Saturday, March 26, 2011

Awaiting the Bees

Langstroth Hives10 FramesPail Feeder made from a bucket with 1/16" drill bit holes for bees to suck syrup from.

I'd like to call them 'The Wilkinsburg Ladies'...perhaps make them a little sign and post it by their hives. The ladies arrive in a week, via 2 southern packages, 3 lb boxes of bees, containing about 10,000 bees and 1 queen each in a little cage. She is in a cage so the bees can get used to her on the ride up north and accept her (hopefully). These packages were obtained from Lee Miller, a reputable source recommended by my Burgh Bees class instructor. In retrospect, I if I could do it again, I may have chosen bees bred locally, nucleus colonies from local beekeepers, as they have proven that they have what it takes to survive in our locale, and tried to find bees with resistance to the biggest bee threat around, the Varroa destructor mite. However, I followed the common beginner path of getting packages, and I'm going to try and give them the best home possible.

The photos above are the 2 hives that have been residing in our living room for the past month, getting assembled, moving to the porch for coatings of paint when the weather warms and coming back inside after. The hives are Langstroth hives, one of many hive designs, and a popular one here in the US. Stacked boxes are filled with frames that the bees build comb onto, secreting wax they make by eating honey, or sugar syrup if there is no nectar flowing yet. The queen lays eggs and the lady worker bees raise up the young and do all other manner of things to strengthen and care for the colony: gather food as soon as nectar and pollen are available, store it around the eggs and in frames above them, take out the dead, clean the hive, attend to the queen, help the pampered boys (drones) out of their cells and feed them. Drones may appear as freeloaders, whose sole purpose in life is to try to mate with a queen, which is true, but they are quite important in keeping a good gene pool going. They are also brutally pushed out of the hive to starve once their job is done, winter approaches, and all food is needed for the ladies to eat and keep the cluster of their sisters warm over winter by shivering their little flight muscles and generating heat. The honey that people harvest (should) only be the bees' excess, leaving them with plenty of their hard-earned honey to get through the winter.

Bees, quite simply amaze me. They are what may be called a "super organism" - a colony of individuals that cannot survive and flourish outside of the group. Ants and termites also fit this bill. They work together as a well-oiled machine, sacrificing themselves for the safety of the hive if necessary, and at times, doing the brutal work of advancing the strength of the hive in a different way, by a swarm cell queen aborting all her sister queens, or the drones being pushed out of the hive once their job is done. I find myself going on about what I am learning and how absolutely astonishing the little buggers are and sometimes don't notice people's eyes glazing over. I've gone on quite a bit here, I notice. Well, best of luck to The Wilkinsburg Ladies and all the bees out there this year. A lot of what I have learned so far has come from Burgh Bees, Michael Bush's great website, and Ross Conrad's Book Natural Beekeeping.

I leave you with a fun factual bit about the Reverend Langstroth, developer of the hive currently employed by most American beekeepers, and author of The Hive and the Honeybee.

The Reverend Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is credited with introducing the idea of "bee space" into American beehive design. Bee space is the space in bees' homes that they will fill with propolis (antimicrobial glue they make from plant resin) if it is smaller than 1/4" and in which they will build comb to store food if it is larger than 3/8". While this idea had already been incorporated into hive designs in Europe, in 1852, Langstroth patented the first movable-frame beehive in the United States, built for him by a Philadelphia cabinet maker and bee lover, which used the ideas of precise bee space within the hive, movable frames and stacked boxes.

Return of the Ramps

Last year our friends Yve and Marty let us dig up some ramps from the woods behind their house. We ate some with relish and planted some is our shady back yard, hoping they would return this year, which they have, and they've brought friends, much to our delight.