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The latest Buzz on the Bees

Hello! It's been a while since I bragged about our beehives, and since we are well into summer now here's my chance.

Hive number one

So the bees are doing well. I've been checking them fairly regularly and I'm pretty happy with how they got through the winter. We haven't seen any swarms yet, and I don't see any signs that they will swarm soon. Spring is the biggest swarm season, although it can happen at any time.

Swarming is the way bees create new colonies in the wild. When a hive is feeling crowded, the workers create a new queen by feeding one of the eggs a potent and nutritious substance that we call Royal Jelly. A new queen takes around sixteen days to hatch, so when you see a queen cell in the hive, you know a swarm is imminent. The old queen takes off before the new one is born bringing with her about half the population of the hive. The swarm finds a new home elsewhere while the new Virgin queen establishes herself in the old hive (and also ceases to be a Virgin). This is normal and natural, but the sight of a large cluster of bees somewhere you didn't expect can be unnerving. If you manage to catch the swarm, you get a whole new small beehive so that's a plus. The downside is that now your old beehive is only half populated, lowering your chances for a good honey harvest, and you have no idea who your new queen mated with to keep the old hive going. We had that problem last year, when one of our hives swarmed and the hive became unruly and difficult to work. It was a shame too, because the hive was really healthy otherwise but this is a populated area and we can't take any chances.

We currently have five hives, one of which is new, another was struggling when I first checked them in April. I probably won't be taking honey from either of those hives as I want them to focus on building their populations and storing honey for their own use for next winter-but sometimes bees will surprise you so we shall just wait and see. The other three are doing just great, they already have honey supers on and are beginning to fill them. Here's what that means;

Deep Langstroth frame. You can see stored honey around the edges.

Most beekeepers use what is called a Langstroth Hive, this is a series of rectangular wooden boxes, with frames that hang from the top in rows of eight or ten. You can change the depth of the boxes, but the diameter is standardized. On the bottom of the beehive I use deep boxes-usually two as my Brood Box. A Brood box is for the bees alone- the queen lays eggs near the center, the workers feed honey and nectar to the larvae and store the excess honey around the edges. Keep in mind that even though the boxes are rectangular, the bees work in a spherical pattern if left to their own devices and the corners can be left empty if you don't keep rearranging frames to make sure they use every inch. Over the summer, as the population swells, the bees need more and more space to store honey. At the top of the brood boxes, we add a screen called a queen separator. This has spaces wide enough for worker bees to pass through but not wide enough for the queen whose extended abdomen makes her larger than the workers. Above the screen we put another box-called a Super. The bees keep filling this space with honey and wax, but since the queen can't get through, there is no brood. When one box is full we put another on top of that. I use smaller boxes as supers because they get heavy, a smaller super full of honey and wax can weigh 40 or 50 pounds. All the honey in the supers is ours. Everything below the queen separator is theirs.

filling honey jars for the Farmer's Market

Last year we harvested six supers and got quite a bit of honey. As of this week, there were supers on all three of our established hives and while they are nowhere near full, it's a pretty good start for late May. We like to harvest around mid to late August, while there are still flowers blooming to give the bees enough time to fill their brood boxes with enough honey for the long winters-around 60 pounds per hive. As always, our plan is to put the honey in jars for the Farmer's Market in August-maybe reserving some for recipes if there is enough. We are very proud of our bees, and I don't know of any other Senior Living community that has its own bees. I am thankful for all the support I get from our residents, allowing me to bring my passions to work and share them with you all. I hope your summer is progressing nicely, take care!

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