8 July 2016
Stephen (Steve) Trink has installed beehives at SpruceHaven and when he invited me to suit up and observe the art of beekeeping I jumped at the chance.
It was something I had never done before and I welcomed the opportunity to learn about the production of the delicious honey we all enjoy so much. Emma Trink, Steve's daughter whom you met in a previous post about the Barn Swallow colony, was anxious to help her dad and donned her own protective suit.
Here are the three musketeers of the beehives, ready to begin work.
I was entrusted with the smoker; smoke is used to pacify the bees a little, permitting the inspection of the hives to proceed without danger.
We commenced our inspection by examining this frame, fully drawn out with wax by the bees and filled with newly-collected nectar.
Steve was a model instructor as he explained in complete detail the various components of the hive and the condition represented on each frame we examined. The one below is moderately populated with bees from a hive box which is currently home to about 30,000 bees. Frames such as this one are ready to fill with nectar and pollen which will be the food source for developing bees after they have hatched.
This entrance feeder contains honey from another hive to provide a much needed boost for this newly established hive. It takes about 453 grams of honey consumed by bees to produce 28 grams of wax. Wax is the most valuable product of the bees in this sense and is used to produce hexagonal cells wherein they store pollen, nectar, honey and the developing brood.
I was so engrossed in the whole operation and in following Steve's discourse, I forgot to keep pumping the bellows on the smoker and I let the fire go out. It was quickly reignited with a few wood chips from around the hive and I became a more conscientious pumper after that!
While dad was getting the smoker primed Emma decided to ham it up for the camera.
The brood box below is ready for another box to be added on top; this will provide more room for the growing hive to expand.
This frame has 90% of its wax foundation drawn out by the bees. We were looking for the queen but unfortunately it started to rain and we were unsuccessful in locating her.
You will see the glistening nectar in the upper right corner of this frame. Once the water has evaporated the bees will cap the cells with wax.
We can see capped brood cells in this frame. Nurse bees attend to the brood chamber and their duties include temperature regulation and feeding larvae. Also visible is the capped honey in the upper right corner. Newly hatched bees clean out their cells before starting other duties in the hive. The timeline of their activities corresponds with their development; for example, as a bee develops the ability to produce wax it participates in building wax comb.
Having learned my lesson with the smoker I made sure that I did not let it go out again and applied smoke to calm the bees whenever it was necessary.
Emma was right there to remind me if I didn't pump quite vigorously or frequently enough.
In this image we see the frame from the bottom edge. Many bees can be seen busily building out right to the very bottom; larger (drone) males can be seen at the bottom right-centre of the frame.
The queen alone lays all the eggs in the hive. She mates with several drones on her virgin flight and lays thousands of eggs each day. In fact, she lays more than her own body weight in eggs every day of her life, two to three years on average. Towards the end of her life her egg output diminishes and this does not go unnoticed by the other bees. They take steps to replace her in a process known as supersedure.
The rain was becoming more intense and we had no choice but to close the boxes for the night.
The view looking toward St. Agatha told the story.
It was a fascinating experience and I wish again to thank Steve for facilitating it, and to Miriam who fearlessly handled the camera in close proximity to the bees without any protective equipment and without hesitation.
Emma was her normal ebullient, charming self and certainly contributed to the success of the whole evening.