safe from harm – namely skunks visiting in the dark cover of night to scratch at the hive’s front door only to stomp on and eat any poor bee that came out to investigate the disturbance. It was also surprisingly stable but it would not be a long term solution. So I put in an order with my live-in handyman (aka husband) to make me a hive stand and two weeks later it was built! I spent the past week painting it and today was the day when we could finally install it. Thankfully we managed to move my hive to safety, get the new stand in place and get the hive onto the stand without incident. A huge relief, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t had scenarios of this running through my head at 2 am for the past 3 weeks where I dropped the hive and it smashed on the ground sending thousands of angry bees into the air like a bomb going off. But with the task done I could open the hive and have a look at all that my bees had been up to.

Look at all that space on my new hive stand!

Once again the little monkeys, err bees, had built honeycomb between the top bars and the inner cover. Perhaps this is because I bought a wooden inner cover in my never ending quest to avoid as many plastic products that I can and this, being a more rigid cover, allows for a space that the bees do not want to go to waste. But I’m okay with it – I clean all that extra wax up each visit and am saving it with the hopes of one day making a candle. So with the lids off and the bees busy at work cleaning up the spilled honey from the superfluous comb, I set to work removing the frames one-by-one to have a look. The final empty frame now was being built up with honey being stored on it, so the box was quite full. The brood nest looked great with lots of eggs, larva of various sizes, capped brood and LOTS of bee bread! But as I removed the final 4th frame of the brood nest my heart sank a little – I hadn’t seen my queen. Don’t panic I told myself but inwardly I was starting to panic – had I accidentally smushed her last week when I was reassembling the hive??? Thankfully the rational part of my brain calmly pointed out that I had seen eggs so she must have been there within the past three days and I just missed her. I would finish my frame check of the remaining honey frames and then go back through them carefully looking for her. I got this. But as I pulled out the another new frame that last week looked like it was being set up as honey storage I was relived to see her walking across the frame, honey stored around the perimeter, bee bread just inside of that and then every other cell filled with eggs with some young larvae towards the center! So the brood nest is now on 5 frames and I could breathe knowing that I had not doomed my colony by carelessness!

Looking down between the frames

So seeing how much brood there was, coupled with the fact that all the frames were now built out AND I had seen on my Facebook feed that a swarm had been found in my area only a few days ago, I made the decision to add another box (and luckily I just so happened to have an empty box that had been my temporary hive stand available – amazing how things sometimes just seem to work out!). In truth I am not 100% confident that I made the right decision given how late it is in the season but this is exactly the reason why I wanted to try my hand at beekeeping. I need to make these decisions and learn from the outcomes so that I can be a better veterinarian. It is great that I have a good handle on the clinical examination, diagnostics, and disease of a colony, but understanding the husbandry side of beekeeping is just as important in my opinion.

And so with my hive now 2 deep boxes high and secure up on it’s well deserved pedestal, I drove away reflecting on how much joy I get from these weekly encounters. I love working with the bees, so much more than I had ever anticipated. And I feel like I have come to fully understand the quote “do what you love and you will never work another day in your life”.

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