As I drove home from the grocery store today (we hadn’t gone in quite some time, and the wife hates grocery shopping) I reveled in the bright blue sky. Looking down at the temperature gauge it read 59 degrees. Despite the morning’s rain, and the rain of the last few days, this afternoon turned out to be pretty nice.
Once home I threw it out there: did we want to check the bees today and get that off our list? Christine checked a few things in her bee book. We had some questions before we took the hive apart for the first time after a very long winter. We even talked to a fellow apiarist to get some guidance.
We decided to go ahead and check the hive, so we geared up and headed out into the bright afternoon sunshine.
At the end of last season our have had two “deep” boxes down low and one medium-sized “super” on top. The deeps house the bees, queen, stores of winter honey and any baby bees. The lower deep was basically empty going into winter; it was basically a ghost town. And that’s exactly what it was when we opened up the hive today. The upper deep, the second box up, was loaded with bees, some honey, baby bees (larvae, eggs, bees) and the queen. During the winter, everyone huddles in this area to wait out the arctic weather. The medium-sized super is the top box and it houses extra honey. We didn’t harvest any honey from there last year. With the lower deep so empty we figured the bees needed all the honey they could get. Looking at the super today it still had a fair amount of honey, and even some larvae, which it really shouldn’t have: mama should be laying her eggs down low in the deeps.
As far as the honey goes in the super we have a few options. We could have spun it out today but we don’t have an extractor. We could have pulled the frames and put them into an air tight container; and then extract them when we harvest our “Spring” honey around May or June. Or we could do what we did: just but the super back on the hive. We’ll pull the frames in a week or two once we have an air tight, food safe, container to put them in. The only wrench will be that some of the frames have capped brood on them. Maybe we’ll leave those frames in and just pull the honey frames; replacing them with empty medium frames. In the coming week we’ll start feeding our bees sugar-water – we do this about two weeks before trees start to leaf and bloom. This will get the hive going and then once everything blooms (flowers, tree pollen, etc.) the bees will start going like gang busters. We’ll need that super basically empty.
One note, when we reassembled the hive we put that empty “ghost town” deep in the middle and the full deep at the bottom (switching the order from how it was in Winter – keeping the mass in the middle for warmth kept them alive in the Winter). Bees work their way up and now they’ll have an entire deep (and eventually the medium super) to fill up this Spring.
We did see the queen, and she’s been busy – we saw eggs, larvae and capped brood. I would guess our hive is at near full strength – maybe 12,000-18,000 bees. We were fortunate this winter. In talking to our friend we learned that they lost all four hives they had – the bees inexplicably starved to death within inches of vast stores of honey. The word from the recent bee expo is that roughly 50% of attendee’s hives were lost to this winter. We were fortunate indeed.
Keep in mind none of the bees in the hive were there when we first got the package of bees this time last year. Normally the queen would be the sole survivor, but even she was replaced mid-season last year. The hive truly is the “organism” in this scenario. The individual bees are kind of like cells that are cast off as the organism grows and lives. So while we get attached to our bees, technically they’re always new comers (except for the queen).
Next up I need to get my ass in gear and get ready for the two new hives. I have to clear some more of the meadow, build a stand and install the stand base to put the hive on. All three hives will be aligned in a single row, each about ten feet from the other.
One encouraging sign, we did see some low ground cover “weeds” that already had yellow flowers in full bloom so spring will be here soon enough. Oh and I’ve been seeing a lot of pollen on a few of the bees so they are finding wild pollen somewhere in the yard.
It was spiritually renewing to get the hive open today and be among the bees again. Even more so to see them in the yard; I could spy one outside our window as I spoke on the phone this afternoon. And I am so pleased that our hive continues to flourish despite everything nature has thrown. Maybe there’s a little magic in our pollen or the land has a good vibe about it. I do know that being around them is frees the mind and quiets the soul.
After a long winter we are finally reconnected to the earth by way of our bees.