Tag Archives: Pollen

One year of “Beeing” a Girl Guardian – May 2, 2013

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One year ago yesterday, I began my foray into this magical, mystical, and at times crazy, world of Apis mellifera.  I have Learned, I have Loved, I have Lost.  And yes, I have been Stung…. and not in the figurative or allegorical sense.  I’m talking Literally.  I have literally been Stung.

What’s that ??  Where have I been, you say?  There haven’t been any updates in AGES…. the Middle Ages… or maybe the Dark Ages !!

There are a lot of reasons, as well as no reasons, for the negligence.  This will be long…. so grab some wine… or something stronger.  The last update was in October 2012 and things appeared to be going well.  November rolled in and the weather was still warm, but starting to chill.  Thanksgiving came along and the Girls were still bringing in pollen.  I chuckled, thinking their bright orange pollen packs on Thanksgiving Day were like tiny little “bee pumpkins.”  All they needed were little bee pilgrim hats!

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I also installed the insulation panels on Thanksgiving Day and added crumpled newspaper to the back of the hive behind the follower board. I hadn’t seen Queen Vicky, but I hadn’t opened the hive due to cooler temps.  I had feed the Girls quite regularly, and they probably had nine or ten full combs.  I crossed my fingers this would get them through the winter.

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 But then along came December.  It was WET…. like hurricane storms WET.  And then the COLD set in immediately afterwards. Bone Chilling Cold.   I worried.  I worried a lot.  I wasn’t seeing anything.  Christmas came and went and still nothing.  

On January 6th, the weather warmed up.  I thought I could take a quick peek through the window by moving the insulation panel.  I didn’t see any activity and saw some dead bees at the back of the hive and in the entrance.  I still offered up a prayer and hoped, but my fear was that they were gone.

On January 13th, it got up to 70 degrees.  Yes… 70 degrees in January.  Who still doesn’t believe in Global Warming ?  Raise your hands.  Back to the Girls.  I had to Know.  I had to LOOK.  I opened the hive and my fear turned to reality.  They were gone.  There weren’t more than a few hundred.  Some were butt out in the comb.  Tell tale sign of starved in the cold.  I’m sure there weren’t enough to stay warm in their cluster and they perished.  The inside of the hive felt a tiny bit damp, probably from the Tennessee Hurricane Winter Storms.  I had intended on trying to find Vicky, but then just wanted to clean up the hive.  I sprinkled the bodies of my poor little Girls over the patch of crocuses that I had planted for them in November.

I decided to harvest two combs.  

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This was the first time I had harvested any honey.  It was an interesting process and a sticky process.  The honey was dark, leading me to think it might be goldenrod, which bloomed everywhere here in the fall.  There was also pollen in the combs so my honey wasn’t clear, but it sure is delicious.

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I left the majority of the honey in the hive, hoping it will provide a jump-start to next year’s hive.  I pushed wire mesh into the front of the hive to deter anything from entering and taking the honey, especially the Ferals.  All I could do now was order more Girls and WAIT.

And WAIT… through February…. and WAIT… through March… and WAIT…. through the beginning of April… until ….. Wednesday… April 17, 2013….  the Best Day and the Worst Day (in more ways than one…. remember that part…. in MORE ways than One).

Today I get my new Girls (this is the Best Day part).  I modified my order this year after reading an article last fall.  The article recommended for foundationless hives, like my Top Bar Hive and Warre Hives, to start off with five pounds of bees.  So I met John, my dealer… my Bee dealer, in front of the Sam’s Club, along with about 5 other Apis mellifera aficionados, and picked up a three pound package with Queen and a two pound package, sans Queen.  I loaded up the Girls and headed home.

Alas, the trip home was a somewhat sad and disheartening ride because I knew that when I got home, the home of the Ferals would be gone (this is a Worst Day part).  Yes… it’s sad but true… our neighbor evicted the Ferals, and their eviction was occurring on the same day as the arrival of my new Girls.  The poor Ferals.  At least there were being relocated, to hopefully thrive and fly some other beautiful place in the rolling hills of Nashville.  It is against the law in Tennessee to kill honeybees.  The eviction lasted the better part of the morning and early afternoon.  Their beautiful home was systematically dismantled, and they were BeeVac’ed up into a large bee transport vessel.  Yes… they were literally VACUUMED up.  They weren’t happy, not in the least.  The neighbor across the street received 5 stings earlier in the day.  After it was over, he tried to show his wife what was left of the tree and she was stung as well on her hand.

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I let my Girls kick back and relax close to their new home.  I planned to install them at dusk, hoping it would somewhat calm them.  I periodically checked on them and found quite a few straggling Ferals hanging on the outside of the package boxes.  Maybe they were asking to join the group….. since they no longer had a home…. or maybe they were just bitchin’ and gossiping all the low down and dirt about the neighborhood.

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So as dusk approached, I put on my jeans and long sleeve white t-shirt.  After my experience with the Girls last year, and everything I’d read and everything I’d heard, I didn’t think I needed to go full regalia.  But I took my quickie veil and gloves along….. just in case.

So I popped the lid off the 2lb package and took out the syrup can.  I learned from last year and brought everything I needed…. screw driver, pliers, can opener, kitchen sink (no.. not really the kitchen sink).  I then popped the lid off the 3lb package and removed that syrup can as well.  I then carefully remove the new HRH…. name to still be determined.  I could go Russian… since they have a smidge of that.  Or maybe something Italian… since they are somewhat that as well.  I believe they may be some sort of Italian – Feral cross breed… so I guess maybe an Italian Hillbilly!

I carefully pinned the cage of HRH into a top bar, including her already new acquaintances.  

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I then prepared to install the 2lb package, thinking that since she was hanging in the 3lb package that I would get the 2lb package in first.  I took the two pounder, bonked the package, tossed the lid and began pouring the Girls in.  

Everything was going swimmingly.  So far so good.  Look at me… doin’ this “au naturelle” …. “sans gear”… I’m a rock star!

Second bonk, and poured the remainder in.  At this point, the buzzing around me starts to get noticeably louder and a little closer to my ears.  “Maybe better put the veil on,” I say to myself.  Which I do.  I picked up the 3lb package, bonk, pour, bonk, pour.  Girls are everywhere now, and I feel the first burning sensation on my hand.  Damn… better put the gloves on.  Crap … another one on the hand.

I hurriedly put on my gloves as I still needed to close up the hive.  Closing up a top-bar hive is probably more difficult than a traditional Langstroth hive, (my personal opinion even though I’ve never closed a Langstroth) because one must replace the bars and attempt to avoid being a murder.  Sometimes it’s a breeze, today… not so much.  The Girls were not co-operating.  But could you really blame them, after the day they were having?  Sadly in the process, I heard one or two “squishes”.  The buzzing is getting louder again, but I’m almost finished with the close up.

Shiiiiiiiiit !!  There are Girls INSIDE the veil!  Double Shiiiiiiiiiiiit !!  And inside my gloves !!  OMG… why does it feel like someone is pushing a burning needle into the top of my head !  What is going on !!!  I hurriedly exit the hive vicinity and ripe the veil and gloves off.  But my head is still burning.  I take my fingers and try to remove the little female Brutus… Et tu, Brute ??

I can’t get her out of my hair.  I’m not “swatting”…. never ever ever “swatting.”  I am calmly trying to use my fingers and get her out of my hair… off my scalp… wherever the hell she is…. I can’t see… she’s on the top of my head…

There is no other option… There’s only one thing that can be done… to put an abrupt end to her heinous attack.  I start smacking the top my head with my hand.  Ouch.. smack… still burning… smack… smack… SMACK!  I’m deathly afraid to even consider what a sight it must have been to the neighbors to the rear of our property.  Another sting to my hand.  Now the other hand… Aaaaaaa… now one through my shirt.  And another to my ear, then behind my ear.  All hell is breaking loose !!  It’s a freakin’ Free-For-All  (this was that “other” Worst Day part)!!

Somehow, I manage to make sure there are no more Girls inside my veil, or in my gloves, or in my hair and get re-dressed.  Remember, I still have to close the hive !  I’m goin’ back in.

“Can these really be MY Girls?” I keep asking myself.  They were so much calmer last year.  Maybe it’s those hitchhiking Ferals.  “That must be it” I tell myself.  “It’s those pissed off Feral Girls that lost their home today and are trying to take it out on me!”  

I succeeded in closing up the hive, used the can opener to pop open the syrup can (see… thinking ahead…. what I learned from last year), filled the feeder and slide it into the new feeder hole in the false back in the hive.  Now the Girls will have access to “food” right at the back !  No more worrying about having to fully open the hive to insert the feeder, or putting a feeder out in the open… not that it matters now…. since the Ferals are gone.  But I did notice a few times last year of Girls “taking off” towards the front of the house after getting some water.  So I have often wondered if there isn’t ANOTHER Feral colony somewhere in the ‘hood.

April 19, 2013, I switched out the feeder with more left over syrup from the packages.  April 21, 2013, again I switched out the feeder with the last remains of the package syrup.  I wonder if I can order cans of this stuff… it sure is super easy to just pop open the can.  To my joy and surprise, I noticed pollen being brought in, pale yellow and bright yellow.  Woo Hoo !

I waited until Tuesday, April 23, 2013, to open the hive and check on the release of HRH.  Success!!  She was out and about and the entire candy plug was gone.  Additionally, there was no burr comb built onto her cage, unlike last year.  So I simply removed it and will keep it for a souvenir!  The Girls were, again, NOT in a good mood that the hive was opened.  Is this becoming a habit?  Is it possible that maybe there are just some cranky Ferals that have joined the kingdom and they have become the Guards?  I did not see any eggs in the little bit of new comb that I inspected; however, I did not perform a full inspection…. mainly because …. it was after work… and it was dinner time… for me… and for them… as I replaced the feeder again.  And again noted pale yellow pollen being brought in.  I read something recently stated, pollen being brought into a hive is a sign that the Queen is laying.  So I’m crossing my fingers that she’s already doing her thing…. (doin’ her ‘thang) !!!!

I have been taking quick peeks through the window and the Girls have been building new comb gang buster style!  Everything is looking spectacular so far which is making me hopeful for an excellent year.  I also noticed there were quite a few Boys that came along for the ride.  I’ll be interested to see what the Girls make of them.  We have had a beautiful spring so far.  Good amounts of rain so everything is blooming incredibly.  

Here is what I’ve noticed in bloom:

  • Dandelions (already at the tail end and they are going to seed)
  • Nashville Breadroot (very rarely do I see the Girls on it, but the Bumbles LOVE, LOVE it)
  • Fragrant Sumac
  • Daffodils (already losing the flowers)
  • Chokeberry (MANY pollinators loving this, but not really the Girls)
  • Rosemary, not seem to be as attractive this year as last year
  • Tangerine Crossvine just about to flower out
  • American Wisteria just about to flower out
  • Dutchman’s Pipevine, never seen any pollinator activity on this

Now I just need to name my Queen !

Hear Ye… Hear Ye….

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Although Sir James is undeniably brave and valiant when it comes to vanquishing Small Hive Dragons and other such matters, be it known throughout the land that Sir James is a very, very, Very, Very, let’s say it again, VERY, very, one more time for good measure, Very, BAD Scribe.

It has been far too long since the last Royal update, and much has happened!  So let’s begin.

When last we left, it was the start of July, and our suspicions of a new Regant had been confirmed.  We were also in the midst of a Honey Girls “No Comb Building” Strike !

On Sunday July 22nd, I re-entered the Kingdom to see how QV2 was fairing.  I would venture to say that her reign is mediocre at best.  She is laying; however, her laying pattern is somewhat spotty.  I noted both capped and uncapped brood.

I put on my Cecil B. DeMille hat, as I believe I faintly heard “I’m ready for my close up”.  Here she is!   Can you find her?  She is the spitting image of what a Queen should look like.


I’ve been at my wits end regarding the Girls’ “No Comb Building” Strike.  Granted, it has been a very hot, dry almost drought-like summer here in Nashville; however, I keep feeling like for some reason something wasn’t right.  I was feeling almost like the Girls thought they were at the end of the hive for some reason.  Even though they still had enormous amounts of space.  There were still at least 3 empty Top Bars (“TBs”) and then 4 Honey Top Bars (“HTBs”).  The False Back is still in position as well and there are additional HTBs behind the False Back.  HTBs are merely regular TBs separated by small spacer bars.

Bees like to build combs at different widths to accommodate the use of the comb.  The regular TB has a 1 ⅜” width.  The spacers add ¼”, resulting in 1 ⅝”.  The Girls prefer to build brood comb with the 1 ⅜” width and honey comb with the 1 ⅝” width.  Apparently this allows them the correct spacing they want because they will build the honey comb thicker than the brood comb.

I had been mulling over a thought in my head for weeks.  When the comb collapse tragedy happened back in the middle of May, the Girls quickly rebuilt the comb on the empty bar that I had erroneously left.  What if I put an empty TB in front of the TB where they were storing their honey?  Would that persuade them to build new comb?  I decided to put an empty TB on position #1 and another empty TB right in front of their honey comb.  So the pattern in the hive was now as follows:

TB#1 — empty
TB#2 — pollen comb
TB#3 — brood comb
TB#4 — brood comb
TB#5 — brood comb
TB#6 — brood comb
TB#7 — brood comb
TB#8 — empty
TB#9 — honey comb
TB#10 — small comb (2 little pieces)

Well the Bee Goddess must have been smiling on the kingdom, because the following week, there was a beautiful new piece of snow white comb built on TB#8 !  Huzzah, Huzzah !

So that basically brings us up to last weekend.  When I again went into the Kingdom to slay Small Hive Dragons (small hive beetles).  Nasty little creatures, but the Girls do a pretty good job of quarantining them into the back of the hive and propolizing the cracks so they can’t get back through.  But there were A LOT now, probably 8-10 (in actuality, that isn’t a lot, but I don’t like looking at them when I looking into the hive), so I wanted to try and get rid of some of them.  I opened the hive and squished as many as I could.

I did a very brief inspection.  I checked on TB#1 and it was still empty.  I did not look for the Queen this time, but briefly looked at the laying patterns on the pieces I checked.  It was basically still the same.  Spotty capped brood.  Not a Drone in sight.

The Girls had already started storing some pollen and honey in the new piece of comb.  There were no spacers between any of these TBs and I worried that they might attempt to cross-comb the honey comb, so I moved some of the spacers around to give them the extra width on the honey comb pieces.  I also moved the last TB with the small pieces of comb, which by the way they had now connected (TB#10 above) to be in front of the new piece, TB#8, hoping they would also expand this piece and put honey in it.

If the Girls can at least get that done, they would have 3 combs of honey.  That would make me feel more comfortable going into fall.  Everything I’ve read says they need about 7 combs of honey for the winter.  I’m not sure if they will get there or not.  If they don’t, I hope they will survive.

I want to try and buy another False Back  in an attempt to devise a system to feed the Girls from within the hive, but I’ve been emailing the people I bought the hive from for two weeks now and I haven’t received a return message yet.  I swear the only time they have communicated with me was when I was buying something.  Sort of pisses me off.

I’ve read that honey production this year has been very negatively impacted by the severe drought and that everyone should be diligent in feeding their Girls.  I’ve been feeding them typically once a week with 1:1 syrup.  They typically take it very quickly, but the last time I tried giving it to the Girls, it took them over an hour to show interest.  I did not feed them last weekend as we’ve had some good rain.  However, I’ll continue to watch and feed as necessary.

One thing I find odd, we have a very LARGE rosemary plant and when it first bloomed in the early, early spring, it was covered with Feral Girls.  However, it recently re-bloomed but no one visits it.  Not my Girls or the Ferals.  Maybe there isn’t any nectar in it, but that would surprise me since it gets regular watering from the irrigation system.  All the Girls, mine and the Ferals, still spend a lot of their time getting water from the pond.  I’ve noticed a little foraging on these little blue-ish/purple flowers that basically grow like some sort of grass weed, but apart from that, I’m clueless as to where they do the majority of their foraging.

Here is one of my Girls foraging on one of the bushes in the yard.

I will probably wait a few more weeks before I enter the Kingdom again.  I’ll just observe through the window.  Hopefully September and October will remain warm enough for the Girls to be out and about.  And then I’ll have to button the girls up for winter and cross my fingers.

The Roller Coaster Ride Continues

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So it’s been a number of weeks, and what seems like an unending day at an amusement park, since my last update. When we last left you, we had just cleaned up the collapsed comb mess and I had received my second sting. That was May 26th.

After that Saturday, I was very concerned with the girls. The following Saturday, June 2nd, we had a freakish cold snap. It was 46 degrees that morning, and every last girl was completely within the hive. However, surprisingly that day, there was a large amount of pollen being brought in after the air started to warm. My decision was to not disturb them that weekend. Again on Sunday, there was a good amount of pollen being brought in. The day was WARM, 92 degrees, and I noticed that the girls had found the pond. It was so interesting to stand at the pond’s edge and watch the bees as they left, flying either to the back of the yard (our hive) or over the fence (to the Ferals)! Another interesting fact, my girls are not great fliers when they take off from the pond. They circle around a bit, like they are gaining altitude and then head back to the hive. The Ferals, however, just take off and right up and over the fence. They are probably older and wiser, or maybe they’re just older and stronger!

Monday and Tuesday (June 4th and 5th) were rainy and dreary. But I could have SWORN on Tuesday afternoon I saw a different queen through the window. She looked HUGE. But I’m not sure. So many of my girls have VERY long abdomens. I definitely am NOT good at spotting the queen. Where it not for the dot on Vicky’s back, I would most likely never find her. Unless maybe I have a hive full of queens running around (kidding).

Thursday morning was a nightmare. The prior night had been quite cool, 54 degrees. When I went to look at the hive, to my shock and dismay, there were over 15 dead or dying girls on the ground. It was like something out of a bad horror movie! Some of them had their wings straight out to their sides. It was all very weird and very alarming. I swore up and down the entire day that something was wrong and they had succumbed to some disease, like tracheal mites. I was nauseous all day; however, the following morning there were only 3 dead/dying girls. Maybe it was just the cold, I told myself.

But on Friday (June 8th), there seemed to be a significantly greater number of bees in the hive when I peeked in the window during the afternoon. Did babies hatch? They also seemed to be chaining a bit more within the hive. I crossed my fingers in hopes that they will get back on track with their comb building. Apart from replacing the collapsed comb at Top Bar #5, they really haven’t built any new comb.

Saturday, June 9th, and there were only 2 – 3 dead / dying girls, even though the previous night was almost as cold as the night before. I decided to not enter the hive again this weekend as I had to work on Saturday anyways. When I got home and check on the hive about 3:30pm, my initial reaction was fear, as there was a loud buzz hum in the air and LOTS of bees around the hive. But when I took and breath and investigated further, I found out they were all having “orientation flights”!

YEAH! That’s good news. It was quite spectacular to stand at the side of the hive and see all the girls just hovering in the air facing the hive. This went on for quite some time. When I finally decided to go get my phone to take some pictures, it was basically over; however, I did manage to catch a few of the new girls.

Sunday morning was the first morning in a while where there were no dead bees outside the hive. I’m hoping a corner has been turned. Although it was somewhat rainy, the girls where bringing in copious amounts of pollen. And I finally found one of my girls on our cat mint. When the cat mint initially bloomed, probably in late March or early April, the Ferals were all over it. That all you could see was Feral girls. It was fascinating. However, lately only the Bumbles are on it. No more Honeys, which seems strange. But I did see one Honey on the cat mint on Sunday and watch her intently until she left. And sure enough up she went and to the back of the yard. I hope she does the wiggle dance and tells her sisters the location. Still no new comb.

Monday morning, June 11th, no dead bees, no new comb, but chaining. Come on girls. You need to build comb. I wonder if I go in and insert a empty TB between the last piece of comb if that would persuade them to build again.

Tuesday and Wednesday – I’ve noticed a few Small Hive Beetles (“SHB”) in the hive. The girls have corralled them and forced them into the tiny space created by the false back. There are girls on both side of the false back and they keep guard. If one of the SHBs leaves the crack, it gets pounced on by the girls. Sometimes the SHB makes it back to the crack. Other times, the girls attack and chase it. I think I may need to open the hive this weekend, if only to kill the few SHBs that are present.

Still no new comb. I believe they must have built out to TB #9. But they have 3 more TBs before they even reach the Honey Top Bars. Then they have about 12 HTBs. If they don’t start building comb soon, I doubt they will last the winter as they will have no honey stores. I doubt they will make it if they are forced to survive only on sugar syrup all winter long. It’s sad, but I am trying to let nature take its natural course.

Hell Hath No Fury……

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It had been seven days since my last disastrous encounter with the girls.

I had left some pieces of the collapsed comb in the hive in hopes that the girls would partially rectify my heavy handedness.  I had watched intently over the past week, and they had cleaned out the two smaller pieces.  I didn’t know what was going on with the larger piece.  I did notice some of the cells had started to be open.  I didn’t know if that meant the girls were cleaning them out or what was happening.  However, at least once a day, typically in the morning, I would notice one of the girls removing a little white pupa.  I didn’t know if it was coming from the broken piece or not.

My original thought was to leave the large piece until the time frame indicated that any developing bees would have hatched.  But I noticed that their comb building had significantly slowed.  Perhaps there were more concerned with cleaning up the mess than with expanding the comb.  So before going in on Saturday morning, I had to make the call.  Leave it… or Clean it.

I choose Clean it.  So I opened the hive probably around 10:30 am, to encourage the forager girls to get out of the way.  I slowly removed the top and the cover and then began to pry open the back top bars (“TBs”) immediately in front of the false back.  I removed two of the TBs to give myself some working space.  I slowly inserted my hive tool into the hive to begin removing the smaller pieces.  No sooner had I gotten the tool down to the small pieces when …. WHAM…. Burning Hot Needle Poker… right into my index finger knuckle closest to my finger nail.  “WTF???” I think to myself, “I’ve just started and I already got stung!”  Ok, on go the gloves right after I flick the stinger out.  This is not a good start to my day.

I remove the smaller pieces of comb that I had left and they had completely cleaned them out.  Next, I remove the larger comb piece.  I take it out of the hive and attempt to brush the girls off.  They aren’t in a good mood today and I can already tell by their hum.  There are still pupae in the comb.  Some are white, others seem sort of grayish.   They won’t go to waste I tell myself.  I shall provide nutrients to the birds as a final sacrifice for my clumsiness.

I start to methodically process through the TBs.  I work slowly and use the hive tool to disconnect the burr comb, which the girls build to attach the comb to the side wall.  Learning from the mistakes of last week, I start from the bottom of the comb and work up towards the top.  However, still petrified and mortified by the beenocide I perpetrated last week, I decide to NOT lift the combs out this week.  I shall merely move them and try to look at them while still in the hive.

Each time I insert the hive tool into the hive, girls attack it.  The girls are NOT happy.  It is somewhat difficult to really see what is happening with the comb without lifting it up.  Then I reach TB #5, where the comb collapsed last week.  What’s this?  There is new comb built here.  “But I thought I moved that bar and pushed the whole comb together last week after the collapse” I say to myself.  I suppose in my hastiness, I moved the TB to the front when the comb fell off and didn’t move it to be with the other empty bars.  This now sets off another whole train of thought.

If I didn’t move the bar, that means there was brood comb, empty bar, and brood comb.  What if the brood comb got to cold and all of that brood has died as well?  My nightmare just won’t seem to end!

I continue looking through the comb, forever being watchful for Queen Victoria.  I get all the way to the first TB.  The girls hum, more an extremely loud BUZZ, is saying… no yelling… at me, “WE ARE NOT HAPPY WITH YOU SIR JAMES!” ringing almost deafening in my ears.  A peculiar change has happened with the first TB.  Last week, TB#1 appeared to be fully capped brood and all of the boys where hanging out there.  This week, the entire comb was open, there were no boys there, and it seems to have been turned into the pollen pantry.

I begin placing the TBs back into position, working slowly and still searching for Queen Vicky.  There are five to seven stingers in my gloves.  Thank goodness for them!  “Should I start using smoke? I wonder to myself.  My original goal was to not use a smoker, but it may become necessary if they get this mad each time I try and visit.  I get all the TBs back in place, unfortunately, I never saw Her Majesty.  But I do notice that pollen is still coming in and take that as a sign she is still in control.

Fortunately, on Sunday I did get a visual on Queen Victoria through the window.  She was moving around the edge of some of the comb, maybe on TB#7.  I really do not see any Ladies in Waiting with her.  Maybe she still has some maturing to do or something, but I thought she was always going to be surrounded by a little group that saw to her every need.

They do seem to be expanding TB#5, the new comb where the collapsed comb was; however, they don’t seem to be building any more new comb.  This has been the case now for a few days and I am starting to get concerned.  I’m not sure what to do.  Hopefully when TB#5 gets out to the edge of the hive, they girls will start building on the end again.

I don’t think I will go in this weekend and see if that helps get them going again.  I will just watch through the window.  They were going gang busters with pollen on Monday though.

My new mantra… They know better than me… They know better than me… I just need to leave them alone.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, … …

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… … it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, … …

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities — English novelist (1812 – 1870)

Saturday had finally come.  The weather was gorgeous, and I was excited to check up on the girls.  They had made such progress with their comb building and they appeared to be in good spirits, bringing in an exception amount of different colored pollen, bright orange, bright yellow and pale yellow.

I started at the false back and began working my way forward.  There are currently four Honey Top Bars (“HTB”) and twelve Top Bars (“TB”) in front of the false back.  There was no comb built on any of the HTBs.  I started to proceed through the TBs.  I carefully pried each bar apart and moved it towards the false back in the space created from removing two of the TBs.  I find comb on TB#8.

“Wow, that’s amazing”  I say to myself.  Here are the girls peaking up as I move bars.

TB#7, bigger comb… TB#6 comb with brood.  What an amazing sight!  TB#5 more brood.  The same thing on TBs #4, #3, #2 and #1!  TB#1 is basically completely sealed.  But for some curious reason all of the boys were hanging out on TB#1.  “Seems odd that they all hang out here” I think.

Everything is looking Great!  Now I need to find Queen Victoria.  I begin to inspect each side and put the TBs back in place.  I find Queen Vicky on TB#5.  I honestly cannot tell anything different about her.  I know her abdomen is supposedly longer, but it honestly does not look that way to me.  Thank goodness she is marked otherwise I would never find her.  She seems to be hanging out at the very top of the TB, which concerns me.  I snap a few Glamor Shots of Her Majesty.

I place the top bar down into the hive.  However, concerns enter my mind about moving TB#6 up against her so I decide to move TB#5 against TB#6 and then move both together as a single unit.  I slowly attempt to work the bars together and get the girls back in, which I hadn’t had any problems with so far.

And then it happened.  TRAGEDY BEYOND BELIEF.  The entire comb falls off the TB.  Thinking back now with almost a day to replay the horror over and over in my mind, I believe I may have tilted the TB towards me in an effort to persuade the girls in.  The entire comb broke off, with Queen Vicky on the edge falling into and onto the next comb.

I stand there in disbelief.  What have I done?  How do I fix this?  I try to remain calm.  The girls are NOT happy at this time.  I had better put on my gloves I tell myself.  Yes… I had actually been doing everything prior to this without gloves.  The day had been going so well.  Lot of future baby bees and no gloves.  And now this.

I put my gloves on and remove some more TBs to give myself additional working space.  I use my hive tool to try and gently move the broken comb.  There is nectar and/or syrup running all over the place now.  I have to reach into the hive and try to retrieve some of the comb.  It breaks in my hand.  I place the piece into my orange bucket.  I remove some more.  There are poor bees worm babies falling out.  I’m so upset.  Luckily I am able to remove a very large section of capped brood.  I get the broken comb out and look and the mess that I have created.

I quickly had to determine a course of action.  Do I completely take away the entire comb?  I feel absolutely horrible.  I come to a decision.  I will leave some of the parts that appear to have pollen and nectar so that the girls can move it to other areas of the hive.  There’s no reason all of their hard work should be a total waste.  I then decide to leave the big section of sealed brood against the false back in hopes that perhaps some of the babies might survive.

I will diligently watch this over the upcoming week.  If it appears it may be salvageable, I’ll leave it until I move the false back.  Otherwise I will remove it next Saturday.

I replace the remaining TBs and close up the hive.  I walk back to the house dejected with my head hanging… the Hindenburg quote, slightly modified, ringing in my ears…. “Ooooohhhhh the Beemanity.”  I say a prayer for all of the lost little bee babies.

As of today (Sunday), the girls appear to already have removed the nectar and the majority of the pollen from the two smaller pieces I left.  And they are doing something on the larger piece.  Are they attending to it ?  Or trying to remove the horrific aftermath?

I make a batch of 1:1 syrup for the girls and put it out for them, but they don’t take it.  Maybe that’s a good sign that they have found a true nectar flow.  I check the girls throughout the day.  I see busy bees everywhere.  I occasionally witness a girl removing a little white corpse.

I also watch a very bizarre occurrence.  I observe one of the girls literally drag around and then fly off with one of the boys.  He wasn’t dead and didn’t seem injured.  But she literally drug him off the edge and flew off with him.

Around 4pm, I was trying to remove a little bit of cactus from an area in front of the hive when I feel this incredible burning sensation on the front of my shin.  I look down and there’s a rogue girl hanging on my leg.

“Sh!t…. this hurts…. It’s burning like a hot poker being pushed into my leg!” I’m thinking to myself.  I quickly vacate the hive premises and look at my leg.  The poor girl is now gone, having sacrificed herself, but I see the stinger.  I scratch it out of my leg and head inside to put ice on my first battle wound.

So there it is, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  A weekend with such amazing highs unfortunately clouded with such loss.  I only hope that my decision to leave some of the sealed brood was the right decision.

The Bee or Not the Bee… That is the Question

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I got up yesterday thinking the day was going to be a waste due to the weather, even though I had sooo much I needed to do… cut the grass, move the false back, check the girls. It was cloudy, and although not hot, was not cool or cold. I feared it would rain and ruin everything.

At about 9am, I decided I needed to do it now or perhaps lose the opportunity for the day. I donned the space suit and took to the woods.

First I check their comb through the window…. looking good !!

Off comes the top and then the inner cover. So far so good. I had originally planned on moving the false back to the end of the hive, in accordance with the hive instructions. But the “not hot” weather had me concerned that the space might be too big for the girls to keep warm. I decided to only move the false back by four top bars, including the spacers.

I chose to do this without gloves and everything went off without a hitch. No problems. In looking through the window I can see how beautiful their comb is coming along. There is a little bit that they have actually attached to the window. I think they must be 5 or 6 bars back now.

I stop to consider what I should do. I decide I should take a quick look at some of the bars, just to see if Queen Victoria is laying yet. I look at one bar, which is mainly just bees hanging in their comb building chain formation. I move a few bars closer. Looks beautiful, but sill nothing notable to report.

I decide to take a look at the second top bar. I loosen the bar and pull it straight up. There are a lot of bees, and the hum of the hive turns noticeably louder and more unfriendly. Odd I think to myself. The comb is aging nicely and starting to turn yellow. I check the side facing me and I can see they are setting some good pollen. I turn the comb around and that’s when I saw it.

“Am I seeing things?” I think to myself. “Did I really just see that?” It was like a lighthouse on a dark and stormy night beckoning out. “But this doesn’t make sense” I continue my internal discussion.

What I saw was a bright tiny little fluorescent orange dot.

When I had asked my bee dealer (does that make me a bee junkie?) about marked queens, they told me it was an extra five dollars and the bees may look at it as a genetic defect and not accept her. Since I had already paid for my bees, I told them, “OK, thanks, I’ll just take an unmarked queen.”

When I took Queen Victoria out of the main box, I don’t recall seeing any markings. But I suppose I might not have seen it; although, I looked pretty closely. I additionally, don’t remember seeing any markings when I had released her last Saturday.

But sure enough, there was a marked queen. In actuality it might be a good thing, because I quickly saw the bright spot and I’m not sure I would have been able to find her without it. Actually it probably would have been impossible. I thought to myself, I should take a picture… but I had put my gloves on prior to starting with the bars and I knew full well that I can’t work an iPhone with gloved fingers!

I don’t see any evidence of brood yet. Maybe it’s still early. I started to lower the bar back into the hive when bees start flooding off of the comb. I start to panic now! I don’t want Queen Victoria to come off the comb, so how am I going to get the bar back in? I quickly realize that I was not manipulating the bars correctly. I needed to take out one bar and then use the extra space to work forward.

So now I standing there holding the comb with Queen Victoria. I have to use one hand to hold that bar and comb steady while I remove one of the top bars near the back without any comb so I can slowly move all of the other bars back a bit so I can get Queen Vicky back into the castle. I work slowly, sweat beading down my forehead. “Where is all this sweat coming from?? It’s freakin’ cloudy and mild out !!!” I say to myself.

I manage to get Queen Vicky back into the hive and now begin the process of closing everything back up. As soon as her top bar was back into the hive, the attitude of the hive immediately calmed down. Amazing. I slowly move bars back up toward the front of the hive, moving slowly and with a wave like motion to entice the girls back down into the hive and avoiding crushing any of them.

I get all the bars back in place, replace the cover and replace the roof. Then I take a look at the front of the hive. There are a few girl fanning. Good sign.

There are also girls bringing more pollen in. Another good sign. I note that I am mainly seeing some very bright orange pollen. I wonder where that might be coming from. There aren’t many flowers that look like that color, except for some day lilies; however, I haven’t seen any bees on them. I did note one single honey bee on the Gatinger’s Prairie Clover, but have no idea if it was one of my girls on one of the Ferals. However, there were TONS of Bumbles on it, with comparable colored pollen.

 

So here is my deduction… My Dear Watson…. either the dealer marks all of their queens and only charges the $5 when someone asks for a marked queen (meaning everyone gets ones) or somehow, there was a marked queen in with the package, which wasn’t the one in the cage. I’ve tried calling my bee dealer, but have not yet been able to get in contact with them. I’ll try again tomorrow.

The marking definitely looked bright orange, and in looking and the “professional” marking colors, is not one that is used. Unless this is supposed to be “red”. It’s all a mystery.

I continue to give the girls 1:1 syrup in an open feeder a good ways from the hive. I’ll decide whether I should check for brood next weekend later in the week. Or maybe as long as I am seeing pollen I should give it a few weeks. This is all sooo fascinating!