This guest post by Petticoat Prepper
Your bees have been coming and going now for a week and if you’re like me you’re dying to take a look inside. Before you do however, I want to explain what’s going on inside so you’ll know what to look for and what to expect. I’m listing the bee’s jobs in the order assigned as the bee gets older.
Housekeeping – is the first job a new bee has from the moment it crawls from the cell. They clean the cell they emerge from as well as any others that need tidying up for more babies, pollen or honey.
Undertaking – the hive is a very clean environment and the most sterile in nature. During the first couple of weeks of life one of the tasks is to remove as far as possible from the hive any bee that’s died. If you sit and watch the comings and goings you’ll see a dead bee being dragged off. Sometimes the best the little bee can do is move to the entrance and push off to the ground.
Nurse bee – the young worker bee tends to her baby sisters by feeding and caring for the developing larva. On average up to 1,300 times a day for each developing bee.
Royal duty bees – because the queen isn’t able to tend to her most basic needs, she has attendants. They not only groom, feed and ‘pooper scooper’ for her; they also coax her to keep laying eggs. While she maybe queen she is a slave to her job.
Stock pile bees – these are bees inside the hive that greet the forager bees and take the nectar and pollen from them. They deposit the nectar or pollen in the designated comb cell. If nectar they add an enzyme and fan to evaporate moisture to turn it into honey. Both honey and pollen are food for the colony.
Fanner bees – workers take turns cooling the hive and reducing the humidity. You may see during honey flow or high heat days a line of bees at the entrance facing the hive. They will be fanning their wings drawing cooler air into the hive and others inside will fan to move it through the hive. They also have a gland that releases a pleasant sweet odor into the air. You may be able to smell it as you approach. This signals the bees an orientation scent to help them find their home.
Builder bees – these are the bees that make the wax and draw comb.
Guard bees – these are the bees at the entrance to the hive. You’ll know who they are if you sit and watch for a bit. Every returning bee will check in with the guards before entering. If a bee from another hive were to try to gain entrance the guard would fight and kill them.
Forager bee – these are middle aged bees. You’ll see them hovering up and down and side to side in front of the hive to orient before taking off to find food. This is the most dangerous job in the colony. Aside from maybe being eaten by a bird, they must visit about 5 million flowers to produce one pint of honey. And they will forage a two to three mile radius from the hive in search of provisions. They literally work themselves to death, you see them returning with torn wings and battered bodies but they keep at it until the very end of life.
The Drone – the only males in the colony! There are only about 100 in the entire colony of probably 60,000 bees. His only purpose is to mate with the queen. Now before you guys cheer him on, come fall when the weather cools and mating season is over…the girls toss them out to die .
The Queen – She controls the hive. She lays eggs to keep the colony alive and if needed signals half the colony to swarm away with her.
So now you know who’s who on the playing field. Let’s go over what you’ll be looking for on each inspection.
Repeating the prep on shower, outfit, smoker and tools grab your one frame you took out when you hived your bees and head to the girls. Let them know you’ve arrived by giving a few puffs of smoke at the entrance. Then after a minute, pry the telescoping lid up and give a couple of puffs of smoke there and close the lid. Wait a minute before removing the lid. Carefully, lay it on the ground inside up. Now a puff or two of smoke through the hole of the inside cover. Gently pry the cover up and lay it across the up turned lid.
If the girls are still topside drift a bit more smoke over the frames and into the hive. This will make them think there’s a fire and they will busy themselves by gobbling provisions in case they need to bug out. Position the frame holder on one side of the hive and place the frame you brought back there. Take hold of the queen’s cage and gently slide the frames so you can remove the queen cage. Have they eaten the marshmallows and is she out? If she’s out ….yippee! If not go ahead and release her. If you have to release the queen then slide all the frames to one side and add the frame you brought back. Position the frames together and evenly space from the super on the end frames. Replace the two lids and wait a week to check for the information below. Your queen needs time to work.
If your queen was released you want to slide the frames to one side and start checking each frame; both sides of foundation. You’re looking for drawn comb and eggs and larva. The eggs will look rather like a very small piece of rice in the middle of each honeycomb cell. You only want to find one per cell. If you’ve two then the queen may have left/died and you’ve a laying worker and will need to re-queen right away. It’s the same procedure as installing the first queen; other than the bees are already in the hive.
While you work your inspection listen to the girls. There should be a gentle hum from them, happy busy bees. If you hear them start to rev up, stop and look at them. Are they lining up and looking at you? If they are then they’re becoming upset with you. Give them a bit more smoke to calm them down. I always carry my lighter and additional smoker fuel just in case. Sometimes it seems I can’t keep the smoker going and have to relight it or I take too long and need to refuel.
They will start working on drawing comb and laying eggs in the middle frames and work their way out. You want to check the egg pattern of your queen. There should be few cells she’s missed and there should be pollen and honey/nectar around the perimeter although not so much the first week.
Remove each frame, shift the lower edge slightly towards you so you can see the surface of the foundation but not so much that the nectar drips out. Then to view the other side, raise your left arm straight up so the top of the frame is straight up and down, then turn the frame to show the other side (rather like turning a book page)and lower your arm again. You have to keep the foundations fairly straight or any nectar will fall out. The dummies book has a good picture in it. When you pull the frame out of the hive the wood top will be on top of the foundation and when you flip it to view the other side it will be on the bottom. Reverse the procedure to right the frame and replace in the super. Each frame goes back in the same spot you took from. Work over the hive in case the queen is on the frame you pulled to check, she may jump off to hide and you don’t want to drop her in the grass as she may not be able to find her way home.
Later in the season you can move the far outside frames one or two spaces towards the middle to encourage them to draw comb but never move to the center of the hive.
Try to find the queen as you work through the hive. If you can’t find her but see eggs then you know she was there at least two days ago. She’s hard to find especially if you’re looking through a full colony of 60,000 bees. If you have a queen that has a bad laying pattern, lots of skipped cells then you might want to dispose of her after acquiring a new queen.
Once you’ve checked all the frames gently slide them as a single unit back across the super and re-add the one frame you removed last week. Every week check your bees for eggs, larva and brood. Here’s a photo I found on one website http://www.arkive.org/honey-bee/apis-mellifera/image-A22601.html of eggs, larva, and capped brood. As the season progresses you also want to check for pollen and honey stores. Smoke them once more and replace the inner and telescoping cover. Check the food jar and top up as needed.
Part four will cover adding supers for the colony, propolis and how to off-set swarming.