Another day, another glowing bee report!
We went into the hive again this weekend, and the bees couldn’t be doing better. This frame, taken from somewhere in the middle of the box, is almost completely covered in capped brood, with a band of capped honey in the top left corner.
This one has more of a smattering of capped brood – maybe that means it’s older and a lot of the larvae on this frame have already emerged. Last time we inspected we spotted the queen but no brood, which meant she may not have mated yet. She clearly has now, which means her sole objective is egg laying. She has enough sperm stored up in her body (bees do it a little differently than we do) that she’ll never need to mate again. Barring a swarm, she’ll never even need to leave home.
Just one frame over we found uncapped brood. Look carefully inside the cells. See those white C-shapes? Those nasty little maggotty things? Those are baby bees! If you look closely, you can see that they get progressively bigger from left to right. That means the queen worked her way from right to left and the larvae on the right are just that much older and, therefore, bigger. It takes just 21 days to go from a tiny egg to a fully formed bee, so every minute of development counts!
This is the same frame, shifted slightly to the right. A lot of the larvae are big, and four of them have already been capped – those are the four cells around the middle that are opaque. The worker bees seal off the larvae with a layer of wax once they reach a certain size. In the sealed cell the larva will grow into a pupa, something that looks a lot more like a bee than these little grubs. Eventually she’ll become an adult and chew her way through the wax cap, ready to get to work. By mid-June all these gross little worms will be full-grown bees and all the bees in this picture will dead or on their last legs. Bee time moves fast.
This progression from empty and capped brood to mostly open brood meant we were following in the queen’s tracks. She works methodically, laying from one frame to the next. And sure enough, there she was in the next frame. There’s a little bit of everything going on here. The whole left corner is a swath of capped honey. Coming in from the right is a patch of capped and soon-to-be capped brood. The white dotted queen is bustling around in the middle, above a really nice patchwork of pollen. The pollen will be mixed with honey into a tasty sludge called bee bread and fed to the brood.
Bee colonies have personalities, just like any animal, and this one is nice and easy going… until we get too close to their queen. We can always tell we’ve pulled out her frame before we see her because the bees get more agitated and aggressive. No stings yet, but there’s a lot of movement and angry buzzing.
It’s not all babies in beetown. This frame was extra heavy with uncapped honey. The honey starts out high in moisture and is left open to the air to evaporate. As it distills down, the bees combine it into fewer and fewer cells. Once they have a cell full of honey down around 18% moisture, they cap it with wax to stop it evaporating more. At this low moisture content, the honey won’t ferment and can be stored all through the winter. How do the bees know all this? Magic.
Since the bees are doing so darn well, we made some big adjustments to their hive. We took away their jar of syrup. This is a bit of a controversial move, and a lot of beekeepers in the area are still feeding. There are flowers galore now, though, and our jar looked to have been emptied a while ago. We think they’ll be fine. In the place of the jar we added a second hive body with ten more frames. The bees haven’t quite filled out their current box (two or three frames are still empty) but they’re moving fast and it’d be such a shame to overcrowd them and cause a swarm.
We put a shim between two boxes. It’s just a square of wood two inches high with a hole drilled in it. This should give the bees a little more ventilation and room to come and go.
We also removed our entrance reducer – this big piece of mesh that keeps out opportunistic mice in cold weather and makes the hive more easily defensible for a new, weak colony.
This is our entrance now, with plenty of room for foragers to come and go. I really hope our colony’s tough enough to defend all this new open space. We’re probably going to put in a moderate entrance reducer until they build up their numbers some more. For the time being, they seem to be enjoying the new easy landing. Check out the two foragers with loaded pollen pockets! There are obviously at least two pollen sources coming in right now – one golden yellow and one bright orange.
Here’s another from the yellow source touching down after a flight. She’ll go inside, hand her pollen off to the house bees, and probably turn right around to make another trip. Unless another bee gives her a hot tip about an even better or closer pollen source.
Like that cool bright orange stuff.