In the days approaching this Memorial Day weekend, I wasn’t sure how things would go, what with all of the forecasted rain and the time crunch of trying to get in all of the holiday fun-filled activities. Plus, I’ve been hearing a voice in my head saying “you should check your hives.”
I’ve been curious whether the girls have started to fill the super boxes on top of the hive bodies with honey. During the past several weeks, on the outside of the hives, the bee numbers seem to be exploding, and the girls have carried a lot of pollen into the hives on their legs to feed the young larva inside.
In addition to my curiosity, our young neighbor Ciara, from up the road, is working on a report on bees for her 4th grade class at St. Anne’s School. She asked if I was going into my hives anytime soon, since there are only two weeks of school left. Her need clinched my decision, and today, on Memorial Day, the stars lined up for us. Not only was there was no rain, but also, sunbeams shone down into my yard, inspiring the girls to forage outside the hives and get busy. This is a good time for me to go into the hives since there are fewer bees in them.
Ciara and her family had errands to run this morning, so I got started while they were out. First, I decided to check my empty hive box for other critters. I have been saving it for a swarm in case I get lucky enough to catch one this season, but an empty box can also mean “home” to many different things. I opened the box and found that the inner lid was covered with big black ants. I shook them off and made a note to sprinkle some more cinnamon on top of the inner cover since the ants hate the stuff.
Then I peeked at the frames, and my earlier fears of a wax moth invasion had come true. Wax moths lay eggs and the moth larvae live off of protein residue from bee parts and bee larva. There were some white fuzz balls and fur tracks running through two of the frames, as well as some moth worms. Yuck. I am squeamish when it comes to worms, but I steeled myself, and dug the worms and tracks out of the comb with my hive tool and tossed the repulsive stuff into the woods. I returned the frames to the hive box with hopes to catch a swarm soon so the bees can really clean off the frames and defend this box. Another note to self – do not bring this particular box back into the house anytime soon. A shed or garage would be a nice addition to the Fisher-Kelley property. I took no photos, focused on the task, and was totally grossed out.
Next, on to the hives. PK, my devoted assistant (and husband), helped me get started with hive number one and Queen Benedetta. Benedetta means blessed in Italian, and I hoped we were. We began taking off supers, the honey storage boxes, one at a time, three in all. The top super was filled with bees but no comb or honey. However, the next two were at capacity with both comb and honey (and bees, of course) and required two people to lift the boxes off the stack. That was the same amount of honey that I retrieved in my entire harvest last year, my first as a beekeeper, and it is still only May! Honeycomb art exploded outside the frame boundaries, and we scraped if off, saving a sampling for Ciara’s class.
Not all went so well, though. When we lifted the honey supers off the main hive bodies, we inadvertently ripped off a lot of excess comb between the boxes that was filled with developing larva. I felt sad about the larva. I am the type of person who rescues swimming bees from the top feeder filled with sugar water.
Ciara arrived as we were finishing up hive one, and we carried our beekeeping supplies to Beyonce’s hive, which is full of Italians. For this honey season, I had situated this colony in a sunnier part of my yard and wanted to see if more sun would make a difference on the bees’ success. The theory being that the bees get a quicker start when the sun heats the hive earlier in the spring, resulting in greater production.
Tending to this hive, we removed two supers above the queen excluder, which is a metal grid that keeps Beyonce out of the upper boxes, leaving them solely for honey storage. Guess what? My theory worked! The boxes were chock full of honey without an inch to spare!
PK helped me lift the boxes off the stack as Ciara took photos and videos for her class project. We chiseled off the queen excluder that was glued to the hive boxes by propolis, a bee glue, and began exploring the top hive body frame by frame. There were lots of bees, lots of capped brood, lots of larva, all evidence of Beyonce’s presence. We didn’t spot Beyonce herself, or any eggs, which would provide a clue that she had been at that particular spot in the past three days. To be honest, my naked eyes cannot spot the eggs. I am at the “reading glasses” stage of life, and alas, I did not bring a magnifying glass with me. Sigh.
We shaved off a few possible swarm cells, which are peanut shaped brood capsules on the bottom of the frames, signifying that the bees may be producing a new queen to swarm and take half the bees with her. So, to make more space, we added another empty super above the hive body, along with a queen excluder, then hoisted the dense honey supers on top of the mix. A bee partially stung me through my glove, but she couldn’t really get to me, and the stinger broke off on the glove, so I felt just a slight sharp ping to my index finger.
All in all, it was a good day, and things are looking up at the Fisher-Kelly apiary. Today, my curiosity was satisfied and Ciara gathered what she needed for her school report. It’s only May, we have four boxes of honey, and two thriving colonies of bees. My beekeeping confidence has also received a boost. Long live the Queens!
Janice Fisher is a physical therapist and beekeeper from Annapolis.
Comments? See our Facebook post.