Three Months with the Bees

I've been a beekeeper now for three months. I've learned so much, and I have so much more to learn!

I've been a beekeeper now for three months. I've learned so much, and I have so much more to learn.

My hive has had a slow start. Experienced beekeepers recommend that you start with two hives so you can compare their progress, and so you'll have the resources to share if need be. For instance, a small hive could be jump-started with a frame of brood and young bees from the stronger hive. A queen-less colony can even make a new queen if they have eggs or very young larva, so you could move a frame from the queenright hive to the queen-less hive if needed.

But in spite of their slow start, as time has progressed my bees have also progressed. The population has increased and I love seeing a frame of eggs, larvae and capped brood when I inspect my hive, surrounded by cells of pollen and honey. I enjoy watching the girls come and go from the door of the hive out into the wide open spaces, in search of nectar and pollen.

A frame of bees.

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I haven't laid eyes on Her Majesty, my queen, since she was released from the cage she arrived in. My instructor said that as long as you can see eggs on a frame, you know you had a queen three days ago or less, and there's usually no need to disturb the hive further. So that's what I've done. Everything has looked good and I've not needed to look any deeper yet.

This first year, I'm checking on them once a week or so, depending on the weather. Now that it's SO hot I'm not as anxious to put on my heavy clothing and stand in the full sun in the afternoon when the foragers are out of the hive. And when I do check on them, I tend to do it earlier in the day than is probably recommended, while it's still relatively cool.

Eggs are so tiny that it can be hard for me to spot them. I take a magnifying glass with me, which helps a lot. I also take photos every time I open the hive so I can enlarge them later and make sure I really did see eggs and larvae.

So far I haven't discovered any varroa mites, and I've squished just one small hive beetle. These are the bees' enemies. They'll take over a hive if they can. Usually it's a weak or small hive that doesn't have enough population to police the entire hive and run them off, so it's important to not give the bees more space than they can handle. Mine are still in one "deep brood box" which isn't unusual here in Oklahoma.

My hive with a single brood box.
Hive with single brood box.

When a colony has "worked" or "pulled comb" on seven or eight of the ten frames in the hive, it's time to add a second hive body, called a brood box. At first I had a frame feeder (affiliate link) inside the hive box, which took the place of two frames. When they worked five of those eight frames, I removed the frame feeder and added those two frames back in so they'd have more room.

Since the nectar flow was in full force (the wildflowers were in full bloom) I decided not to worry about feeding them. Well, I'm trying not to worry. So far, so good; they seem to be doing okay.

Yesterday's inspection, though, showed me that it's time for the "second deep" at long last. The frames had so much nectar and capped brood that there isn't much room for the queen to lay more eggs. There were some larvae and a few eggs, and they've finally begun drawing comb on the last couple of empty frames on one end of the hive. I think it's time, so later this week I'll add the medium hive box on top of the bottom deep.

Frame of bees with eggs - they look like a tiny grain of rice, one in each honeycomb cell.
Can you see the eggs? They look like a tiny grain of rice, one in each honeycomb cell.

Once I do that, I'll need to start feeding them sugar syrup again. It's easier for the bees to make honeycomb if they have an abundant supply of food, especially if that food is conveniently located right there in the hive. I've located a medium frame feeder online, although the cost of the shipping is twice that of the feeder. Don't you hate that?

My Carniolan bees are pretty mellow as a general rule. Bees can be mad for any number of reasons: they're hungry, they don't have a queen, if they've been bothered by predators, because the weather is bad, or because it's Friday. I'm told that you'll know when they're mad: they're a lot more aggressive and defensive of their hive.

These open cells contain larvae; the capped cells have baby worker bees inside.
These open cells contain larvae; the capped cells have baby worker bees inside.

In fact, when I picked up my bees, I asked the beekeeper for his gentlest package - and I was only half-joking. He said "this one looks good" and laughed as he handed them to me. But he chose well. I'm impressed at how mellow they've been. Of course, I'm always suited up when I work with them. I'm not crazy.

My "bee suit."

Beekeeping suits are rather expensive as far as this frugal gal is concerned. I started with gloves (affiliate link) and a veil (a hat with netting). This type of veil should be worn over a ball cap to keep the bees away from my face. I wore a pair of flannel-lined jeans and a turtleneck with a long-sleeved man's white dress shirt over it. Let's face it, that was too hot when June arrived - very effective but much too hot. I've changed to a set of my son's Army fatigues and this jacket with veil (affiliate link). The fatigue trousers are baggy enough that they provide protection, and the drawstrings at the ankles mean I don't have to use duct tape anymore. Yes, I'm serious about it. I'd really prefer not to be stung.

A frame of bees.

The original veil and a second set of gloves are now my back-ups, and for our granddaughter to wear while she's here this summer and helps me with the bees, and for hubby to use if I need his help with something.

I've had a little trouble learning how to use the bee smoker (affiliate link). I'm afraid of fire to begin with, and you might remember that I lost my goats in a barn fire several years ago which made my fear even more irrational. So at first I worked my hive with a spray bottle of sugar water, the same 1:1 sugar syrup that I was feeding the bees. After watching the Fat Bee Man's YouTube videos I decided I was going to learn how to use the smoker. With the exception of one windy day when I wasn't able to get the fuel to stay lit, I've done well with it and it does make the bees easier to work with.

Lots of activity at the door of the beehive, taken by our granddaughter.
Taken by our granddaughter

I'm excited to be adding the second brood box. My hive isn't exactly going gangbusters but they are doing okay. I'm not planning to take any honey this year; I'll leave it for my bees to use over the winter - honey is their food. I'm hoping and praying that they'll make it through the winter, and that I can split the hive in spring so that I'll have two colonies.

A bee on clover in the horse pasture.

When I'm outside now I am more aware of buzzing. I smile as bees fly past me when I'm feeding the horses, or buzz around the flowers in my garden. Right now they are working on the wild sunflowers. The borage has started blooming, which they love. It makes me happy to see the girls in our yard and garden.

Do you find bees as fascinating as I do?

You might also enjoy:
Installing the Bees
Picking Up the Bees
4 Tips for Ordering Bees

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