Saturday, February 13, 2010

First hive inspection of '10.

A week ago, I visited a friends house, and saw many honey bees around her garden.  The number of bees and their activity made me wonder (ok, worry) about our own quiet hive.  We took advantage of the mild weather on Friday to check the hive.  It's not terrible, but it wasn't good either.  

We had left the hive for the winter with two loaded honey supers sitting on the two brood boxes, with no queen excluder. Removing the telescoping and inner cover  there was the first sign of something being off - it wasn't glued down at all.   M was working on the hive and called to me "Come smell this."  My heart sank.  I dreaded smelling something foul or rotting.  

I joined him, and there it was - the faint smell of alcohol.  The excess moisture in the hive was causing the honey to ferment.  We moved off the two honey supers and found one fairly light (as it was when we put it in - we wanted to make sure the bees had space in case they were still collecting nectar) and the other full with capped honey.  It looked as if they hadn't touched either honey super in the last four months.  We went down to the top brood super, and found our problem.  


This is a photo of frame 2 or 8 from the brood box.  You can see the larger drone cells on the bottom.  M pulled a more center focused frame from the brood box, which had workers working away on it.  We noticed that frame was free of mold, but it dawned on us - the queen won't start laying till she finds pollen in the hive.  The workers won't bring in pollen until they have a place to store it.  They won't be able to store it until the hive is cleaned.  

To say I was bummed out is an understatement.  Going from Urania, super hive! to seeing such a small number of bees fighting a massive mold infestation...  it's just too sad.  I wondered how I could have helped, what did I do wrong.  We discussed everything from hair dryers to frames in the oven, but the only option that is real is time, improved ventilation, and hopefully better weather.   

All these fears of our bees starving, and it's possible we gave them more room then they could manage.  Well, we know for next year.  They had plenty of honey in their brood boxes.  Gorgeous little bees, you know how to care for yourselves far better than us clumsy apes.  

There was several ants walking through the hive.  Some were very near a splinter of wood in the telescoping cover.  Hopefully they haven't built a nest there.  All the rain has washed away the oil on the bars that prevented their crossing into the hive.  

As luck would have it, M has a bunch of hive parts that he's working on.  The plan is to replace the brood boxes, covers, and some frames with new pieces.  We can then take the used equipment and give it a good scrubbing and allow it to dry out before using it in the future.  (a note on why extra equipment is handy!)  It's weird to think of Urania as being so completely replaced, that the 09 wonder hive is getting such major reconstruction.  

A few days before we went into the hive, I dreamed that the bees were waiting for our plum tree to bloom.  With the cool weather and the rain, it's easy to consider they may be just laying low with their stores of honey, waiting for great weather.  Seeing the condition of the hive, I think they have their many hands full.  

The good news is our plum tree is close to blooming.  Let's hope dreams come true.  

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I spent some of the day out in the garden cleaning up some of the garden.  We planted loads of fava beans in the fall, and they have grown into hardy and sturdy plants.  They have flowered, but we have yet to see any beans developing.  Of course, I want fava beans!  But even if no beans grow, the nitrogen fixing abilities of their roots would make them good plants to have grown.  

As I was weeding and pruning away, I heard the distinctive buzz of a bumble bee.  I watched a fat black and yellow bee move flower to flower, proboscis well extended.  It was a delight to see her.  "Thank you!" I whispered to her.  If we get a single bean from these plants, I know who we owe thanks to.  (video of our busy bee) 

The turnips and carrots are doing fantastic.  So are the sugar peas and lettuce.  

I pulled up last spring's kale (wicked roots on those!) and bell peppers.  I was amused to find volunteer sugar peas growing in the carrots, and self-seeded parsley growing a good fifteen feet from where we planted it.  Fine by me, we eat plenty of that!   

A good productive day outdoors.  I was grateful for the gorgeous weather, the chance for the bees to dry up a bit, and the opportunity for me to get my hands in the ground. 

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