Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Making Baby bees

Join your local Beekeepers' Association. Not only do you get to spend time with people similarly obsessed, but you learn a lot from more experienced beekeepers. I went to the Central Virginia Beekeepers' Assn meeting the other night and learned that in a new hive like I have, sometimes the earnest little darlings can be too quick to store up food and can box in the queen with stored sugar syrup and pollen. And the queen needs her elbow room.

Actually she needs room for the nursery. Her job is to lay eggs - up to 1,000 per day - to populate the hive with workers. Bees live about 6 weeks in the spring and summer (longer in winter when they are dormant). So we need new bees to replenish the ranks of my recently hived bees fast.

One of my hives, Queen Elizabeth's, somehow got most of the bees from the two packages I installed. Her royal neighbor, Kathryn the Great, is not doing so great. Fewer bees, less comb drawn out, and less action overall. But Elizabeth's bees went to town that first week, filled in their frames with new wax comb and packed it with syrup and pollen. This was lovely but crowded; I added a second story because I felt it looked to packed in there and lo I was instinctively correct! My more experienced beekeeping friends said too much sugar saved and too little comb means not enough baby bees.

But I am worried about Kathryn hive - I emailed my beekeeping mentor who is experienced and amazingly generous with her time - and asked her to come look. I offered to feed her or ply her wine but she is so gracious she ignored that part of the invitation. We'll see what she recommends.

Meanwhile I continue to feed the girls sugar syrup until the main nectar flow starts which should be in a couple weeks. Watching them come in laden with brilliant pollen and seeing it all laid out like a mosaic in the combs is a lovely thing.