Friday, April 20, 2012

Brooklyn Grange Beekeeping Apprenticeship: Week 2

Saturdays have become my favorite day of the week and not just because of the weather. While others are lazily lounging in the park working on their tans, I can instead be found covered up in white with the apprenticeship program. Certainly, there could be few better places to spend these wonderful weekend afternoons than on the Brooklyn Grange’s rooftop farm in Long Island City. Just above a bustling street, it’s quite a treat to hear long grasses rustle in the wind and the bees buzz.

Brooklyn Grange (in Queens) and a line of beekeeping apprentices.

This week the Brooklyn Grange Bees apprentices learned hive inspection skills at the Long Island City farm. We started off taking apart an abandoned hive whose colony didn’t survive the winter. Prying the supers apart and cleaning off propolis proved a good way to break in our brand-new hive tools and practice proper handling technique. It was also an exciting opportunity to learn about the behavior of bees during the winter. Opening the hive frame by frame felt almost like a criminal investigation—was there evidence of any foul play, perhaps by varroa mites? What about adequate food supplies? Examining the comb closely, we could see dead bees that had crawled into the comb to help with heating. It seems the colony was too small to create enough heat to survive the winter.

On a lighter note, we found several frames of untouched honey, which were quickly turned into a snack for the volunteers at the Grange. Spring and fall varieties were stored right next to each other, allowing us to perform a taste test and basically gorge ourselves on the sweetness of the fresh honey. After breaking for water and to clean our very sticky hands, we headed to the other side of the roof for the first hive inspections!

Brood frame on left, honeycomb on right.

Working on overwintered hives was a drastic change from working with the packages a week before. These were bees with an established home that they were willing and able to protect. Keeping the smoker burning and distracting the bees was essential. The bees were right to be wary of us coming in as opening the first hive caused the comb the bees had built between the super and the inner cover to rip off and tear apart rows of drone brood. While sad, it was an incredible opportunity to take a look at the different phases of larval development. Thankfully there was also plenty more brood inside the supers. Passing around the frames, we could see the larvae chewing their way out of the comb, emerging, and descending right back in to clean our their cells. It might sound bizarre, but it was actually a beautiful sight. I’m continually amazed by the efficiency of the bees, of their ability to function from the moment of their birth to their last flight out of the hive as a cohesive and prosperous unit.

Cleaned out drone brood.  Purple-eyed pupae on top, late stage and cocooning larvae on the bottom.

Prosperous might be a bit of an overstatement actually. These bees are booming. Opening the second hive we found several supersedure cells. As we located the queen in another frame, very much alive and laying eggs, this could only mean the hive had outgrown its frames and is getting ready to swarm. Thankfully we had available frames from the abandoned hive (expertly cleaned by our very hands earlier that day) that were swapped in. Hopefully, we were in time to avoid the swarm, but only future checks will tell.

Capped brood in the middle, larvae and eggs around it, surrounded by pollen and corners of honey.
Practically perfect in every way.

I’m not sure whether we’ll be back to see these hives as next week we return to the Brooklyn Navy Yards to continue building the apiary, which I’m happy to report is now completely funded! (Many thanks to everyone who contributed!) But the visit was impactful for more than the hours logged. It’s easy to forget the life cycle of the bee when the population turns over so quickly and a frame of brood is replaced with another and then another and then another. The chance to see the various hives, both dead and alive, was a wonderful gift and reminder of the mortality of the bee.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know you were taking care of bees. They are an amazing species and we need to protect them whenever possible. Without them, we humans will suffer since they do pollinate fruits and vegetables as well as beautiful flowers. Hooray for you and Danielle