Saturday, December 26, 2009

rain - can you believe it? (and bees)

Image Copyright David Hawgood. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License.

This crazy thing happened this Christmas. We woke up to RAIN. Gentle soaking rain that has lasted on and off for the past two days. The garden and the plants and the soil are so happy. Everything is moist and lovely.

Everyone is happy except Queen Malina on the front deck. I am not sure what happened but a few hundred bees were clustered below the hive entrance when the rain started and they are now all dead. I know that 50,000 minus a few hundred isn't much to worry about but it looks like a LOT. It is a HUGE STRONG colony but I am pretty sure there is enough room for them all in the hive. They may have been on fanning duty when the cold weather came in - leaving them too cold to move up into the hive.

Anyway I had a peek in there earlier in the week - there is another box ALMOST ready to harvest. Unlike the last box this box has CRAZY comb - the girls have ignored my starter strips and done a cool random thing so I will need to take the whole box rather than a few combs. The girls were calm and lovely when I opened the hive. Not buzzy at all and certainly not cranky. Yay Queen Malina. I am getting better at checking the hive without stirring them up at all. It helps not to have an psychotic killer queen for this though.....

I also checked Queen Aprilia down at the community garden. They have filled an entire full depth super with brood and honey and I am truly humbled and impressed. Just a few short weeks ago they were homeless and had nothing but the honey in their tummies.

They have also made a start on the other box I gave them a few weeks ago. I am trying something different with this hive - adding boxes to the bottom rather than the top, so they can continue to work downwards to establish their own brood areas just the way they like them. Next season when they are established enough to harvest, I should be able to take boxes of honey from the top (in 1 year old comb) and keep adding empty boxes to the bottom - sort of like a bottomless tree hollow. This will be good for honey but perhaps not good for honey comb as the comb would have been used to raise a few generations of bees.

This is based on the idea that given a choice, the bees prefer to raise brood in new comb and to store honey in old comb. This theory falls down a little when I also read that bees build small comb for brood and large comb for honey storage........it may be that when a big nectar flow is on I will need to put boxes on top as well and let them build larger combs as well. So much to learn but luckily I wont have to worry about this untill next spring.

In the meantime I will continue to run Queen Malina in a semi conventional way - leaving her three Manley sized boxes for her brood and honey storage with additional boxes on top during spring/summer/autumn for me! I am using a queen excluder between the third and fourth boxes. I have mixed feelings about these as well....but hopefully three whole boxes is enough for her to feel like there is enough space to do all the things she wants to.

I have been truly inspired by the folks at Backwards Beekeeping. This style of beekeeping feels intuitively right to me. My instincts dislike commercially made foundation, and I hate disturbing the girls any more than necessary and suspect that bees have a deep NEED to make their own comb in spring and that not giving them the space to do this frustrates them on some level and I like the low tech no machinery crush and drain method of honey extraction.

And oh how I LOVE the crazy curves and patterns of their natural comb.

Happy peaceful Christmas to you all.

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