Bees Be Nice

I haven’t written about my honeybee hives in a while and thought it was high time I catch you up on their antics.  Both Langstroth hives, Woody and Buzz (seen below) are humming along beautifully, though spring saw each as quite cranky.    In our first early spring hive check, both hives were full of busy bees with lots of larvae, meaning that the queens were doing their job.  By late March, our bees turned mean.  Really mean.  I couldn’t go near the hives without one of the scouts harassing me, which usually ended in (at least) one sting for me.  Dreading the necessary hive checks, we suited up and popped into each hive a couple of times over the course of a few weeks and found that both hives had developed queen cells.  One cause of a hive developing queen cells is that the original queen has died or is critically ill and not laying eggs.  For a hive to survive and thrive, it needs a constant replenishing of eggs, larvae, and adults.   We  pulled off Buzz’s first set of queen cells, thinking that queen development was preparing to swarm because of overcrowding. We misread the clues.  When we checked again two weeks later, the workers had created more queen cells. We realized that the queen was probably dead, so we let nature take its course.  Worker bees can and do make their queens when necessary;  after all, honeybees know their stuff.  It takes two weeks for a queen to develop in the hive, then she exits for her mating flight which lasts up to a week.  Afterwards, it’s back to the hive and the start of her career of egg laying.

We learned our lesson with Buzz and so let Woody do its making-a-queen thing and within a month, the hives were happy with their respective new queens and back to their gentle selves.  Honeybees are aggressive when they’ve lost their queen, but gentle when they’re queen right, meaning that they’re living with a healthy, active queen.

Both hives have two kinds of boxes, brood and dadant.  The deeper boxes are primarily for brood, but also contain some honey.  The dadant (shallower) boxes are only for comb and honey.  If you look closely at the hives in the photo, you’ll notice double wood pieces between the top brood box and adjacent dadant box.  That’s where the queen excluder fits into the hive structure.  The exluder is a metal mesh in a wooden frame in which the mesh is large enough for worker bees to climb through–and up into–other parts of the hive to continue honeycomb making, but too small for queens to get through, so their egg laying is limited to the brood boxes.

What can I say?  Queens are fat bottomed girls.  Sorry, Queen.

Honey creation is what honeybees are driven to do, whether or not the queen is in the box. Excluders allow the worker bees to make honey in the upper boxes while the queen is  unable to crawl in and lay eggs on the comb.  With a box of pure honeycomb, beekeepers are then able to take honey without damaging larvae or possibly injuring or killing a queen, which is a win for everyone.

In Woody, the bees have combed out the frames of the bottom dadant and made honey in several frames.  The top dadant also has comb, but with no honey; we probably added that box too soon, though no harm done.  In Buzz, its lone dadant is nearly full of honey and we’ll add another dadant soon.  I expect to extract honey from dadants of both hives by fall and that will give us a chance to finally use our honey extractor  purchased some months ago.

Buzz’s one dadant is full of honey; we’ll add another soon.

But we won’t have to wait until fall for new honey–we extracted some from our original Warre hive, Scar.  Scar’s top box was jam-packed with thick comb and gooey honey, so we cut chunks of the sweet stuff off of six of the eight top bars.  Removing honey from a Warre hive is a messy job which spills plenty of honey into the hive and displaces bees.  For about 48 hours, some members this remarkably productive hive stayed outside the hive structure, though I noticed yesterday morning, most were back inside early in the morning.

Because the Warre hives holds top bars and not frames, the honeycomb must be crushed and the “extraction” involves a solid afternoon of work, squashing comb and sieving honey.  This past weekend, the result was nearly a gallon of honey!

These are 9 of the 11 jars of our newest honey collection.

In our four years of beekeeping, the Warre hives–specifically Scar–have delivered all the honey we’ve ever extracted.  While a difficult hive to check, Scar has proved a wonderfully prolific hive and its honey is liquid gold!

This mid-July finds our honeybees nice-n-sweet, ignoring me when I’m in the garden, and making delicious honey.

 

21 thoughts on “Bees Be Nice

    • Indeed! The Langstroth hives utilize the stacked boxes of varying depths and this has become the standard in beekeeping. There are other types of hives, like the Kenyon top bar or the Warre, which is what we originally built. Our Warre hive, Scar, contains a wonderful set (or, I should really say, sets) of bees, but is very hard to maintenance.

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  1. Oh what beautiful liquid gold. Scar with the bees outside looks amazing. Seems that the extra hassle with that hive is worth it. It was interesting to read about the aggressive behaviour in your bees and its cause. Glad that they did eventually reset and you don’t have to anticipate being stung as routine!

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    • Scar has been a great producer, no doubt about that. I’m glad we just let them do their thing. My take on beekeeping is that they really know what they’re doing much better than we do, so I’m happy to let them in the driver’s seat.

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    • Its been a ride, this beekeeping adventure, but I’ve sure enjoyed and been challenged by the experience. Truthfully, I wouldn’t mind having only one or two hives (we have three). In the heat of summer, three is a lot…:)

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  2. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what ‘dadant’ meant in context, so I looked up the definition and found that before it was a thing, it was a person. From Le Wiki: “Charles Dadant (20 May 1817 – 26 July 1902) was a French-American beekeeper. Along with Petro Prokopovych, Dadant is considered one of the founding fathers of modern beekeeping. ” Interesting, how a name gets transferred from a person to an essential piece of beekeeping equipment.

    I’d forgotten all the details of how a queen is produced, and by the time I finished reading that Wiki article, I felt like the whole process ought to be made into a movie: it has the scale and drama of a David Lean film. The most amazing detail I came across concerned the ‘piping’ that a queen does. According to the article, it’s a G sharp. I wonder who it was who first figured that one out?

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    • When I first began learning about this bit of nonsense, I was put off by beekeeping vernacular. So many odd terms are used and one must learn the language, it seems. So sorry that I didn’t think to define “dadant” more clearly, but it’s a noun which evolved into another noun.

      Honeybees have a complex biology and beekeeping is two parts science, one part art. We’re still learning. Thanks for the link–love the song! I confess I’m a little disappointed that no one has clicked on my Queen ‘Fat Bottom Girls’ link–I surely thought that would happen, if nothing more than curiosity. Not my favorite song, but it popped into my head.

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      • Ha! I almost clicked it, but I knew what it was (lyrics and tune both — what does that say about me?), and that sent me looking for my own Queen Bee song. It really is interesting that the Queen Bee has so many songs that refer to her. I found another one that’s apparently current, but it wasn’t as good as the two we mentioned!

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      • Haha–it says the same thing about you as it does me. You’re right though, there are many references to ‘queen bee’. She’s (or sometimes, ‘he’s’) a queen bee, or they’re ‘wanna bees’–and it goes on and on!

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  3. A gallon of honey–wow! I always enjoy your posts about your hives and beekeeping. It’s not something I’m planning to do at this stage of life, but I find it incredibly fascinating. Thanks for sharing!

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  4. Nice collection of honey! We are thinking of going to a top bar variant in our National hive–empty frames, letting the bees create comb themselves. It’s always such a beautiful color…

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    • Thanks–it’s a welcome haul. I’ve loved watching the bees build their own comb in a more natural fashion. It’s harder for us when we want to take some, but they sure have it it down!

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