Our Second Inspection – After a Nerve-racking Week!

Jo and I are brand new parents, so we’re kinda obsessed with our girls!

We uploaded a video to our new YouTube channel. The video shows three diligent worker bees in triangle formation on the landing deck of the House of Hanover fanning the entrance of the hive to maintain circulation on what was a ~90°F (~30°C) humid day here in Maryland. Their wings are beating too fast even if you play the video in slow motion, but I hope you enjoy watching it and see the other workers playing their part in keeping the hive healthy and productive.

Talking about keeping hives healthy and productive, we had a potentially disastrous situation at the House of Tudor earlier this week when robber bees – smaller, blacker, less furry feral bees no less – started to get past the guard bees and into the hive. The guard bees were on red alert, intercepting every possible intruder and often fighting to the death. We found this incredibly upsetting to say the least, as our girls willing gave their lives to protect the hive and its hard-earned resources. We began diligently researching what we could do to help and constructed a robber screen.

Our newly fashioned robber screen in position on the front of the House of Tudor.

The premise of the robber screen is to confuse the robber bees who seek out the hive based on sight rather than the smell of the pheromones of the colony. The colony residents eventually find their way up the screen and into a hole in the top of wooden frame, whereas the robber bees just keep hitting themselves on the front of the screen, become frustrated, but rarely find the top hole. Instead, they can be seen skittishly flying around the hive looking for alternate ways in and eventually fly away in defeat.

The screen has been on for almost a week now and the crisis is averted and the front of the hive now looks calm, with far fewer (if any) bees hanging out on the screen itself. Our inspection today necessitated by the robbing incident, as we needed to assess whether there was any damage. We are overjoyed to report that we couldn’t see any negative impact from those nasty feral thieves.

The inspection itself went wonderfully, though we are still apparently inept at making the smoker smoke at the correct time. The purpose of the smoke is to both trick the bees into thinking there’s a forest fire, so that they engorge themselves on honey in preparation for fleeing the hive, thus directing them deep into the frames to access the honey, and also to mask alarm and communication pheromones so that word doesn’t get around too easily that we’re invading their home.

Our technique makes wonderful smoke both before and after actually opening the hives themselves, but very little at the necessary time when we have cracked open the hives to inspect. In other words, once we have invaded our girls’  homes and actually have tens of thousands of bees staring at us from between the frames… We are at their mercy because our smoker doesn’t serve its purpose at the right time, but we have so far not had even one of our girls become aggressive and try to sting us. They are so peaceful and sweet.

House of Hanover

Newly built comb, now filled with eggs and some tiny larva.

It was on this frame that we saw Queen Victoria!!! You have no idea how EXCITING this was for us (unfortunately we didn’t get the camera quick enough to take a picture). She was huge, much bigger than we thought she would be, and very regal, surrounded by the ladies of her court. She was marked with a yellow dot, as promised!

Beautiful capped brood in one of the frames newly added when we first got the nuc two weeks ago. The non-capped cells are still at the earlier larva stage.

Taken from the underneath of a frame.

Frame filled with capped honey (the white band down both sides and across the top), capped brood (the yellow in the middle), un-capped brood (the dark cells).

In this picture, you can see two different types of capped brood. The flat topped is worker brood. The domed topped is drone brood – those boys are not useful to the productivity of the hive, but account for up to 15% of the population at any given time.

House of Tudor

Gorgeous, even brood in newly laid comb in one of the non-nuc frames, so we know there is a healthy, laying Queen Elizabeth I.

More brood! The other frames showed loads of nectar, pollen, and honey. Elizabeth sure knows how run a highly productive kingdom!

The frames inside the first Tudor super. The dark frames are the five that came with the nuc, the light ones are those we inserted and have yet to be covered with propolis (a hard substance bees use as cement and caulking and…well, it’s the duct tape of the bee world).

The Obligatory Picture of Your Apiarists

Fi looking dashing (and not so happy with the photographing…) in her bee getup. She’s holding the hive tools (and a lighter or two).

Jo and Fi after their second inspection. This time, Jo isn’t so happy about the photographing..

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Our First Inspection

Here are some pictures of our hives. The one on the left is the House of Tudor with Queen Elizabeth I, and the one on the right is the House of Hanover with Queen Victoria.

The House of Tudor is packed full of bees, so we put another super (a box layer where the frames are) on it. There were not that many frames of brood (eggs and larvae), but there were some in various stages of development.

The House of Hanover is much less densely populated, but has lots of brood, so I think we can expect many more bees in that hive in the next week or so.

We couldn’t find the queen in either of the hives, which makes us a little concerned considering she’s marked with a yellow dot (for years ending in 2 and 7), but since today was our first inspection, I don’t think we should be too worried.

Anyway, enjoy the pictures – we were a little flustered during our inspection today to take any of inside the hive, but we’ll try next time!