Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Brooklyn Grange Beekeeping Apprenticeship: Week 3

“Tell me what you see.”

The answer is bees.  Always with the bees.  (And butts.)
c2012, Shelly Fank

This week there was a lot I could respond with.

On Friday, a few apprentices returned to the Brooklyn Navy yards to check on our packages. The good news: two packages are going strong. They’re drawing comb, laying brood, and bringing home pollen. It seems they are enjoying the beautiful spring weather just as much as we are. The bad news: three packages aren’t doing so well. In the first hive we opened, the queen was dead, quickly validated by Tim recovering her body (Super bee observation skills at work!). The bees had tentatively drawn out a few frames of comb that glistened with nectar, but there was not an egg to be found. The other two hives had queens, but the brood was spottily laid, with some cells empty and others containing more than one egg. These three hives are going to need new queens, either through their own raising or through our help.

Never hold frames horizontally.  If it's hot, the wax can buckle and break.

Keep them vertically oriented, as they are in the hive, to maintain structural integrity.

Lovely new package brood.

Even dead and desiccated, queens are significantly larger than workers.

On Saturday, we learned just the skills to do that. Back at the Brooklyn Grange’s farm in Long Island City, we returned to the two overwintered hives to prepare a walk-away split. As I mentioned last week, the overwintered hives have been growing so rapidly that they are exhibiting signs of swarm preparation: the comb we’d scrapped off last week was built right back and there were several queen cups, sometimes more than one per frame, now full of royal jelly and supporting a queen larva.

To make the split, we prepped a super with some frames of honey, taken from the dead hive we cleaned last week. We then inspected the functioning hives frame by frame. Tim patiently answered all our questions (topics ranged from the genetics of drones from overwintered hives to the taste of royal jelly) and we spent a lot of time passing around frames, learning to spot queens and read the comb.

One instructor, 9 apprentices, and a camera strap.

After finding four or five frames full of capped brood and queen cups, taken from both of the overwintered hives, we had a full super. Before covering it, we shook a few more frames of bees into the box. These bees, regardless of their former task in their old hives, would now be responsible for managing of the tasks for the new one. Most will be nursing the new queens and brood into adulthood, the most crucial task for the survival of the split. The others will take care of the other chores, like foraging and cleaning. It’s amazing to think that in the course of a half an hour we radically changed their lives, forcing them to adapt quickly to a new reality.

Shaking bees like a Polaroid picture.  Or just once.  Yeah, just do it once.

Kamikaze bee is after the camera.

But that’s exactly what we did. The super was closed up and carried in a long procession of apprentices to the other side of the roof, where it will stay closed for a few weeks as the bees raise their new queen.

Next week: Back to the Navy Yards? A return to the Brooklyn Grange? The answer is a mystery to me as well. But one thing is sure, there’s going to be bees. A lot of bees.

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