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25 August 2012

Visiting the Hive

Our bee-keeping friend invited Hero to come to the hive again if he wanted, which he did. Hero decided that it was cool enough to do again, and that he wanted to show his Daddy what it's all about, so we went again. This time we were better prepared: long sleeve shirts, long pants, and hats to keep the bees out of our hair. Also, I had my camera and the long lens ready to go. And our bee guy had bee gear for Hero! It was awesome.

First, we saw the hive all put together. The lid is slanted to allow ventilation, and the rock on top keeps the lid from blowing away.

The bees have a little door they like to go in. Turns out there are several openings they could use, but this is the one they like. They were pretty active when we got there; much more so than last time. Maybe because last time we visited it was evening, and as the sun set the bees wanted to go in and do whatever they do at night, and this time we were there mid-morning. In any case, there were quite a few of the little critters buzzing around before anybody even got close to the hive.

Our friend helped Hero into some bee "armor" so that he could go right up to the hive. It was older equipment, but it still did the job. Hero was pretty excited when he realized that he was going to be right in the thick of things this time!

Next, they started the smoker. Bees don't like smoke, so it's useful when working with them. They were burning twine in a cool little can with a mini-bellows on the back side of it, which Hero got to try out. Since I was pretty sure that he'd never seen a bellows before, we also mentioned that a larger version of a bellows was what Nephi used when he was building his boat.

The bee man continued to take the hive apart, and he showed Hero everything as he did so. Honey and pollen, drones and "house bees" and wax caps on the frame, and all sorts of cool stuff in there.

When you look at the hive, you can see that it's made out of several sections, and it turns out that the various sizes of sections have different purposes. The top ones are a little smaller, and they're called "Supers." It always kind of amazes me how the bee man just sticks them on the ground, and it doesn't seem to disturb the bees too much. Even with them on their sides. Bees are cool that way.

Pulling the trays out (I forget their right name) also doesn't seem to bother the bees too much. At least, not from the super area. I think on this tray he was showing Hero a drone, but I can't remember for sure. I think it's cool how Hero was able to be right there, nose to nose with the bees. I'd kind of like to see up a little closer, but with only the one extra suit, that wasn't an option this time.

Now he had all the supers off the top of the hive, and they were down to the little skinny layer. It's called an excluder, and its job is to keep the queen down in the bottom section of the hive. That way, the queen only lays in the bottom sections, and the honey and wax in the top is ready to be harvested at the end of the season. It's harder to see at this  resolution, but the excluder has a sort of screen on it which is large enough for the worker bees to get through, but too small for the queen.

At this point, the bees are stirred up enough that they've made a pretty good cloud around the two of them, and you can see all the bees buzzing around them in this picture. Hero was hoping for a peek at the queen, which didn't end up happening this time. But he did see a bunch of larve, and the way that things work down here in the brood boxes below the excluder. The bee man said that it wouldn't be a good idea to disturb the queen too much, and that when they pulled the trays down here some of the larvae were going to die from being disturbed like this. But he wanted to check and see how much larvae were there, so they did have a peek.

Before the bee man removed the top brood box to look in the bottom he pulled out his smoker and smoked the bees a little. It was really remarkable to see how the bees would go right into the box, away from the little bit of smoke as he moved the smoker over the top of the brood box.

The bees weren't doing that much with the bottom brood box; some of the trays were still empty. The bee man said that this was a good strong hive, but not an amazing one. He seemed pleased with how things are going.

Then, having looked the whole thing over, they started putting things back together. By this point, with their home completely disassembled, the bees had made quite a cloud around the two guys and the base of the hive. It was remarkable to see how quickly they went back into the hive as it went back together.

A few of the larvae had fallen out in the process, and the bee man figured they were going to die anyway, so he had Hero pick one up and bring it over for a picture. This is my favorite from the whole batch of photos from the day.

The larvae are kind of icky-looking. I guess that's not surprising, since they're squishy bug larvae. But that didn't seem to bother Hero at all. He brought it right over so that we could see. I'm a little entertained, since he won't touch worms or frogs, but didn't think twice about grabbing bee larvae. Maybe it's the gloves.

Having put it all together, they stayed and watched the bees go back in for a while. This was when we learned that there's another hole on the back of the hive for ventilation. The bees could  use it for a door, but mostly they just like to go in this front door.

Especially considering that most of the trays were never taken out of the hive, it was somewhat remarkable to see how many bees were headed back inside now. The cloud of bees rapidly shrank as they all went back home.

Once again, he kindly invited Hero to come back again another time. He plans to harvest the honey Labor Day weekend, so maybe we'll be able to help out with that a little. He'll come out and take the supers off for the winter, and take the honey and wax out of them. Watching them working with the bees was fascinating. The bee man had some other hives that he was headed to have a look at, so we said thank you and let him be on his way.


misskate said...

Sweet! Bees really amazing little creatures. So exciting that you could go learn about them first hand!

Kaye Swain said...

Oh how interesting. And such a great homeschooling project. Thank you.

Harvest Moon by Hand said...

Wonderful post! Enjoyed seeing the pictures of the steps on checking on the hive. Brings back good memories of time spent with my dad who kept bees for many years.


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