Monday, October 15, 2012

Fall in the bee yard

Last night was one of my very least favorite activities I have to do as a beekeeper. M and I combined our two weak hives. It is hard, ugly work.

Here is how it goes. First you have to knock down the two hives so they are using as little space as possible. In this case, both hives lost honey supers and that was it. One hive was only using a single brood box. No way they could possibly have enough bees to make it through the winter.

So was it that cute little single-box hive that had to be moved? Oh noo. It was the bigger two box hive that moved.  Moving it was eye opening and in no small measure, scary. First it is dark out. Then we are ticking off a few thousand venomous stinging insects.

The hive that was a swarm was really light. They have not stored nearly enough honey for the winter. Their honey super (where people honey lives) was empty.

Then comes the actual combining of hives,  and it is just as it sounds. We put one hive on top of the other - in the dark so they can reorient and find their new home in the light. A single sheet of newspaper goes between them to slow down the introduction of bees. We used the obituaries. Turns out that is the only sheet of newsprint we could find that was all black and white. And since one queen would be dying, it seemed fitting to our sadness.

This is the second time I've had to combine hives and in so many ways this was easier. The temperature last night was steady which helped the bees to fly home and not get stuck on us. Second, we had an idea of what we were going to do. Finally, we had done the prep work well. Like so many things in life, good preparation really helps hard jobs go more smoothly.

Not entirely surprisingly, we both got stung. What was surprising was that it was only once each. We headed back to the house after the event and found that M had brought in a dozen bees stuck in the folds of his gear. I had one caught in my veil.  There were some very exciting (read scary) moments dealing with these newly warmed up bees, but they were all taken care of quickly. It is a real challenge to find good gear for such a tall man.

Checking on the hive this morning, it was clear that something was going on. The lower colony has many bees on the outside. Not surprising given the nice weather and that they lost about a third of their space. In a few days the paper will be gone and they will have many new sisters and plenty more space.

And our beeyard will be down to two hives again.

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