Thursday, May 28, 2009

Urania hive and burr comb

I will admit that I went into today feeling a bit nervous after the sting on last weekend. I took some Rescue Remedy to calm my nerves. Beekeepers have a lot of opinions, but they do agree - if you are in an off mood, the bees will respond in kind.

After seeing the progress the Terpsichore Hive has been making, it was decided the Urania hive should be looked in on, and fast. We settled for this morning. Once the fog burned off we suited up. At first, I wasn't going to bring my camera. We had a single honey super ready just in case. The telescoping cover was removed, and whoops!

We've been of the school of thought to let the bees be bees, and that we shouldn't expect them to grow enough to need honey supers this year. !!! On my bike ride to work I was thinking - coffee grounds in the compost. compost on the garden. garden grows the flowers. are the bees caffeinated?

This was great for the progress of the bees, it was poor for our original plan to switch the brood supers, throw on an excluder & honey super if the hive looked ready, wash up and go home. We had to remove this burr comb to put the telescoping cover on. The bees were not going to be amused.

The inside of the telescoping cover had a lot of bees on it. They were very interested in their surrondings, and we worried that the Queen may be present. We left this alone during the work.

The plan became: brood supers stay as they are. (the current plan is to swap them the first weekend in June.) Inner cover needs to be scrapped both sides & burr comb removed. The excluder was veto'd. The Queen was probably in the hive, but it was possible she was out, and we didn't want to risk locking her out of her domain. We'd throw on both honey supers, cover with the inner and telescoping covers, and call it a day. Easy, right? :-P

The telescoping cover came off easily enough, and the honey super that had been protecting their feeder jar. The inner cover, however, didn't budge. The bees were very clearly getting angry with us, and we decided at one point we decided we were just going to have to go for it.

We used both smoke and spray water for bee control - smoke for when we wanted them to move, water for when we didn't. This was the advantage to working around 10am on a sunny day - we knew they'd have a chance to dry out before the cool evening set in. We used the hive tool to pry a gap under the inner cover, loads of smoke, and finally were able to tear the inner cover off the frames. To the bees, this was the equivalent of us walking in and tearing out their living room. They were Not Happy.

We misted the top of the burr comb, and scraped it in one mass into one of our 10 gallon wine buckets. (it's stained, but clean!)
The burr comb was clearly being used to store honey only, and it was left in the open bucket all day to allow the bees to escape as well as letting them rob the honey and take back to the hive. There was a chance that other bees from the area would be attracted to the comb to rob it, but with the obvious defenses the hive was showing off had me feeling secure that our hive wasn't in danger. I admit to a feeling of longing - it was tempting to claim a chunk of honey for me!

Oh! In one of the many "stand back and take a breath" breaks we saw a bee flying super close to our heads. We watched it to see where it would go, and realized it had a yellow string. And another! Bee poop! ha ha ha. Ok, I'm 12 sometimes.

The bottom of the inner cover also needed to be scraped off, and this was the harder to do. This part was being used for brood, as seen in the photo with my needing-a-manicure-hands. The purple spots are the eyes of the developing larvae. There is one right next to my index finger, and a few more closer to my thumb (and the drill, ha!) As I moved my fingers over this piece, my fingers slowly turned yellow from the pollen, and sticky from the wax. I'm sad that these bees were sacrificed, but amazed to look at this stage of their development.

Once I got home from work it was just before sunset. I went to look at the bucket of comb and bees, and found the bees gone. They were mostly in for the night, and I only attracted the attention of one guard when I refilled their water bowl. I found this piece of comb that still had a bit of honey in it and brought it inside. We both took a taste. The girls are doing great! It's delicious.

I went back outside and took more looks at the comb. It's weird - there are some dead bees with it. Not enough that I'm really worried, but more curious.

Seriously, how gorgeous is that? It's totally a work of art. I can not get over how stunningly bright white the comb is. As I looked at each of the bees, there's no theme to it that I can see. I don't think they were crushed - the dead bees are too spread out. They don't show any signs of illness. Could be as simple as their number was up. One had her sting out with a perfect drop of venom on, but it was not inserted into anything.

One had her proboscus sticking out.

Two more were buried in comb, as if desparate for their last meal. Considering we are in the honey flow and the hive has ample stores, it doesn't make sense to me that the bees are looking like they starved through a harsh winter. It's the peninsula in spring, bees!

A productive day, absolutely. I'm thrilled that the bees are doing well. The next plan is first weekend in June - switch the hive bodies. We had thought about doing this Friday morning, but the truth is I need to get in a full day of work, and I think the bees and I need s


  1. I do not understand half of these terms you use. Burr comb? Telescoping cover? I'm assuming they were building comb in a place you didn't want so you broke it off so they'll learn not to build there, yes?

    The comb is PRETTY!!!

  2. :-P Sorry M! I thought I'd linked Burr comb before - it's regular beeswax comb built somewhere the beekeeper doesn't want. The bees color outside of the lines, if you will.

    There are two covers - the inner and telescoping covers. The inner cover is the flat unpainted piece that sits directly on top of the highest super (box). It's usually glued down by the bees with propylis, a sticky resin. The telescoping cover is painted & metal, and sits above the inner cover. It's the shiny metal top you see on the closed bee hive. It's "telescoping" design covers the hive and keeps the elements out.

    Your assumption was right - we want the bees to build their comb on the frames. We didn't provide them with new frames quickly enough, and wham! they started to build their own extension. They built all of that in less than two weeks. When Jean gave me a ride home two Fridays ago, I lifted the telescoping cover off and there was no comb between the inner cover & telescoping cover. I'm blown away by how fast that was built. Bees have to consume eight pounds of honey to make one pound of wax. We don't have a pound, but the amount of work required is impressive.

    And I think it's gorgeous! Snow white, delicate, and just perfectly ordered. Part of me wants to set it on an altar! The other parts of me want candles, lip balm, etc. Decisions, decisions. ;)