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Beekeeping, Brood, Honey, Honey Bees

A Bee Inspector Called

Happy Bee, Happy Beekeeper

I’d like to say that the above image (from Reusable Art.com) generally depicts the relationship between our bees and us (minus the honey pot, of course).  But it certainly was not the state of play after our bee inspector visit on Saturday!   In fact, the girls held the grudge well into Sunday with the result that I had to mow the lawn in my beesuit (at least while I was around the main hive).  And, it was only the girls in the main hive who were hacked off.  The girls in the swarm hive sailed through their inspection.  First, the results:

Main Hive:

The inspector like the looks of the brood, larvae for the most part.  However, he did find a few cells of chalk brood on a couple of frames.  Chalk brood is basically a fungus, but it can flourish in weather conditions the likes of which we had in July–wet and cool.  This combined with the location of our hive, in the midst of trees and shrubs in a secluded part of the garden, could account for it.  The little larvae calcify in the cells, giving the appearance of white chalk.  When the bees clean the cells, the mummified remains are often found on the floor or outside of the hive.  If the colony is healthy, the worker bees can usually take care of the problem.  Although the BI was not concerned, we need to make sure they are getting enough ventilation and keep an eye on things.

(image from About Bees.  For more info see http://www.aboutbees.org/beekeeping-chalkbrood/)

He also found once cell in which the larva had died; the BI thought perhaps from starvation, maybe as a result of varroa.  Again, because it was only one, he was not too concerned (at least this is what he was telling us.  Who knows what he was writing down on the clip board).  We talked a bit about the unenthusiatic honey production, and he recommended we could probably leave the little they had produced to them.  We are ok with that because we were never in it for the honey…

Swarm Hive:

He seemed impressed by the production of brood in this hive, but agreed that we were going to have to ramp up the feeding what with the empty end frames and all.  Nothing untoward or concerning to report in this hive.

Why the main hive madams were in a sulk:

We were caught a bit on the hop by his visit, not because of him, but because of the poo guy.  We had asked him to come a lot earlier to clean the septic tank, but he ended coming almost at the same time as the bee inspector.  Didn’t help that we couldn’t find the tank for a while because the strawberries and gooseberries had grown over it.  So, I was a bit flustered myself, and then became even more flustered when we couldn’t find our hive tool!  The BI kept insisting on using his own equipment, smoker, tool etc, but we really must have looked a right helpless pair.  I also don’t think he was entirely comfortable with the location of the hive; we have developed a routine to get around the foliage etc, and that seemed somewhat offputting to him.

The real trouble for the bees started with what I would consider his excessive smoking and rather rough handling (vigorous shaking of each frames).  I don’t know about other bees, but mine (and their daughters/granddaughters/great grandaughters etc) do not take kindly to either.  They became agitated quite quickly.  Usually if this happens with us, we step away for a bit, let them calm down, and then continue.  But he kept pouring the smoke on, and so they kept getting more and more agitated.  He wouldn’t countenance my suggestion he was using a bit too much smoke, although my experts at the apiary have said on a few occasions that there is a line beyond which smoke is more annoying than calming.  All I know is that it is true for my bees.  They are not used to a lot of smoke.

None of this is to suggest that I don’t think he was competent.  He was actually a nice guy, helpful.  He did tell us that one day he had to inspect 60 hives, so I can imagine the softly-softly-wait-for-them-to-calm-down doesn’t quite work at that volume.  Still, they probably would have calmed down once we were finished.  But it was because he was so helpful with another query that they went into attack mode.

I asked if he could look at our removable floor to help us identify varroa mites.  I thought it would be a simple case of sliding it out as we did last week, and then he could give us some advice.  Well, why would we have expected for this to go smoothly?  We both tried tugging it out, but it wouldn’t budge.  We were about to give up, when the BI observed that bees were flying out the back through the ventilated floor.  “Oh, yes,” I said, “they are always doing that.”  “Well, they shouldn’t,” he replied.  “There must be something not right about the position of the floor.  Let’s pick the hive up and check.”  I really didn’t like the sound of this, but he was the expert.  He ended up tipping it to one side, while he and my husband tried to examine the floor.  Of course, the bees were going nuts by now, so I said that we probably should look into getting a new floor, anything to get him to put the hive back.  Which he did, but then it was observed that the guard for the entrance had been pushed into the hive.  I quickly said we could take care of that, but no, we had to tilt the hive again so husband could put the guard back in place. (While this was going on, of course our hive stand started to wobble, made up of that sturdy combination of old bricks and pieces of wood…)

Pandemonium!  First, a bee somehow made its way into his head gear  and he thought that he had been stung on the nose.  Then, he pretty much was smoking his head all the way out to his car, as he as well as we were being mithered by bees.  It later transpired that our neighbors might have been harangued, but on further discussion, I think their problems were wasps.

Anyway, as I said above they were still holding onto a grudge on Sunday.  They do seem a bit calmer now:  we can go near the hive without being interrogated or tormented by the guards.  We won’t Apiguard them until the weekend, just to be on the safe side.  Of course, none of this was helped by the fact that it is high wasp season, the changeable weather.

All I can say is that it was a Three Stooges version of a bee inspection, complete with dope slaps about the head.  I don’t think even Virgil would have any words to describe it.

A P.S. if I am so permitted in a blog:  I don’t want to give the impression that the tilting/hefting of a hive is anything untoward:  in fact, it appears to be common practice among beekeepers, for various reasons.  It is the first time my bees had to endure such a thing.  The one image I had in my mind while watching this was of the bees hanging on for dear life to the bottoms of the frames, with a “What the f—?” expression (of course, I could not see their little bee faces, but it’s kind of like my knowing that my husband is rolling his eyes at something I’ve said even when he is in another room).  Kind of like Dorothy’s face when the Kansas house is lifted off its foundations and deposited in Oz.  Only this time,the bees where probably hoping it was me and my ruby slippers that they would land on.

Also, the main goal of the BI is to determine whether Foul Brood (of the American or European) type is present.  These diseases are thought to be the main causes of hive collapse.

The BI found foul brood all right, just not the kind he was expecting.


3 thoughts on “A Bee Inspector Called

  1. Poor you! I seriously think you should consider writing a book as well as this blog ‘My Adventures and Mis-Adventured in Beeland….’. Glad they seem more calm and less tormented now.

    Posted by Jo | August 16, 2011, 3:06 pm
    • Well, not poor me apparently. More like poor bees! I expect the bee-equivalent of social services to come scraming up to the door to place my bees in care–faulty mesh floor, poor positioning, starvation and chalkbrood, rickety hive stands. No wonder I don’t get no honey!

      Posted by mylatinnotebook | August 17, 2011, 12:01 pm
  2. Another thing–when we were discussing their pollen sources in the neighbourhood, he indicated that bees could get bored with a source and look for others. I thought that perfectly captured the general attitude of my crew. I mean, after all, they got bored with making honey and stopped after a few measly frames! I am hoping that all the militant behaviour might energise them on this score….Huh!

    Posted by mylatinnotebook | August 17, 2011, 12:16 pm

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