Hive Inspection

Carlos invited me over to observe as he inspected his beehives today. He’s the only person I know who is an actual beekeeper, and since he started this about a year ago, I’ve gotten interested in bees, too. I’m not going to be sending off for my bee starter-kit any time soon, but I have been watching an informative series on RFDTV called Honey Bees and Beekeeping: A Year in the Life of an Apiary, presented by Keith Delaplane, a professor at the University of Georgia who runs a honeybee program there. (The series has been very enjoyable and laid-back, except for the show on various bee diseases — the part on minor diseases was unpleasant enough, but the rather too-graphic look at really devastating infestation had me squirming in my seat — never again do I need to see a bee being decapitated and poked at under super-magnification. The capper, though, was the apocalyptic denouement: something called American Foulbrood — if your hive gets it … oh dear — you have to burn the whole thing and disinfect everything that’s come in contact with it. O, the pestilence! Seems kind of biblical.)

So, anyway, I’ve gotten sort of interested in bees, and, what a stroke of luck — I know a beekeeper who lives close by.

When I walked up the driveway, there was Carlos, all in white, looking like someone who should be heading down to the river for a baptism, shaking his head, saying it didn’t look good for one of the two hives. The last time I wrote about going to see his bees, I noted that the hive in question was much less active. It was even less active today.

After Carlos tucked in his shirt, tucked his pants legs into boots, stoked the smoker, tied on the veil and put on gloves, he headed over to the hives (I stood off to the side, hoping to remain unnoticed by the greater bee population of East Dallas). One rarely (if ever) sees a person in full beekeeper regalia, and, I have to say, it’s very impressive — sort of a combination of Dr. Livingstone setting out on his Zambezi expedition, an astronaut bouncing across the moon’s surface, and an asbestos inspector … carrying a little smoker and a hive tool.

He was right, the first hive was “dead” — just a few straggling bees in there (most of which were probably from the other hive, toughs who had popped over to loot and pillage, flying back to their own hive with stolen honey … and TVs and lawn mowers and Grandma’s cut-glass crystal and some loose change that had been left behind by the previous occupants). Not only that, but some unsavory squatters had moved in: wax moth larvae and beetles, intruders that are usually “dealt with” by the designated kneecappers in a healthy colony. But … no colony, no kneecappers. It was kind of sad. Like a ghost town. I don’t think this is uncommon — and I don’t think this is an example of the mysterious phenomenon with the great PR, Colony Collapse Disorder. Sometimes these things just happen.

Carlos then opened up the second hive which was alive and throbbing with activity. When he puffed smoke across the frames the buzzing got really loud — kinda swarmy-sounding — the kind of sound you don’t want to hear unless you have a smoker nearby to pacify the potential swarming mass that is two feet in front of you. He pulled out frames which were completely covered with bees. (I guess it would be a pretty bad thing for a bee to have claustrophobia.) He pointed out the queen which I could see from about six feet away. She had been laying up a storm. All was well with Hive #2.

The decision was made to combine the hives (I don’t guess colonies were being combined, because one of the colonies didn’t really seem to exist anymore). The box from Hive #1 (the larger bottom one where the queen lays eggs and the bees hang out and do their bee-chores) was stacked on top of the bottom box of Hive #2. Then the super containing honey (winter food for the bees) from Hive #2 was placed on the top. The super from the first hive (that contained honey as well as buggy interlopers) was removed.

Hive inspection complete. I hope the hive remodel works, and that the bees thrive and live happily ever after.

I was ignored by the bees. I was the invisible wallflower at the bee cotillion. I’ve never been afraid of bees — they’ve pretty much left me alone over the years (unlike wasps and yellow jackets which, for some reason, are surly bastards with a chip on their … um … thorax). I think people expect some sort of Dr. Phibes moment with a swarming mass of killer bees, but they’ve always seemed pretty docile to me.

It was a nice afternoon of hive inspection. I went right home and had some honey from those very same hives. I can still smell some of the smoke on the jacket I was wearing (hmm … I feel strangely calm…). What a nice day.

Two hives, awaiting inspection…

Carlos, stoking the smoker with wood chips and newspaper.

Donning the veil — the netting has to be tied at the neck so bees won’t sneak in and wreak havoc, then the ties are wrapped around the back and tied at the waist.

Inspecting a frame from the “dead hive.” Imagine tumbleweeds blowing across the empty expanse and some crazy old coot refusing to leave and living in a bee-version of a hole in the ground covered by a tarp.

Puffing smoke around the entrance of Hive #2 to calm the bees.

A frame covered (on both sides) with lots and lots and lots of bees.

Box from Hive #1 is placed on top of Hive #2. The super with the honey is on the ground to the right. That will be placed on top so the bees can nip up for the occasional hit of honey.

Straightening the boxes. (Note the glass feeder containing sugar syrup, just to the right of the hive entrance.) I like this picture because it looks like Carlos is hugging his bees. I guess if you have bees you miss out on the cuddly bonding you can achieve with a cat or a dog. This is as close as one is likely to get to cuddling a bee.

Back to Hive #1, brushing errant bees from a comb of honey before it is removed from the yard (and will soon be sharing freezer space with a turkey that’s been in there since at least Thanksgiving, Carlos!)

And then there was one. On the right is the new, improved hive where one hopes the inhabitants will relax and spread out and the queen will be transported up to the spacious new wing and will lay and lay and lay. But there, to the left, is the sad reminder of what used to be. Just a foundation for a missing home, like a lot in a trailer park in Tornado Alley. Carlos walks away with the now-unnecessary sugar water feeder from disassembled Hive #1. I can only assume he is heading inside to press it between the pages of his “My Beekeeping Keepsake Book.”

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