Friday, 17 May 2013

Our First Hive Inspection

Me and my bee hives.

Though they were my idea, my new hobby, my obsession, 
I can't really call them mine any longer. 
I had no idea that my sweetheart would fall as madly in love with our bees
as I have. 
Because he had expressed so much apprehension in the beginning and tried to
persuade me 
to wait until next year to start up, 
I really did think that this is something that I would doing on my own.


 Now, 
at least in this early stage of beekeeping, 
these bees have become a regular part of our daily routine.


During the three days prior to our first inspection, 
we had been spending time at the hives just curiously watching these
amazing creatures buzz about.
With the binoculars we can really get up close and personal with the little critters. 
On the second day, we noticed some fluffy looking grey stuff
lofting out of the hive entrances. 
After some wondering about what it was,
we realized that it was tufts of chewed up newspaper from the sheets we had used to insulate
 the 4 frames of comb filled with brood, nectar, honey, and bees 
from the empty outer frames in each hive.
The bees were chewing away at it in order to spread out into the new vacant areas.
We were jubilant!
 And, we watched in amazement
as the bees would pick up pieces of the debris and fly out of the hive with it for disposal.


So, 
after giving them enough time to settle in and get some work done in their new homes,
 we were super excited, together, to do our first hive inspection.
 We were anxious to see the queen in each hive,
or at least to see newly laid eggs as signs that they were alive and well.
We were also eager to see if the colonies were growing into
the new space they were given.



We opened up the hives,
one at a time,
and peeled away the newspaper that remained at the top of the frames
to expose all of the bustling activity.



Here, on a brand new frame, 
the bees are building up fresh, white, perfectly hexagonal comb. 
How exciting! 
The colonies are growing quickly.
Busy Bees!


In this close-up you can see newly laid eggs in the cells 
at the bottom right corner.
We didn't actually see the queen in this hive, 
but the eggs were evidence enough that she was present 
and doing her part in increasing the colony's size.
In the other hive we did see the queen. 
We were so excited to see her, yet anxious 
to tuck her back into the hive to keep her safe, that we forgot to look for eggs. 
But we're confident that she's laying well.  
  


Just look at these precious little baby bee faces!
So adorable!
It pains me to have to do - or tell you about - this part of beekeeping.
Varroa mite pest control.
There are several different ways to monitor and treat these parasitic pests.
The nucs of bees that we purchased were bred to be mite resistant
through hygienic practices.
Though it helps to keep the number of mites lower than in hives that 
do not practice mite control, 
they do still get mites. 
So, the beekeeper must do their part in helping to
control these destructive pests.


Varroa mites prefer drone (male) larvae,
10 to 1,
over worker (Female) larvae,
because they take longer to develop.
They stay capped up, developing, in their cells a few days longer which
allows the mites to feast on them, undisturbed, for a longer period of time.
One method the beekeeper can use to control the mites
is to insert a half-depth frame into the hive
which the workers will build larger drone comb onto the bottom of.
Then, every two weeks or so,
before the larvae is fully developed the beekeeper cuts off the drone comb,
inspects for mites,
and discards the comb,
 eliminating a large portion of the drone attracted mite population.


Well,
there was no way for us to know that the 24 days it takes
 for drones to develop and hatch
had come due, for one of the hives, on the day we did our first hive inspection,
only 5 days after bringing them home.
The other hive was obviously younger, as a unit,
and the drone comb was still in the larval stage.
As undesirable as it is was to have to sacrifice the drone brood
in the smaller colony,
it was not as heartbreaking as having to sacrifice the
already birthing drones
in the larger, obviously older, colony.



Here, in this close-up photo,
you can see the lesser developed drone comb in the background.
All of the larvae were still enclosed in the wax capped cells,
all white and largely undeveloped. 
Upon breaking the comb apart for inspection,
we did not find any mites feasting on the larvae
 - a good sign: 
no, or low, mite infestation.
The hatching drone comb, however, we did not break apart to inspect yet. 
We were in awe watching the drone hatch-lings.
We didn't know what to do with them at this point.
So, we just sat and watched
as one after another chewed their way out of the wax caps covering their cells,
and worked so vigorously to pull themselves up, and out.


That's when we noticed them.
The tiny, dark specks
shifting from side to side on the capped cells - mites.
There were no mites inside these cells either, as far as we could tell,
when we finally examined the remaining undeveloped larvae in this comb.
But, 
there were plenty of mites hanging around,
waiting to climb aboard the newly hatched drones.
I witnessed, 
as two of the hatch-lings were emerging from their cells,
the mites crawling to the edge and climbing right up
onto their moist, tender little bodies.


I knew, then, that I wouldn't be able to
put the precious baby drones back into the hive 
to be nurtured by the rest of the colony.
And, I knew that they wouldn't survive,
being so young and tender, for any length of time.
It was still too early for them to make their way out into the world
to find a virgin queen to mate with.
Heartbroken,
 I took the larvae and all the newly hatched drones to my mother's chickens
and gave them a special treat.
That's actually what I had planned to do with the larvae.
But, It was those precious newborns that I was so torn up about.
I could see the disappointment in Tommy's eyes too.
  

They say to check every two weeks, or so,
 to see if the majority of the drone comb is capped off,
and remove it from the hive then to do an inspection.
(We're keeping notes in a journal which will help in tracking this sort of thing)
At least we know to never let it get that developed before removal.
If so, 
a beekeeper either runs the risk of letting loose all those mites within the hive
to further multiply, 
or suffering the sacrifice of precious baby bees, 
even if they are drones.


Those fellas seem even more precious
because they are defenseless; they have no stingers.
And, the female workers
kick them out of the hive to die, come winter, to conserve resources.
Their tongues are so tiny that they can't even feed themselves.
They're used to the pampered life.
Their only function within the colony
is to find a virgin queen to mate with in order to pass on genetics.
But, once they do, they die.
The ones who never mate just fly out to a drone congregation area, by day,
with the rest of the boys
to hang out and wait for a queen to fly by.
By night,
they just hang out in the hive and get groomed and fed by the female workers.
You see,
They are precious!




A short video:
Tommy narrating -
The Hatching of the Drones.