Just a little sunshine, please

Now that the bees are here and they are settling in – I remember why I used to get frustrated keeping bees.  It’s the darn unpredictable nature of the weather here in the Pacific Northwest.  Today it’s rainy.  Tomorrow it’s sunny and gorgeous.  And, who knows what two days from now holds…  Honeybees are relatively simple creatures to care for and the demands that they place on their caretaker are minimal at worst.   But, the outdoor environment and, consequently the weather, is their everything; meal ticket, habitat, internal thermometer, everything.

Prepping all the gear before going in: smoker - check!, sugar syrup - check!, hive tool and brush - check!

Lifting that lid to take a peek inside the hive...

The basic prescription for honeybee care involves a cursory check of each hive every ten days.  This inspection involves opening up the hive, removing one frame of bees (to get some wiggle room in the hive and to avoid inadvertently crushing the darlings) and pulling out subsequent frames to inspect for fertility, growth and any potential problems that might be brewing.

Puffing smoke into the hive to calm the bees and drawn them away from the smoke (farther down into the hive)

A trained (or, bumbling{!} in my case) eye knows what to look for:

  1. Are there eggs present?
  2. Is there larvae present?  Is the larvae healthy, white and meaty?
  3. Do the frames have a hefty weight of honey?
  4. Is there still a minimum of two empty frames for the queen to lay eggs in?
  5. Is there a pleasant, droning, monotonous buzz to the hive?
  6. Are cells being packed with pollen?
  7. Is there capped brood? (brood are the developing bee larvae)
  8. Are there any queen cells being produced and raised?

Giving the frame a once over - the sun at my back helps spotlight eggs

This bi-monthly once over takes as little as five minutes and you are in and out of the hive lickety split.   But, if some of these questions have an adverse answer, you start to dig a little deeper.  Pull out a few more frames.  Take a closer look at those frames.  Grab your trusty inspector husband and ask him to find the queen – he seems to have an uncanny ability to pick her out of organic masses of honeybees.  Don’t think it’s too hard?  You try…

Here is a loaded frame - good luck finding the queen...

It’s no ten days, schmen days…

Ask any beekeeper about the ten day check-up and they’ll agree that it’s the industry standard.  The timeframe isn’t written in stone, but it’s the ideal window of opportunity.  It’s a happy medium between looking at the hive often enough so that things cannot go totally awry without your knowledge and you are not in the hive so often that you are wreaking havoc and causing the honeybees to stress out (and, consequently to cause the bees nervously dread your presence and inspections).

Back to the weather…

I was in the hives last Monday when I checked that the queens had been freed from their cages and I had been advised to check on them five or six days later to make sure the queen had starting laying eggs.  Basically to ensure things were off to a good start.  Well, if memory serves us right – you will remember the golf ball sized hail on Monday and Tuesday that was interspersed with hurricane force winds, brilliant sunshine and menacing dark clouds.  It was true Washington weather.

A good serving of sugar syrup to help get the hive started - recipe: 1 part water to 2 parts sugar cooked over high heat

A full pot of sugar syrup cooking away...

One of the keys to inspecting the hive is the time of day and the weather.  You want as many bees out of the hive as possible because it is easier to inspect the frames if they aren’t inhabited.  A gorgeous afternoon around 2 o’clock when the sun is at its peak is ideal.  The bees are out foraging and taking advantage of the weather and the beekeeper is left with a relatively empty hive.  But, the weather at noon is usually different than the weather at four.  And, the weather tomorrow could be drastically different than today.

A few more puffs of smoke and a brush to clean off any stragglers and we are almost done...

Sleep tight sweet girls... til' next time.

My hope as I enter full-scale beekeeping season is simple: just a little sunshine, please.  And, I am not trying to be picky; but it needs to be:

  1. Somewhere between day 8 and day 12 of my last inspection
  2. After I get off work
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