written by Tom
So I finally got my new Dickie's coveralls this week. It's a bee suit to end all bee suits. A total of 10 pockets! As soon as it arrived I put Yvonne to work, tricking it out. One of the many details she added was a cartoon bee embroidered on the front.
Yvonne's sewing prowess really came in handy. She sewed Velcro strips to the ends of the sleeves just on the off-chance that one day I might be ready and willing to work the hive without gloves. I don't want those winged girls crawling up my sleeves, so Yvonne's Velcro fasteners will work beautifully. I had those sleeves so tight I think I was cutting off circulation. My bee manuals say I should work without gloves. In fact, they plead with me to go gloveless. Should I just leave those gloves behind and give it a try? Should I? Seems like the first time would be a perfect opportunity to put to the test everything I've heard from the bee mentors in the Mecklenburg County Beekeepers Association.
Another detail Yvonne added was an additional snap button near the top. It's high enough so that the coveralls' collar will be under the veil when I put it on.
And last but not least, the boot bands. Yvonne is going to take these suckers apart and permanently sew them to the legs of the bee suit.
First order of business: lighting that smoker. My brother, Tim, lent me his old and trusty smoker. I do not want to give it back. Tim, you'll have to come and get it if you want it back, buddy. :)
And now using the hive tool to get that burlap roll going for some cool smoke.
Lots of bellows puffs got the smoke where it needed to be.
With my smoke ready, it was time to veil up.
I'm using our handy new garden wagon to cart all of my tools and supplies to the hive. It's perfect. Approaching the hive gloveless for the first time was scary and awesome all at the same time.
After a puff or two, I remove the outer cover and this is what I saw - my first glimpse one week after bringing my nucleus colony (nuc) home. A good amount of bees clustered together is a good sign.
Libby Mack, from whom I bought the nuc, and Wayne Hansen screwed down the screened inner cover so that transport from the nuc yard to our home would be uneventful. So now it was time to gently remove those screws.
I hope, I hope, I hope these Russian girls don't come after my hands!
The moment of truth.
I was delighted at what I saw when I removed an empty frame. Comb was being drawn out, but a lot of work was left to be done. These girls were busy.
And here is a gorgeous nuc frame of drawn comb. Some bees were busy drawing comb out and there's even some capped honey (the whiteish looking area around the top and outer edges). Yes, they were in fine shape. You can see through the foundation in this shot and see how far they've managed to draw comb out on the other side of this frame.
Here's a closeup of my girls at work, capping honey, and turning nectar into honey. Note the 5 black stripes on their abdomen. The more common Italian bee has 3 stripes, I've noticed.
Ahhhh, yeah, a really full frame. So far, these girls are not interested in my hands, or me.
Inspecting the frames with a gentle touch was all that was required. Yvonne was taking these photos from about 25 feet away (nice telephoto lens on that camera!) I was so excited I started yelling out to Yvonne "I SEE CAPPED HONEY. SOME BROOD ALSO IN THIS FRAME. COMB HAS BEEN DRAWN OUT!" At that point Yvonne suggested that maybe I should whisper out my report so I don't disturb these busy bees. I couldn't help it and yelled "I ALSO SEE THE QUEEN. AND SHE'S BEEN MARKED, SO SHE'S EASY TO SPOT." The queen bee is the one with the white dot on her thorax. She's at the top near the capped honey.
Another brood- and bee-filled frame with drawn comb.
The nuc frames were about half drawn out with comb, so there's still a lot of work and room for them to do it. So far the girls haven't touched my frames. I installed Duracomb foundation, which is a plastic foundation heavily coated with wax. A week had passed since installation. Fortunately there were some bees crawling on the empty frames, but not a whole lot. To sweeten the deal I sprayed all of my frames with some thin simple syrup to encourage them to set up shop on these frames too. Now I'll just have to wait before I look again and see if my ploy worked. I also removed one of the 10 frames, deciding a 9-frame hive is the way to go. I've had enough longtime beekeepers tell me they use 9 instead of 10, so they can draw the comb out a bit deeper on each frame. I suspect this will make for a healthier hive. We'll see.
There were some strange dark, orange-brown dots on the front of the brood box, about 8 of them. It has been an extremely unseasonal wet and cold week. I was afraid my bees were succumbing to the elements and hadn't found the local food sources. I was worried that what I saw was fecal staining, an indication of nosema. Fortunately the dots were just a few, and in the days since this inspection have not grown. Just to be safe, I made a patty for them of fresh pollen from the North Carolina mountains, some pollen substitute and some local raw honey, on wax paper. (Yvonne said it looked like vomit). It was also an opportunity for me to use the Imrie shim I'd bought a few months ago, just in case I needed to do this very thing. In this shot you can see that in one week they drained the second quart of syrup (the jar on the front).
All done, brick back on top. Not a single sting!! I could not believe how calm and wonderful these Russian bees were. Amazingly gentle. I even moved one out of the way by gently nudging her with my pinky, and she scurried along.
No gloves, see? I was pretty proud that my moment of truth had worked in my favor, and to see that the girls were drawing out comb, capping honey, had lots of nectar, and some frames with a beautiful, healthy brood pattern. Bee keeping is cool!