It is just a couple days until my commitment to the bees will be tested. They will arrive in the wee hours of the morning, and they will be my responsibility. Starting as several hundred bees, and growing to thousands and thousands. All relying on me to provide them with a good home and the food that they will need to make it through the winter. But I am getting ahead of myself.
I figured that if I was going to have bees, I should at least get one hands-on experience with someone's bees before I got my own. A gentleman from my church named Pat heard that I was going to have bees, and many months ago gave us some honey from his hives and invited me to come see them. It was time I took him up on his offer. So last weekend I took a day off work and headed to his apiary, which is a fancy word for bee yard.
Pat had talked to me briefly last fall, and told me to save some money and not get a full bee suit. I wouldn't need it. I kind of believed him, but was nervous when I did buy just a jacket and veil. I also bought leather bee gloves with the long sleeves at that time, but later learned that they can help spread disease between hives, so I then bought the rubber coated gloves with the long sleeves. Then I go up to Pat's apiary and he just uses nitrile gloves. I wanted to look like an expert as quickly as possible, so I asked to use a pair of his nitrile gloves and kept my assorted long sleeved pairs of gloves in the truck.
When I got to his house, we talked for quite a while, hearing about how he got into bee keeping, some of the various things that have happened to him during his years of keeping bees, and learning about the current state of his 17 hives he had near his house. But it would soon be time to head to the hives.
I brought my brand new smoker, not even used yet and my shiny new hive tool, untarnished by bees wax or propilis. I wanted to initiate my equipment on my first use, although really I just wanted to learn how to properly use a smoker and hive tool!
We first checked out a nuc he had near his garage that he had used some frames for a display hive. A very simple setup with five frames. I looked over his shoulder and watched. We had one little incident, where we set the smoker on top of his plastic garbage can. It didn't take long before we had a hole in his garbage can and the melted plastic on the bottom of my smoker. It was now initiated!
I had brought my camera along to take a few photos. We went out to the front of his garage near the woods and opened up a full hive. I took some photos as we worked our way through the frames.
The above picture is looking down into the hive after we had separated a few of the frames. The bees were too busy building comb, filling comb and taking care of the brood to worry about us.
We were looking for the queen to make sure she was there and laying eggs. Can you see the queen in the picture above? I actually spotted her first, which made me smile and gave me a big confidence boost that I knew what I was looking for. Of course, before I pointed out the queen, I pointed out three or four drone bees and asked if they were the queen. So much for getting too confident! (The queen is right in the center of the picture with the longer abdomen and dark brown tip of her tail. She also has a dark brown spot on the top of her body.)
We continued looking through the frames, checking for brood, eggs, larvae and anything that would let us know the queen was doing her job. The picture above is a frame of brood. Right in the center of the picture you can see a brand new bee coming out of the comb. Luckily they aren't like chickens in the cartoons that the first thing they see they believe is their momma, or I would have had a bee hanging around me the rest of the day!
After checking a few more frames and realizing that the queen was doing really well and the hive was really strong, we added a new hive body on top to make sure they had room as there were five frames of brood, and within 21 days or so, there were going to be a LOT more bees in that hive.
We ended up going through five hives that day. After the first one, Pat let me do all of the work and handling of the frames, using the hive tool, the smoker and opening and closing the hives. I got plenty of gentle instruction along the way and got the confidence that I can do it! Above is another picture of a queen from another hive. Again, she is right in the center, but this one has an abdomen that is much lighter in color.
I have shown pictures of frames with bees and brood, but above is a frame of honey, with a good portion of it capped. It was amazing how heavy that frame was with all the honey in it. The honey that isn't capped yet is still being worked by the bees, waiting until it gets the right moisture content before capping it up. This is my ultimate goal, but it won't come until next year, after the bees build up their home and get it ready for the honey next year. This year, everything they make will be theirs to be used for the winter.
I'm sure the hive inspections we did that day could have been done in a very short amount of time, maybe a half hour, but we spent a total of four hours there. I was fascinated by every frame, wanting to look at everything and soak it in. Pat never showed any sign of rushing and was a most generous instructor. I offered to help him out when he harvests the honey from his hives, hoping to get some more experience for next year.
I know I can do it now. My hives are built, frames are built and foundation is mounted. Now I need to get them setup and ready for the bees. One important thing I did learn that day that I forgot to mention. Once you start handling the frames, it's best not to use your camera with your gloves on again. It tends to get a bit sticky, but it does taste good!