After last week’s failed attempt at an inspection, I was feeling somewhat despondent, despite the fact that the bees appeared to be doing fine. As luck would have it, however, the local beekeeping group had an apiary meeting scheduled for Sunday morning, so I decided I should go along. You usually get cake at these things, so it’s worth going just for that.
This turned out to be a very good move. Not only was the flapjack excellent, but I also had the opportunity to hang out with a dozen other beekeepers and, more importantly, handle bees again. I came away feeling a lot more confident and ready to tackle my own hive.
First things first, however. I needed to put my super together. A super is a half-depth box that sits on top of the main brood box, containing eleven frames full of wax foundation ready for the bees to store their honey in. The frames come in kit form so you have to assemble them yourself. I didn’t take any pictures of the process because it’s very similar to assembling brood frames and I already have a whole load of pictures of that. (Yes, I know I haven’t put those up yet. I’ll do that next time, OK?)
Anyway, armed with my super and the queen excluder that sits between it and the brood box (so as to ensure that the queen doesn’t start laying eggs there), plus my new-found smoker skills, I made my second attempt at an inspection yesterday. I decided to leave my camera behind on this occasion because I wanted to stay completely focussed on the job in hand.
The first thing I noticed was that the grass in the field was now almost covering the hive, so I went and fetched the hand lawn mower and long-handled clippers. The process of cleaning up the area around the hive seemed to upset the bees and – not to put too fine a point on it – they went for me. I hadn’t fully suited up at this point either, so I beat a hasty retreat, but before one of them stung me on my left wrist. Bees 1, Jon 0.
I returned to the task in hand, now fully suited, and finished off clearing away around the hive. Then I got the smoker going, a task that predictably took longer than it did on the first attempt, now that I was actually in the field. Also, lighting matches wearing rubber gloves is surprisingly challenging. However, after a while I succeeded in getting a nice regular supply of smoke, so it was time to go into the hive.
The bees were once again very aggressive. This is actually a good thing, because nice, docile hippy bees tend to be hopelessly laid back about making honey and tend to give it away to anyone from another hive or even a passing gang of wasps if they get the chance. Hard-nosed entrepreneurial capitalist bastard bees, on the other hand, are brilliant honey makers and guard their produce well. (Actually, given the set-up in the hive, it’s probably closer to a North Korean-style personality cult than true capitalism, which only goes to show that you can only extend a metaphor so far before it breaks into a thousand pieces.)
The smoker, however, did at least calm them down sufficiently for me to take a peek inside the hive, even if one of them did manage to find her way under my glove to give me a matching sting on my right wrist. Bees 2, Jon 0. I checked out all the frames, and there was a nice brood pattern: plenty of bees on the way and no queen cells yet. The latter is important, because the potential arrival of another queen is an event that requires management on the part of the beekeeper. If you don’t do anything about this, half your bees can swarm off with the new pretender.
The best thing was that this time I actually managed to get a sight of the queen herself. The chap I’d got the brood from had already marked her with a white dot, so she should have been easy enough to spot, although I’d completely failed to find her last autumn. I think I was able to see her this time because I was feeling a lot more relaxed, stings or no stings.
As I looked through all the frames, I removed all the sticky wax gunk that was protruding from the top, which I’m assuming was there because there hadn’t been a super on yet, and dropped it down into the hive to be re-used – bees are excellent recyclers. I put the queen excluder on, then the super, then the crown board and finally the lid. Job done.
Next time, I’ll take some pictures.