Tag Archives: Beekeeping

Checking In On Our Girls

Some beekeepers wait longer than just one week before they check in on their bees, but we’re excited and impatient, so we’re checking our hives today!  Here’s the Chief of Implementation in his bee jacket and hood, wearing light colored clothes. He’s smoking the top of the hive where the feeder is.  Once again, he’s done an excellent job with the smoker and it’s producing dense white smoke that is COOL so we don’t blow hot thin smoke on the bees.

Wearing Bee Gear and Smoking the Hive to Calm the Bees

Wearing Bee Gear and Smoking the Hive to Calm the Bees

We’ll be checking each frame on each hive looking for several things.  First, how full is the hive?


The top super isn’t very busy, so the frames may not be filled.  It’s important that the queen has enough room to lay eggs, and the workers have enough room to raise brood, store honey, bee bread, and pollen.  If the bees are crowded, they’re more likely to swarm.

Sure enough, there’s NO honeycomb on this drone frame.  Drone eggs are usually laid in slightly larger cells, and encouraging the queen to lay all her drone eggs together makes it easier to control varroa mites.


There is some new comb hanging off the bottom of this frame.  When bees build comb outside of frames, it’s called burr comb.  Our bees are a race within the bee species (Apis mellifera) called Carniolian, and are are especially prone to making burr comb.  The big advantage of Carniolian bees is that they are VERY gentle.  Here’s are a couple of pictures that show just how gentle they are.



Next, we look for brood at a variety of stages of development and plenty of comb being used for food storage.


This is freshly drawn comb, which is why is SO pretty and white.  The lower left quarter has eggs.  They look like tiny strings standing in the bottom of the cells.  The center and the upper right quarter shows yellowish pollen or bee bread.  This provides protein for hungry bees.  The upper right quarter also shows honey.  It’s a very light colored liquid because the bees are spending most of their time drawing comb and are eating sugar water rather than flying out for nectar.  They’ll fan this with their wings until enough water has evaporated to make honey.  They they’ll cap the honey cells.


This is older comb, so it’s a darker color since at least a generations of bees have hatched, grown up and emerged from it with all the attendant mess.  There are whitish C shaped grubs visible in some cells in a variety of sizes.  There are also capped cells with a slightly convex yellowish cap.  These contain pupae which will metamorphose and tear the caps off to emerge.

There are a nice variety of stages, so the queen has been laying well.


Speaking of the queen, we do look for her, but we don’t worry if we can’t find her.  There are THOUSANDS of bees in a hive, and it’s easy to miss the one bee that’s a bit bigger than the others.  Many beekeepers mark the queen with a dot of paint for visibility.  We were lucky and found the queen in one of the hives.  She has a green dot.


We were a little concerned that we didn’t find eggs or a queen in the other hive, but also noticed what may be queen cells. Near the center of the picture a cell sticks up high above the other cells.   There were several similar cells in this hive.  It may have lost its queen when we installed it, and started feeding up a few candidate queens, so we’ll be watching it closely.

We also kept our eyes open for any sign of pest damage or illness.  We paid attention to the brood pattern.  When a colony is healthy, brood cells form a fairly dense sphere centered on the available frames.  Honey is stored on outer frames and upper frames generally.

Our girls are doing well!



Filed under Gardening, Sustainable Living

Introducing Our Girls!

After years of studying, six weeks of classes, and several months of waiting, our girls were finally ready to move into their new home. We picked them up from a local bee business in nucs. Nuc is short for nucleus, and it’s a small colony of bees with a queen who has proved she can lay eggs and workers who have accepted her. For absolute beginners, I think it’s a little easier than package bees.

A package of bees contains worker bees along with a queen who has mated, but may not have laid eggs and probably hasn’t been around these worker bees before. To keep the queen safe in a package, she’s in a private cage with a retinue of her own workers. When introduced to an unfamiliar queen, workers may kill the queen. Her cage is blocked with a candy cork, and by the time the worker bees eat the cork, they’re (hopefully) ready to accept their new queen.

Our nucs consisted of five medium height frames in a cardboard box with screens added to keep the bees from escaping. We had an interesting drive home because there was a tiny break in one of the screens on one hive! There were a few bees loose in the car trying to figure out where they were.


We set the nucs in the shade and got to work getting their new homes ready. Here’s how the hives looked before we started.


We set the hives up so we could transfer the frames from the nuc as quickly and gently as possible. We started out with two supers (boxes) stacked on each other. The bottom super has 3 frames with wax foundation and will be filled when the five frames from the nuc are added. The second super has 8 frames of foundation, so the bees will be working to fill 11 new frames with comb, start raising brood and storing up honey and bee bread.


The Chief of Implementation lit the smoker and got lovely cool smoke going to calm the bees. Possibly the smoke confuses them. Beekeepers aren’t sure WHY smoking bees works; they just know that it does work.


We smoke the first nuc, waited about 30 seconds and then began carefully transferring frames from the cardboard box to the hive.



Each frame was transferred to the hive with a minimum of disturbance to the bees, being VERY careful not to drop any bees off. There’s always a chance that the queen is one of the bees that falls on the ground, and she’ll most likely die if that happens. Notice that the nuc box is very close to the hive here.


We also made a point of keeping the frames in EXACTLY the same order they were in in the nuc: no need to traumatize our girls any more than needed.

When the box was empty, there were still a LOT of bees in it, so we left the box close to the hive hoping the bees would find their way to their new home.



We added a third box to hold a feeder, and fed each colony a gallon of sugar water so the girls could get right to work building comb in their new home.

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