Monday, June 3, 2013

Bee Hive First Month

I picked up bees a little over a month ago. I purchased the bees from a contact at the Boulder County Beekeepers' Association, actually Miles the president. He's a warm hearted fella who picks up a trailer full of packages in California and brings them back to Boulder County. I purchased 2 packages 3 pounds each.
Each package contains about 10,000-12,000 worker bees, a queen, and a can of sugar water to keep them feed during transit.
Three pound bee packages April 26th

As a new beekeeper it was a little unnerving driving with 20,000 bees in the seat next to me.
I pulled the can of sugar water out and dumped the bees into the hives one at a time. The queens arrive in a small cage suspended in each of the packages. In the photo above you can see the small metal tab, to the right of the cans, which suspends her cage near the top of the package. I left the queen in the her cage, but moved that cage into the hive before dumping in the bees. With the queen still caged the bees are more likely to stay in the hive rather than fly off somewhere. These bees in these packages aren't "daughters" of the queen but just bees that the company who packages bees dumped in with a newly mated queen. This means that the bees aren't necessarily acquainted with the queen and may kill her as she smells different than their mother. A few days alone in the hive with the new queen takes care of this and gets them used to her smell. After a few days pass the queen is released into the hive, the queen cage removed. The queen cage has a small corked hole, but by removing the cork and squishing a marshmallow in hole the bees can chew through and release the queen in a few days. I chose this method rather than removing the cork manually after a few days, but I still needed to remove the empty queen cage from the hive.
The problem that I had was that even though the temperature was in the low 80's F when I got the bees. Several days later it snowed several inches and I didn't want to open the hives in the cold.
Queen cage with fresh comb and pollen

When I did open the hives a week after dumping them in, both colonies of bees had built significant comb. The comb was attached to the queen cage and in attempting to remove the queen cage I damaged the comb. In the first hive, I didn't realize what was happening until it was too late and one of the combs dropped to the bottom of the hive. This caused a stir to say the least.
I closed the hive to regroup. I quickly developed a plan and built a "broken comb holder". After about an hour I opened the hive and picked out the broken pieces of comb and put it in the "holder". I was worried about this for a couple of reasons. First, I wasn't sure if maybe some bees got trapped under the comb when it fell in the hive. Oh no maybe the queen! And secondly, the bees were just starting out and I wasn't sure if they would be put back by stealing their comb and food when they had so very little.

Comb holder

 Above is a picture with two of the bigger pieces of comb. The wax is soft when it is new and broke fairly easily. The dandelions are in full bloom. That's what the orange pollen is in the wax comb. I also think that is why the wax is yellow colored. The majority of the pollen is from dandelions, but there are some other flowers with different colored pollen, red, black, yellow, light green.
Its surprising how much wax 3 pounds of bees can produce in a little time. 
It is important to check the hive shortly after hiving the package. The main goal is to make sure the queen is okay and is laying, otherwise the colony is doomed (unless another queen can be gotten). As a new beekeeper it is hard to find the queen, however it isn't necessary to actually see her, the beekeeper must simply see evidence of her presents. 
Here is one of the top bars 14 days after the bees were "hived". All of this wax was made by the bees since their hiving.
There are plenty of capped cells, but as a new beekeeper I wasn't sure if this is capped honey or capped brood (baby bees). But upon closer inspection I found uncapped larvae.
After I saw the little curled worms I had a better idea of what was happening. The queen starts laying eggs closer to the top and center because the wax comb starts there, the bees start building from the top down. as they build cells they build them from the top center both downward and outward. The queen fills the cells in the same order. So the capped cells in the center are older larvae that have been capped. 
On each of the top bars that the workers had drawn comb on, 6 so far (in two weeks). There is about an inch of nectar near the wood top bar, then just below that the next inch of darker colored comb is pollen. then the rest is capped and uncapped brood.
Eggs hatch and turn into larvae. They are feed and in 8 days the workers cap the cells. The larvae continues to develop into the pupa stage, then they emerge from their cells as bees after 21 days from the egg hatching.
After closer inspection I did find eggs too. They are very small and hard to see in new comb. I've drawn black lines around two cells where the eggs are "easier" to see.

Bee eggs in cells
 The queen should be filling all cells leaving very few (or no) empty cells.

My good deed caused me some grief. The comb I rescued and put back into the hive got attention from the bees as you can see below. They started building it out in every direction attaching it at all skewed angles. I ended up taking this rescue comb holder out because the bees started attaching the comb and rubber bands to the adjacent comb which nearly caused more broken comb.

 The next thing I saw that I wasn't expecting was drone cells. Most of the hive is comprised of worker bees. Typically 10's thousands, 50-80,000 at peak season is what I read. At that time there is usually a couple hundred male bees (drones). They are a bit larger than worker bees. They are raised in larger cells called drone cells. These cells in addition to being larger are also capped with domed lids.
Its hard to tell without a reference of worker cells, but this whole comb is built with the larger sized worker cells. I'm holding it upside down in this picture. Like the other bars the bees put nectar at the top (near the wood) then some pollen, then the eggs / brood. The capped (closed) cells near the wood is honey. Honey is nectar whose moisture level has been evaporated to about 18%. The bees cap it for storage. The dark cells are a combination of pollen and nectar. I didn't realize all the colors that pollen came in.
A view from inside

More to follow...

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