March 23, 2010

State of the Hive


A 1-year-old queen, crowding and a strong nectar flow are a recipe for swarming. The only thing we're missing is drones.
When the first nectar flow begins, the bees start to think differently about their stored honey. It's been key to their Winter survival, but now that the colony has changed focus to Spring buildup, all that honey is just in their way. It's finally time to harvest!

We'd planned on harvesting on the Equinox, but instead found ourselves waiting for 8" of snow to melt. In Colorado fashion, it only took 24hrs, and then conditions were perfect: a clear 55°F day. Working inside a greenhouse we didn't have to wait for a windless day but, since the trees have yet to leaf out, it was almost too warm. 75°F feels very warm when you're wearing a bee-veil.

This was our first time harvesting from a live colony, so it was little nerve-wracking. The combs had bees all over them, and trying to brush them off just agitated them. Misting them didn't make them any less flighty. Knocking a bar to get them to drop off resulted in a honeycomb breaking off. Luckily there was no domino effect, but you should have heard the roar!

In the end, we decided to just lift the combs out, bees and all, and leave the box of harvested combs several yards away, in the shade for awhile. We watched the bees fill their stomachs with honey and within a half hour or so, they'd pretty much all flown home, drawn to the scent of their fanning sisters. Without any pushing, it was a LOT less stressful for everyone.

Perhaps too young to fly, a small cluster of bees formed on this comb while it was still in the shade.

This comb was fairly close to the Winter cluster and much of the honey was eaten out of it. We noticed that rather than working their way through entire combs, small sections of honey were eaten from all the combs. The east (right) side seems to be their preference for all activity.
We harvested 6 honeycombs – leaving the one closest to the brood for upcoming wintery weather - and are crush-and-straining them in a special honey bucket. Hopefully the bees'll eat their way through their last comb and fill it with brood. We'd like for them to move "backwards" so we can pull out some of the old combs toward the front of the hive. Next month, we're "supposed" to cull old, dark combs. We have a few from 2008 and, although pulling combs with bees in them would reduce the possibility of overcrowding, it would be nice if they were broodless.

Meanwhile, they have 3 fresh top bars in the honey area, so the new bees that are of wax-producing age have something to work on, building new combs in which to put fresh nectar. The flow from the Silver Maples was cut short by the last snow storm, but dandelions are coming on - that's major. In theory, with new space to fill as they please, any intentions of swarming this year will be prevented.

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