I started keeping bees for my first time in April. I know just enough to know what amazing little creatures they are and that there is still so much to learn. I did everything I knew of this year to keep them happy- good hive placement, feeding them sugar water, keeping a water dish filled, checking the hive regularly but not too often, adding new frames/boxes at the proper time, and planting flowers that they love in my yard. But even for super experienced and knowledgeable beekeepers, there is a good chance that your colony will die or swarm. I had a few moments of fear over the past few months, wondering if the hive was okay...
I haven't seen the queen in months! I saw the queen easily in the spring, when the hive was at about 10,000 bees. But later in the summer, the populations gets up to about 50,000, so she's harder to spot during a hive inspection. I saw signs that she was alive and well, such as larvae and young bees, so I had to just trust that.
There is comb being built below the frames! And when I removed the frame it ripped open the larval cells! Turns out that just happens sometimes.
The comb in the brood chamber (bottom box) used to be white, but now it's dark brown! Weird right? Nah, that's fine too. That comb is the oldest, so the bees have used it more and been walking on it. It just gets stained from wear and tear.
I saw my first swarm this summer while driving down Phinney Avenue. There was a dark cloud over the road about 20 feet in the air and I was like, "What IS that?" It wasn't until I was right underneath that I realized it was bees. "Oh my gosh, what if they are MY bees?!" I knew it was unlikely, but that didn't stop me from running into the backyard as soon as I got home just to make sure I saw activity at the entrance of the hive.
Thankfully, my bees never swarmed, and they are still alive and well in the hive. They made a solid amount of honey, though nothing in the fourth (top) box. The top box is traditionally the "super", or excess, or what you could safely harvest. Even in my novice calculations, I didn't think there was enough for me to safely harvest much honey this year. It is more important to err on the side of caution and leave plenty for the little ladies to get through the winter. Yes, we are already thinking about winterizing in bee world, as the nectar flow has vitually stopped with no flowers blooming, and bees don't leave the hive when it's below 55 degrees F. So as soon as our cold, wet fall weather hit, the bees started hunkering down and focusing on keeping the queen warm.
I did a hive inspection before this happened, to removed the top box and add a heavy sugar water to the inside of the hive. I also wanted to at least sample the honey, so I removed one frame that was only partially capped. (Bees build the comb, then make the honey in it, then when it's the perfect moisture content at 18%, they cap the comb cell so you know it's finished honey). Here you can clearly see the difference between the capped and open cells.
(Photos by Matt Freedman)