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Thursday, September 25, 2014

The "Hal's Hives: Part II - Visiting The Hive" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Bright sunny day with high humidity.  Whispy clouds dot the sky as I walk towards Hal's bee hives.  I try to be careful not to tramp on any honey bees that may be feeding on the clover flowers that are throughout Hal's yard.  I'm dressed in a long-sleeved white shirt, long khaki pants, white socks and sneakers with a tan hat on my head.  Oh yeah, I'm wearing my glasses because Hal told me that if the bees believe I might be a bear, they probably would go after my eyes.  Why am I doing this?  So I can watch Hal open one of his two hives that he has situated on the south side of his property.  He began his beekeeping hobby this year by building his own bee hives and added a colony of 5,000 to 6,000 bees to each of his hives in May.  I guess I should give you a few facts that may help you understand bees and beekeeping.  

  • The bees are not aggressive, but will fight back and sting if they or the hive is threatened.
  • Bees can travel about 1 1/2 to 2 miles from the hive to find food.
  • Bees live for approximately 6 weeks with the queen bee living between 2-3 years.  
  • Bees collect both honey and pollen.  They need both to survive.  The honey is their carbohydrate and the pollen is their protein.
  • During the warmest part of the day about 2/3 of the colony is at the hive.  The rest are out foraging for food.
  • During the last two weeks of a bee's life, they are primarily foraging all the time.
  • There are different categories of bees such as:
          Queen Bee - much larger than all other bees and the only female with fully developed ovaries.  Her purpose in the colony is to produce eggs and to produce a chemical scent that regulates the unity of the colony.  She can lay eggs in the "brood" frames at the rate of about 1,500 a day, more than her body weight. The eggs turn into larvae which are then covered with a wax film by the worker bees and hatches in 16 days.
          Guard bees who guard the entrance to the hive to keep out unwanted guests.
          Queen attendants who make sure the queen is well-fed and groomed.
          Drones are the male bees in the colony.  They are about 10% of the total colony.  Their primary purpose is to procreate.  Bee mating occurs outside of the hive in mid-flight about 200 to 300 feet in the air.  The drone has extremely large eyes for spotting virgin queens.  As soon as they mate the drone dies.  Drones are tolerated in a colony only because they may be needed to mate with a new virgin bee to keep the colony alive. When the air temperature lowers the drones are eliminated from the colony so they don't consume any of the stored food in the hive.  
          Foragers who leave the hive and search for honey and pollen during the last 2 weeks of their 6 week life.
          Transporter bees who take honey from the foragers to the upper layers of the hive.

A few minutes ago I got to see all the parts of the hive and now I am prepared to watch as Hal opens the hive.  Again, I will give you a visual journey through the process of opening the hive to the inspection of the parts of the super and eventually closing the hive.  I found it fascinating and wasn't threatened by the thousands of bees that call Hal's hive home.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

These are the two bee hives that Hal has constructed and has active colonies working.  The "brood" is living in the hive and I am going to get a chance to see inside them. Click on any photo to enlarge it.
Hal is "smoking" this hive which will cause all the bees to enter the hive and begin to eat the honey that has been saved.  The bees fear that the hive will be destroyed and will need the honey to start a new hive at another location.
This is the Bottom Board of the hive.  This is where the bees enter and exit the hive.  Hal can control the size of the opening depending upon how many bees may be in residence at any one time.  The bees that can be seen here are more than likely the guard bees who are keeping watch to make sure unwanted bees do not enter.  How they know who should and shouldn't enter is a mystery to me, but that doesn't matter as long as they know.
Now, if you have been paying attention, you will see that I have now switched to the yellow hive for the rest of my photos.  I didn't have any photos of Hal smoking the yellow hive, so I had to use other photos for you to see how it is done.  Do the bees know color?  You bet they do.  The guard bees will make sure only those living in the yellow hive will enter this one pictured.  Here Hal has removed the top or Outer cover. 
Next he removes the layer that ventilates the hive.  Bees can't leave the hive through this layer but must go back to the bottom to exit the hive.  Shown on the top of the hive is the top feeder.  Since there are very few flowers in bloom when I visited Hal, he had a feeder in place to help the bees feed so they could produce the honey needed for survival.
Hal is removing the Top Feeder.  It sticks together because of all the wax and "Burr" that is created by the bees.  A "hive" tool is needed for this procedure so you don't damage the hive.
Opening and exposing the super.  There are eight comb frames in place in this super.
One of the frames is displayed.  Notice that the entire frame resembles a honey comb. In this frame the bees have started to fill the small six-sided openings with honey, brood (eggs) or pollen.  
The Queen bee that Hal purchased was marked by the seller with a pen in green.  She is larger than the rest, but the green dot makes it easier for Hal to find her and make sure she isn't harmed when he opened the hive.
The combs that are light yellow capped with a thin layer of waxr are the brood.  They will eventually hatch and become a bee. 
Hal checking one of the comb frames. 
Here Hal is scrapping some of the "burr comb" from the frame.  The bees have added it since there was too much space between the frame and the side or top of the hive.
Here you can see what actually takes place in the hive.  On the top right the combs are filled with honey which can be identified by the wavy lines on top of it.  The darker colored combs are ready for honey from the foragers.  The lighter yellow covered combs on the left are young bees waiting to be born.  The combs with the brighter yellow in them are filled with pollen.  If you click on the photo and enlarge it you will be able to see some white grubs at the bottom of some of the combs.  These are the larvae that have developed from the eggs.
If you look carefully at the bottom of the photo, about one third from the left, you will see the head of a bee pushing through.  It is about to be born!
Hal is mixing food for the bees.  A 1:1 mixture of water and sugar.
The mixture is poured into feeding bottles and placed at the entrance to the hive.

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