Friday, June 4, 2010

my amazonian bees

My hands smell like beehives. Aside from a baby head, this is the greatest smell in the world to me.

We just got back from visiting our bees, who badly needed feeding, as it hasn't stopped raining here in WEEKS now, and bees won't fly in the rain. I was going to put feeder bags full of honey on the hives so they'd have some supplement to their nectar flow.

Rain makes for some tall grass, because when I got there, it looked like this:

Where are the hives? All I see is this tall grass! I got in closer and discovered that the hives were still there. I was immediately drawn to what we've been calling the weaker hive: there were bees flying in and out so much, it was like grand central at the entrance - some of them FULL of glowing yellow pollen. And understandably, there hasn't been a ray of sunshine in weeks, those girls must be starving in there! Fly, girls, fly!

I cleared away some of the tall grass nearest the hive and about four feet out. That took awhile, and then I finally had time to turn my attention to the "strong" hive, and I noticed that nothing was happening there. Nothing. No bees going in and out, no noise, just silence. Silence is not a good sign in a beehive, unless it's dusk. and even then, you'll hear humming inside. Not good. I opened up the hive and saw this:

Click for a larger view.

Bees with their heads pushed into the cells of the comb: starvation. My first thought was that I ought to have fed them so much sooner in this rain. But upon closer inspection and taking apart of the hive, I discovered this:

That's the queen cage. You can't see it, but there's a dead queen inside. Trapped, with no way to get out. The queen was never let out of the cage. That hive had no chance. New hive, new bees, no queen, no brood, and comb to build. No chance. I cannot even express my disappointment. They'd built some beautiful comb, but they were dead awhile ago. I remembered my husband asking me why the "big" hive was so quiet last time we'd been. It was dreary and cold and rainy - we just figured they were huddling inside for warmth. I had no idea - they were supposed to be the "strong" hive!

Upon inspection, I realized that the other hive was FULL - because when I went to place the feeder on the top bars of the hive, bees were literally pouring out of the top - the top! Last time we'd checked, the bees had barely built a box of comb on the bottom, and we were meant to come back and switch the boxes so they'd be building down. And here they were, two boxes brimming over with bees. I honestly didn't get a chance to properly check the box for comb, but based on the sheer number of bees pouring out, I'd say they're good.

So we took the clean empty bottom box from the dead hive and placed it at the bottom of the live hive to give them more room to build and store honey. And it was then that I noticed just how LARGE some of the bees were - I mean almost bumblebee-sized, these giants. Where did these HUGE bees come from? They were ginormous, on the bee scale. Can you see the size difference in this photo?

How about this one?

I didn't have anything for scale, but trust me, they were LARGE.Note the smaller bee on the bottom in the center there? That's the regular size of the bees - first generation, I guess.  I'm wondering if this is the new generation of bees, and if I ought to be worried. I've read that smaller bees = no mites, so I'm a bit concerned about these amazon bees I've got. But I will say they are BEAUTIFUL. I was so smitten with them! I heart my girls. I talk to them when I'm there, tell them what I'm doing, call them my girls. I love them. Today Kiernen and I went in just our bee veils and they didn't so much as land on me the first time we went. When we came back in our beesuits, thinking the bigger work might require them because we were adding boxes and opening the hive, we were mistaken. They did land on me, but more to just check me out - I'd swear it.

Little girl bee saying, "Oh, hi, what are you doing here?"

I love that they do that. Then they sent out one of the larger ones when I really did get too close to their flight path - but she just buzzed me to let me know to move - which I did, and apologized, too. (In my defense, we were pulling some of the tall grass from in front of the hive - directly in front - so they'd have a clearer area). I love my little girls - they are so very beautiful and perfect and gorgeous, especially when they're all fuzzy and full of pollen. And I love how they guard their entrance - maybe those larger girls were the bouncers.

So now their hive is a little taller and looks like this:

And it is the lone hive standing. However, Hubby and I talked, and he is keen to build more boxes, and for me to put our names on the swarm list. What does that mean, you ask? It means that when a swarm comes along, (and it will if it ever gets to be summer around here again) we get to go and catch it - and take it home with us! So basically, free bees, plus we get the experience of catching them, too. We just need to make a bait box, make some more hive boxes, and get on that list.

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