I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. ~ Thoreau

Friday, April 30, 2010

Bee-ing Frustrated

Well yet again we are faced with one more completely different and dissenting opinion about what and how we have split our hive. This time it came from the head bee guy of WV himself. You all probably remember last week’s drama. Fred and I found queen cells in the larger of our two hives. We were extremely concerned that our bees would swarm and we would be unable to catch them thus losing a large part of our colony. After much deliberation and many phone calls, we decided to try and create an artificial swarm by taking all of the existing queen cells and a little bit of everything else and isolating it in a new brood box.

I’m sure you will also remember that this did not work out quite as we had intended and there were some serious touch and go moments with our new hive. Well, we are not out of the woods yet. Yesterday was a beautiful warm sunny day. So I packed up the new baby chicks and took them outside for a little dual purpose sunshine and some bee watching. I positioned a cardboard box with the bottom out in a nice sunny spot, put in some food and water for the chicks and sat myself down to observe my bees.

What I saw was not entirely pleasing. The two larger hives still appear to be fine, lots of comings and goings and busy bee work taking place. The little new hive seems to be waning again. Yesterday morning when it did not appear to be as active as the previous day I had taken a stick and gentle scraped the inside of the brood box removing additional dead bees. I did not want the survivors to become trapped. The hive seemed to again perk up after this maneuver but then seemed to slide off again yesterday.

Fred and I had agreed that we would leave them alone till this weekend and that we would just let nature run its course, one way or the other. This is extremely hard for me. I am not a sit still kind of person. I like action and I am a fixer. I once heard a Sunday school teacher describe himself as someone who would hand his problems to God and then five seconds later snatch them back to mull and worry over some more. This is me. That same Sunday school teacher said, you have to finally school yourself to give those things to God and then sit on your proverbial hands so you cannot reach out and snatch them back again. So as I sat there fretting over my little runt hive I finally realized I was not doing them, or myself, one bit of good and I needed a distraction. I would simply have to leave them with God and go do something else.

I packed up the chicks and moved the whole party: me, chicks, dog, to the front of the house. My flower bed, which is soon to be a tomato and pepper patch, was a hot mess. It needed to be gutted and tilled. I got to work and spent several hours weeding hoeing and generally tilling the soil. After I finished with that I decided to go ahead and pull up the sidewalk bricks for the new path to the door. This pretty much ate up the entire afternoon and left me thoroughly exhausted. As I was packing the chicks up to take them back into the house and fantasizing about my shower the phone rang.

It was the head bee honcho himself, the state inspector. I had called and left a message for him last week in the middle of the split crisis in hopes of getting some help. He had just gotten my message but was willing to listen to my dilemma and help as much as possible. As he told me to start from the beginning I could see my dreams of a shower evaporating like tea kettle steam. I plopped myself down in front of my hives and began to tell him the story. Once I had finished detailing the split, the seeming success and the following decline of the bees he paused for a moment and said. “Well…”

Oh brother, it is amazing to me how one little word can be so potent. He proceeded to tell me he figured by screening the hive in what we had ultimately done was suffocate the bees and cook the brood. Now remember, we did not get this idea from any novice beekeeper. This whole hive splitting technique came from someone with years and years of experience. See what I mean about absolutely everyone having a completely different opinion? Frustrating.

His colorful analogy was this: “You know how the ladies’ room is always more crowded than the men’s? Well bees is all girls and you figure girls have got to go to the potty, a lot. So you take you a bunch of girls and you trap them in somewhere and they is basically going to try and beat the door down to get out and go to the potty.” I told you it was colorful. In essence what he told me was the bees had blocked up the hive trying to get out and had killed each other and smothered the brood by clogging up the entrance. He also said that the bees I saw going in and out were probably just robbing that hive of what honey stores they had left.

I do not know, but it did not seem to quite jive with what I was seeing. Regardless, he told me I needed to immediately get in my larger hive, right then, and kill any queen cells to prevent a swarm. He also said to open up the new hive and take any survivors out and put them back in the big hive. I could see my hopes of a shower fading off into oblivion. The upside was he promised to get here on Tuesday to give me a complete bee tutorial. He said we could go through all the hives and learn to identify the queen and everything else. That is really good news because I seriously need some help.

I thanked him and hung up the phone, sighed to myself and proceeded to get prepared to get in the hive. Before I donned my gear, mostly out of curiosity, if I was going to have to junk it anyway, I figured I would pop the top on the little hive and peer inside. I figured I would be looking at a handful of bees at most. I was shocked when I popped the top on an almost full super of bees. At this point I am just completely confused. What do I do? Do I take the Department of Ag’s advice and put them back in the big hive or do I leave them alone. I really was so exhausted at this point I could have just plopped down on the ground, had a nice cry and drifted off to sleep. I didn’t.

I sighed, put the lid down, went and donned my gear, got the sugar water and headed back. I was on my own because it would still be thirty or forty minutes before Fred got home and I was once again loosing daylight. I needed to make a decision. I already had the lid off the new hive so I decided to start there. I removed the super and set it off to the side. I looked down into the brood box and removed all the frames one by one, they were all still completely empty but remember at this point it has only been seven days. There were a few dead bees in the bottom of the box but I think I had removed most of those yesterday when I had scraped it out with the stick. I flicked a few dead bees off the bottom, still unsure of what I should do. I decided that I at least needed to go through the frames on the super and see just exactly what was going on in the hive. So I placed the super back on the brood box and started to go through the frames. One thing I immediately realized was that they had not chewed completely through the newspaper as we had originally thought. Instead, they had simply made enough of a slit to slide through and had left the rest intact. So I knew one thing I need I to do for sure was scrape all of the newspaper out so they would be able to move freely into the brood box. I also planned to examine each frame. I didn’t know what dead brood would look like but I did at least know what larvae and hatchlings look like.

As I went frame by frame I saw lots of capped brood, no new larvae, several drones, lots of honey and lots of worker bees. Once again I was unable to locate the queen but I did see several hatched queen cells. So I am not sure if the queen died in the massacre, was trapped through her mating flight and cannot lay or was just there and I missed her. I think if she were there and able to lay I would have seen some different stages of larvae but I am not sure how long after she mates before she begins to lay eggs. I will need to do some more research.

Going through this super took the better part of an hour. Fred got home during this time and geared up to help me go through the super. We scraped the additional wax off the edges of the frames and cleaned out the newspaper as best we could. We still didn’t know whether or not to try and put these bees back in their original box or to leave them and hope they bulk up. After much debate we finally decided to leave them. As long as one of the other hives does not rob them they do have some stores of honey and are free to travel now so they hopefully will not starve. Also, they have what they need to rear a queen if indeed she does exist.

We decided it was too late to get into the big box as it was starting to get cold and the bees were beginning to return to the hive. We will have to get in the original two hives either today or tomorrow and check again for queen cells or signs of swarm. We just do not know what to do. We are so confused and so bombarded by conflicting information. I am starting to come to the realization that bees are, by God’s design, resilient creatures and that if all of these people with all of these varying opinions and methods manage to keep their bees alive then it probably is in spite of a lot of things they do, not because of them.

We left the new swarm as we found it, we did not try to reintroduce it to the original hive. I seriously doubt this will win me any brownie points with the Ag guy when he shows up on Tuesday. I figure he will think I am someone who cannot follow directions or who thinks they know everything. I assure you I am neither of those things but my gut just told me not to put those bees back. I hope we did the right thing. At this point I do not know and there is no definitive way to tell. We are simple force to be patient and wait. We really are not given many other options.

Be still and wait upon the Lord,

Thanks for reading, stay tuned for coop updates,
Much Love,

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