We left you last week when Martina, Leslie and Roy suited up ready to open the hives so we could see the bees and Martina could do her inspection. Be sure you read the blog dated August 8th so you don't miss anything!
There are three boxes on each of Martina’s hives at this point. The bottom two are for the queen and the ‘brood’. This is where they store honey for the young developing bees and where the queen lays more eggs. Between the second and the top third box of the hive is the metal ‘excluder’. The small space between the metal bars keeps the queen out of the top box but the workers can come through to deposit honey. The queen and the hive get the honey from the bottom two thirds and the top third is for Franz and Martina.
When Martina goes into the hive like she is today she is looking for evidence of a strong healthy hive and maybe of a developing queen cell. A queen cell would develop if the workers decided to feed royal jelly to one of the larvae. If Martina finds a queen cell she will likely remove it. If another queen hatches it could be a problem. There is only room for one queen per hive and the old queen will take a number of the worker bees with her and ‘swarm’. They will just leave the hive looking for a new home. If they swarmed to a tree nearby and Martina had spare hive boxes she would have to act quickly and get them into a new hive. Otherwise they just leave home to parts unknown. Any beekeeper with an empty hive might be the lucky recipient.
Martina tells me there is another reason they may be building queen cells. The bees create supersedure cells if they believe something is wrong with their queen. She could be old or sick. Usually queen cells located on the upper two third of the frame are supersedure cells. Queen cells located on the lower third third of the frame are swarm cells. So it might be prudent to remove these if you don’t want a swarm. But today on our field trip she finds supersedure cells so she believes her bees are without a queen. So the bees have started to build queen cells. It is about 30 days from the time the bees start on this process before the new queen is ready so Martina tells me that she will leave the bees in peace a bit. If all goes well the new queen should be starting to lay eggs again soon. Right now it is appears that the hive is healthy and thriving.
During this routine inspection Martina is also looking for signs of Varroa mites. Varroa mites have made their way from Asia causing havoc in honey bee hives around much of the world. To check to see if there are mites in the hive Martina uses a bottom sticky board. About 10 to 15% of the mites fall off the bees and will land on the sticky board where they will be observed. They are about the size of a pinhead. Martina was happy to find no evidence of mites on her board. The mites reproduce quickly and can cause a great deal of stress on a colony. The mites lay their eggs in a cell in the honeycomb where the bee larvae develop. The mites disrupt the growth of new bees. For example, they can affect their wings and that adult bee will then be unable to fly.
Varroa mites are also implicated in weakening the hive so that they can’t fight off viruses. Viruses are easily transported and Martina says it is not wise to use bee equipment from other beekeepers. It is also why she sterilizes her hive boxes so thoroughly with each new batch of honey bees.
Martina has an ingenious way of extracting her beeswax from the combs. She has a solar filter. She has a black container (or a container lined with black plastic) filled with water. She places the wax combs on a screen and then covers everything with a sheet of glass and places it in the sun. The sun melts the wax which drips through the screen into the water. The chunks of wax harden and are easily skimmed out of the water. Martina is a skilled and knowledgeable beeswax candle maker at Honey Candles. She knows how to take this beeswax and make good natural beeswax candles for herself.
It has been a full morning for us and we all head over to the beach across the road from Franz and Martina’s. We relax, soak our feet in Kootenay Lake, have our lunch and Marlie throws a few sticks for Faro who has found the whole visit pretty boring until now. It’s been a good day and we all left feeling we knew a little bit more about the hard working honey bees. We also have a whole new perspective of Martina.
Franz is proudly showing you a beautiful fresh egg in front of the henhouse he built! Thank you for welcoming us Martina and Franz to your beautiful surroundings. We enjoyed ourselves immensely!