Making Babies

Five days had passed, and the time had come to inspect our newly established hive.  There were a few important things to check on.

1. Were our bees still there?  As we approached the hive, it didn’t look too good.  The night before had been windy, rainy and generally not the kind of weather that is conducive to welcoming little newcomers from the warmer climate of New Zealand.  Outwardly, the news was not good.  There were two dead bees laying right outside the hive door.  There was no sound coming from the box, and there was no activity in or out.  Putting on our super cool bee suits, we tentatively opened the hive, hoping that there would be some sign of life inside. 

A lively looking bee hive!

It seems that bees have the same reaction to cold, wet weather as the rest of us.  They had decided to stay in their nice warm house to clean up, visit, and eat potato chips.  OK, maybe I like potato chips more than my bees do, but they were lying around, visiting and eating from the bee feeder.  No point in trying to be too productive on a cool May morning. 

So the good news was that the bees were still there.  The dead bees outside the door were probably some of the casualties of having to travel such a distance, followed by being exposed to the lovely climate which we like to call Spring in Western Canada.  One minute you are wearing your parka, and the next you’re sunburned from exposing your pearly white forehead to a blast of spring sunshine. 

One of the many jobs of a worker bee is to clean the hive.  We watched as the little workers struggled to drag a dead bee out of the hive door, then jump off and fly a short distance away to drop it in the grass.  The book says that bees are meticulously clean, and that they quickly carry their dead away from the hive to keep things tidy.  This had us a bit confused about the two dead bees right on their doorstep, but we decided that somewhere in the hive there’s probably a worker bee who just doesn’t enjoy her domestic duties, so she feels that throwing the trash outside front door is good enough.  Some days I can relate.

 2.  Were they eating from the feeder?  Since there still aren’t any flowers blooming in our area, we need to supplement the bees with a 50%  sugar/water solution.  It appeared that they had figured out how to use the feeder, and half of the solution was gone.  We topped it up with more syrup, and avoided drowning the bees who were currently feeding by pouring very slowly into the hole that had fewer bees clinging to the sides.  The bees seemed to be smart enough to move upward as the water level was rising.

Another part of the bees’ diet is pollen.  Pollen is their protein source.  Again, with few to no flowers blooming at this time of year, we had placed a pollen patty into the hive as a supplement.  The bees were eating the pollen well, but with a lot of the sticky product exposed, some of them were getting stuck to the patty.  They were alive, so we did what we could to release them from their sticky and precarious situation.  Having learned a lesson on the downside of feeding too large of a pollen patty at one time, we downsized our feeding plan a little.  Ripping it into little pieces, we took the main patty away, and left a square of pollen that was about 3 inches square.  This worked much better, and we have never found any more stuck bees.

This would be kind of like falling into a big lake of peanut butter…except stickier.

 3. Were the bees building comb?  Comb is an arrangement of wax from the bees’ bodies into cells that hold eggs, brood, pollen and honey.  The worker bees have eight glands that secrete beeswax, which are located on the last four visible ventral abdominal segments.

Comb is starting to be built, and pollen has been gathered on day 5 in the hive.

You can see in this picture that comb is being built.  The new frames are black when we put them into the hive, so all of the white wax hexagons that you can see have been built by the bees in the five days since their arrival in Canada.  The orange combs are filled with pollen.  At this time of year, the pollen will have come from the patty we were feeding, as well as the pollen that you can see hanging on willow trees in the spring time.

4.  Has the queen been accepted by the colony?  This one is highly important.  If the queen hasn’t been accepted by the rest of the colony, they will be unsettled.  It would be necessary to ‘requeen’ the hive, which would involve ordering a new queen and slowly releasing her to her new ‘subjects’.  Thankfully, our queen had been accepted, as was clear by the presence of …

The teeny tiny white flecks that you can see in the centre of the combs which are to the left and underneath the uppermost group of bees are bee eggs. You may need glasses to see this!

Bee eggs!  It was very, very exciting when we found the bee eggs.  Especially because we actually left the hive feeling a little disheartened at the fact that we couldn’t see any eggs.  It wasn’t until we looked at our pictures….and blew them up larger….that we could see the little white specks of evidence that our queen had been accepted.  There’s a lesson to be learned here, and that is to remember to wear one’s glasses when checking on the bees.  Bee things are quite small, and it seems that viewing small things is not something I am particularly good at.

5.  Are there any signs of disease?  Because we are beginner beekeepers with very little idea of what we are doing, it’s hard to say if there are signs of disease in the hive.  I can say that the overall well-being of the colony seemed intact.  Now that we had disturbed the bees, they were flying in and out of the hive, and they appeared to be eating and doing bee things.  That was good enough for me to note that there appeared to be no signs of disease in the hive today.

We are happy to report that our first five days of bee keeping seem to be successful.  The bees appear to be leaving the hive and returning, they are supplementing their limited food source by using the feeders that we have left available for them.  They are building combs and filling them with the nectar and pollen that they find.  Baby bees are on the way.  There appears to be no sign of disease after five days.  Phew!

As of today, we are 17 days into bee keeping.  The book ‘Beekeeping in Western Canada’, published by Alberta Agriculture, recommends checking on your bees 5 days after they’ve been hived and again 10 to 14 days later.  This would mean that by now we should have checked our bees twice.  I think we have checked our bees at least 8 times.  It’s just so fun to see what is happening inside the hive and to check on how the brood is developing.  Here are some pictures that we have taken of the new bee babies with their nurse bees.

At the top of the newly built comb there are large larva, with by younger, smaller larva beneath them. Eggs are present below the small larva.

Beekeeping is such an interesting thing to do.  Their social structure and interactions are fascinating to watch.  I highly recommend making friends with an apiarist in your area.  Maybe you can go and spend some time visiting with the bees.

Nurse bees feeding the young larva, and putting wax caps on the older larva. Other bees can be seen fanning their wings over honey combs at the top of the frame.

“So work with the honey bee, creatures that by a rule of nature, teach the art of order to mankind.”  – William Shakespeare



7 responses to “Making Babies

  1. I used to visit your blog just for the laughs but the last two postings have taught me how to lay a beautiful stone walkway and how to start and maintain a bee hive!! I have mostly ignored the postings about how to cook a better pasta or make a better pie, but I am seriously considering making a stone path in my back yard which will lead to my own personal honey making machine. Thanks Girls!

  2. Great blog, many thanks. I’ve had a few swarms recently, here is a video of me collecting one

    • Wow that’s a great video! I’m pretty sure you have A LOT more experience with bees than I do. I have been told that people catch swarms but hadn’t seen a video of it until now, thanks!!

  3. The Queen Bee

    Thanks for the encouragement Linnie!

  4. I can’t believe how fascinated I am with the Bee story. Keep writing and adventuring!

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