The bees are kicking it into top gear. Late last week we took advantage of the sudden good weather to do an impromptu inspection. It was very nice not to have to hold an umbrella over the hive the whole time.
The first thing we noticed was that a good third of the syrup was missing – you can see a few droplets here on the inner cover, but most of it has gone into the bees and been converted into much needed energy. This means the bees have been munching away and working hard to draw their wax frames out into livable comb.
When we lifted the inner cover, we found the bees more or less clustered around the middle few frames. Eventually they’ll work their way out into all ten and will have to be given a second box to make way for expansion. For the time being, though, population is low and momentum is going to take a while to build.
We gave them a half and half mix of new frames (like the one being lifted here) and old frames. The old frames were drawn out into cells by bees of the past, while the new frames hold virtually flat sheets of wax that these bees will have to draw out themselves.
Here’s a nice bundle of bees on a new frame. What they’re doing is building up on the hexagonal imprint on the wax foundation we gave them to create a wall of cells in the classic honeycomb shape. Where do they get the wax? From nowhere pretty. The workers eat honey (or for many of them right now, sugar water) to give themselves energy. They then exude tiny bits of wax through glands in their sides. They (or maybe some close friends) scoop up these little bits in their mouths and chew them to warm them up to malleability. Then they spit it out and work it into the existing wax, expanding the honeycomb by a little more.
This process is repeated countless times by countless bees to make a perfect, highly uniform pattern.
Up close you can see how the honeycomb is starting to take on a 3-D shape. The cells have gotten deep enough that some bee has decided to store a single serving of pollen. Are these bees with their heads in the cells working to build them out more or bringing in more pollen? I’m not sure.
The old frames have a completely different look to them. For one thing, the wax has turned a dark yellow to brown from the countless bee feet that have passed over it. For another thing, the cells are already at full size, so the bees on these frames can focus on storage instead of wax making.
Even so, they’ve been making some wax. The chunk in the top middle is a hunk of burr comb, which the bees make to fill in spaces they deem too open. What are these bees up to? The ones with their heads in the cells are most likely depositing pollen or honey for storage. The others could be doing any number of jobs. Maybe they’re talking about the hottest new nectar source.
As usual, one of the main goals of this inspection was to find the queen and make sure she was alive and happy. When we picked up our third or fourth frame the bees got much more agitated, and sure enough it was because we’d exposed the queen. I took this picture that looks like it would have been fantastic if I’d managed to focus the camera. Just look at that sunlight seeping through! The queen, though fuzzy, is the large, light yellow bee in the center with the white dot on her back.
Try squinting – it looks almost passable.
Since everyone was so upset about about us bothering their queen, we decided to leave them alone after this. We didn’t see eggs, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. And even if they’re not, that may just mean the queen has yet to go on her mating flight. She’s had some bad weather keeping her indoors.
But now the sun’s out and spring and love are in the air, so she should be able to go out and find a dozen nice gents to kill as she sucks their semen into her body where it will be stored for several years.
Isn’t nature beautiful?
I’ve also published this on my personal blog. Pop on over if you want to see stories about soap, mead, and my ramshackle little container garden.