First Inspection – May 18, 2013 @ 9AM
Throughout their first week, we watched the bees regularly. They seemed happily busy doing their bee thing. New colonies can make extraordinary progress in an extraordinarily short amount of time. Rule of thumb for new beekeepers is to check on bee activity at least every 3 days. I’m not sure if that means dig into the hive and inspect the frames, but by the time Friday came around, it was time to dig.
The trick with inspecting frames is knowing what you’re looking for and what you’re looking at. I think I do, until I get in there and realize I haven’t a clue. I did see lots of thick new empty comb on the new frames – a good sign that the hives were growing. The center frames had good capping but were very dark, and many contained very large bumpy capped cells. Normal worker bee cells are small and flat. I knew drone (male bee) cells were larger, but I didn’t know how much larger, and the cells I saw looked freaky to me.
I immediately started overthinking. The frames were thick and the bees were crowded. Often when they get overcrowded – usually in the spring when nectar is most plentiful and hive growth is most rapid – the workers will create queen cells to replace the existing queen, should she decide to swarm. Not a good sign, and certainly not something you want to happen within two weeks of the bees’ arrival.
Swarming means the queen flies the coup – or in this case, the hive – taking with her half of the colony and leaving the other half queenless. Swarms usually rest on a nearby tree limb while the scouts fly out to find a new home where the swarm can relocate. Ironically, the mention of bee swarms evokes images of terror in lots of people. But bees in a swarm are much more docile than bees in a hive. That’s because they don’t have a home to protect, so they aren’t in “attack” mode.
Beekeepers love swarms because they’re free bees. So much so, they’ll risk climbing a 40 foot tree on an extension ladder with no gear and only a cardboard box in hand just to capture a swarm. Then they can brag about it and post pictures on Facebook :o) Simply shake the branch and, ideally, the bees will fall right into the box…if the bees cooperate. As long as the queen is captured and transferred to the hive, her troops will march right into the hive with her. Swarms often generate very active and productive hives.
The Call for Help
My bees just arrived! I didn’t want them to think about leaving their hives so soon. I researched, looked at lots of pictures of queen cells, and I called my supplier. He said it was highly unlikely that they’d be making queen cells this early, but he did pack them in tight. “On the next warm sunny day,” he instructed, “go back into the hive and if you see a queen cell, use your hive tool to scrape it off the frame and destroy it.”
Second Inspection – May 20, 2013 @ 7PM
I reentered the hive on a sunny Monday evening with my hive tool in hand and the hubster coaching me from the sidelines. The weather was in the low to mid-80’s and the bees weren’t terribly active. I reinspected the frames and realized the cells I thought were queens were actually drones. They looked like round clusters of puffed cereal poking out over top of the cells. Queen cells are much larger, about an inch long and look like peanuts. Now I know!
We also noticed that the comb in the center frame was much darker than the new comb on the outsides. Seems that comb darkens with age and use, so dark comb isn’t bad comb, it’s just well-used comb. Eventually, frames should be replaced – some beekeepers say to replace them every 5 years as they can turn downright black.
Don’t Tell the Bees
This is all good news – my knowledgebase is expanding, and with every new interaction comes a flood of new questions and greater realization of how much i have yet to learn…but let’s not tell that to the bees…