The bees must be so confused.
Soon we’ll be harvesting the nearly full honey box, so we’re taking care of a few things in preparation.
First we put together a new honey box to replace the one we’ll be thieving. A lot of last year’s honey box frames fell prey to a moth infestation, and rather than risk carrying any eggs over, we bought and constructed all new frames.
All bees need to get going is a nice hexagonal pattern. Really, they don’t even need that, since the hollows in old trees they might frequent in the wild don’t have anything quite so factory-perfect. It’s a good nudge in the right direction, though, and it encourages them to build in a way that keeps the frames easily extractable.
This is what a frame looks like before the bees have their way with it: a big flimsy game of Q*bert.
A lot of beekeepers buy these sheets printed in plastic, but we’re going au naturel and using sheets printed in pure beeswax. After the frames have been used, we put them in a solar wax melter, and it’s much easier going if the whole thing just melts away without plastic getting involved.
With our new frames assembled, we opened up the hive. This time Kim let me do all the prying open and heavy lifting. I took off the cover and set aside the existing honey box. Here the bees are spilling up out of the top of the hive body and through the queen excluder among the burr comb they’ve built between it and the honey box. As you can see, I’m still rocking my stupid taped-up pants. They’re my bee pants now.
Rather than go poking around in the hive body, we set to work building up all our new layers. It’s all about getting in and out quickly before the bees get too aggravated. Our colony is outrageously good-natured, and every time we’ve managed to accomplish our goals before they get territorial. They’re so friendly, in fact, that I have yet to be stung.
Actually, I have never been stung. Ever.
The day might come that I learn I have a severe allergy, and that’ll be the end of an illustrious career. I hope not.
Anyway. We put the fresh honey box (the white one here) on top of the queen excluder. The lighter tan strip on top of the honey box is a shim. It’s just a wooden frame with a circular hole drilled into one side. To keep the bees from returning to the honey box, we have to close off the door that normally sits above it. The shim makes up for the lost airflow.
The thing I’m putting into place on top of that is a triangle board. Under that hole is a piece of mesh covering a series of wooden triangles. Here’s a good picture if that lame explanation meant nothing to you. It’s essentially a one-way bee maze: easy to get out of but hard to get back into. Finding her normal door closed, a bee makes her way through this maze and either out the shim hole or down into the new honey box. Ideally, this happens dozens of thousands of times until all the bees have evacuated.
On top of that we put the old, full honey box. And on top of that we put the lid with its door sealed. On top of that we put two cinder blocks to hold the whole thing down in case of heavy winds. It is very nearly my size now. I was fine disassembling and reassembling the hive. I wasn’t overcome by the weight of the honey or the swarm of bees. But when it came time to put the full honey box back on top, I couldn’t do it on my own. I was just too darn short to lift something that heavy and that full of bees that high.
I may or may not be allergic to bees, but I most definitely am and always will be five foot two, which might put an end to an illustrious career if bee hives get any taller than this.
I hope they don’t.
I’ve published this on the Fox Point Community Garden blog, too. Go check it out!