Paparazzi and bees

The long winter wait was over. Several days of fine sunny weather, temperatures creeping up to 15oC, and essential for a hobby beekeeper, it was a weekend! I couldn’t be happier. Out in the orchard I lit the smoker, put on my bee suit and started laying out all the things I’d need by the hives. I had Hoopers 5* in mind as I moved the first hive over on the double stand and put a clean hve floor in its place. I was just about to take the cover off the first hive when…

“Do you mind if I take some photos?”

I looked up. How did she get there without me noticing?  The owner of the orchard was poised and ready with a camera phone just outside the small compound the hives are located within the young orchard.  

“No problem.” Said I “But when I open the hive you’d better move away. Far away!” I ordered gently – potential attacking bees trumps ownership of land.

“Is yellow and black intentional?”

Eh? I think, or at least something non-verbal like Eh.

“Like the bees.” I must have looked really puzzled “Your yellow suit and black boots.” The explanation.

 “Um, no, I say, the suit was going cheap.” Beekeepers are a fugal lot and will go for the bargain every time. The photoshoot continued.

“I’ve a spare suit in the car, do you want to put that on?”  I say.

“No, it’s ok, I’ll go soon, just want one or two for Instagram.”

I continued working. “I’m going to open the hive now.”  I wondered should I have insisted that the spare suit be put on. You can’t be 100% sure that a hive won’t go absolutely ballistic and be extremely aggressive until you open the hive and by then, if you don’t have a bee suit on, it’s too late. How would you like the roof of your house taken off, can you imagine how much a few thousand bees dislike it?

Fortunately, my photographer had moved off quickly and I hadn’t heard a screech or “Ouch” or cursing (which is the most usual response) so I figured she had escaped a sting. 

Safely on my own, I examined the bees. A healthy box of calm bees which was black-with-bees on every frame. I took out one frame and saw capped brood and larvae at all stages. Larvae are small white, glistening C shapes, one on the bottom of each of the comb cells. The C shapes are sitting in white liquid bee-food which was provided by the nurse bees. The older, bigger C shapes will soon be sealed in with a wax cap which has tiny imperceptible perforations so that the larvae, which is the growing baby bee, can breathe. The wax cap on a cell with honey has no perforations and is totally sealed so that the honey is protected from air and moisture. Looking at a hive frame it’s easy to tell which is capped brood and which is honey capped. Or maybe it is for me now after a few years at this beekeeping lark.

I had seen enough, no need to go through every frame today and risk chilling the brood.

When I open a hive, I get into ‘the zone’, I’m unaware of my surroundings, I’m not aware of my feet being on the ground, or the heat within the bee-suit. I am totally focused on the bees.  I am aware of the weight of the hive boxes though, it’s one of the things I’m watching out for as the weight will let me know if the hive has enough honey stores.

My photographer had come back but I was totally unaware of her presence. It was only when I was home and saw the photos I realised that she had seen it all, the inspection of both hives and the swapping out of old dark brood frames with bright clean cream coloured foundation. And my modus operandi! The clumsy beekeeper, the organised chaos, at least I hadn’t tripped over a hive strap! See Spring inspection of bees and grass.

When the hives are full of 70,000 bees in the summer, the weather warmer so bees fly further, and when there a chance of swarming and queenless (cranky) hives,  it may not be at all safe to take photos without a bee suit.

At least I have photos of me in action 😊

*Hooper’s Five Questions:

  • Does the colony have enough space?
  • Is the queen present and laying properly?
  • Development: Is the colony building up in size as fast as the others? Are there any queen cells?
  • Are there any signs of disease?
  • Have they got enough stores to carry them through to your next visit?
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