What I Learned Today: Honey Bee Hive Maintenance

At the very end of June, Randy Krahn, from Randee’s Bees, dropped by to prepare a small square of the back field for a pair of bee hives. A few days later, they were delivered!

First a tarp, then some wood chips, then cement blocks…
The first two boxes of the new hives.

Some of the boxes are prettily painted – Randy holds Bee Box Painting Parties every year for kids and kids-at-heart to decorate bee boxes. You can see them piled up behind his store, the Consecon Honey House, just waiting to be delivered to a welcoming field. That’s where we met Randy last summer, and offered to host some of his hives. They were late in arriving this year, thanks to a very wet and cool spring and some travel difficulties for the queen bees, but when they were placed, the queen and her minions lost no time in foraging and expanding. After just a couple days Randy added a third box to the hives.

This is the ‘front porch’ of the hive; it always seems to be a popular meeting place!

Randy came back yesterday and was impressed with the honey production. He explained that between the second and third box there’s a grill with spaces too small for the queen bee to pass through, so the honey was basically being stored in the top box. He let me hold one of the frames from that box – it was light; not much honey yet. Then he let me hold one of the frames from the centre – it was really, really heavy. It was also covered in bees! I was amazed that he and I were holding these frames, covered in bees, with bare arms and hands — as Randy said, the bees didn’t care about us at all! He did don his helmet and netting to protect his face!

The metal ‘queen excluder’ is on its side; Randy is holding a frame from the second box. It has a mixture of honey cells and egg/larvae cells in it.
That’s a lot of bees! The knobby thing at the top is NOT a good sign!

Randy said each hive has about 50,000 bees!!! When he pulled out a few frames from the middle box he noticed several nubby extrusions — he said these were queen bees in the making. NOT a good sign, since that might indicate a crowded hive, and with a new queen comes a swarming – when the majority of worker bees with a good work ethic follow the old queen to find a new hive. That leaves the new queen’s work force severely depleted, putting honey production in the hive a few weeks behind schedule.

Oh Well. That’s nature!

Here’s a frame with honey cells along the outside and egg cells in the middle.

Before he left, Randy added a fourth box to each hive. The funny thing is, when he was there, and we were both handling the frames and standing RIGHT NEXT to the hives, the bees were so calm and cool. Mind you, Randy did use a smoker – he squirted a single jet of smoke near the hive entrance before he opened it. But still! Bare arms next to 100,000 bees! Later in the afternoon I paid the hives another visit and OMG you could hear them from 100 metres away. The bees sounded very, very…busy. Hopefully not angry. Hopefully not preparing to swarm… I backed away. Slowly…

Four stories high!

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