My first open bee yard for my 2016 Mecklenburg County Bee School mentees was on a balmy 66-degree Sunday. No sooner than after a single puff of smoke, while showing them how to approach a hive, BANG-POW!, I was handed my first sting of the year. It was perfect timing, as the bees showed EVERYONE who's really in charge and that they just tolerate a mindful beekeeper but always reserve the right to put them in their place when they see fit. I used it to show my mentees how to scrape a stinger out with a hive tool, and we all laughed it off to a great start. Here I show the group how to handle my frames, turning the foundationless frames on a vertical axis to inspect so that the stress is handled by the comb attached to the top bar.
All told we spent 3 hours inspecting 6 colonies. Of the 6, one is a sure goner. We saw the queen, but she will soon be dispatched and the colony combined with another one of the nucs. She's just not laying and the numbers are dwindling. However, the remaining 5 are not only hanging in there, they are actually INCREASING their numbers. I showed the group how to inspect, what we're looking for, and how to feed. We also started with a spring jump-start: I fed 1:1 sugar syrup to each colony, except for the one that will be combined. Frame feeders makes this possible, and some insulation panels on the brood boxes don't hurt, either (let alone 60-degree days).
Fresh out of the gate the mentees began spotting the queens as we inspected. Can you find her? She's in there, but hiding underneath some bees. This nuc queen was one of the 5 rock stars I'm blessed with this year. Four of those 5 queens were mated last year, and one is a two-year-old girl who shows no sign of slowing down. As for finding this queen, compare abdomen colors and length and you'll find her.
Mentee Chris Odom holds his first frame of bees ever. Each of the mentees got to hold a frame of bees and work the smoker a bit. Each is in their second week of bee school. No time like the present. It was a super fun Sunday for the entire group!
Chris' mom Mary Jo surprised everyone with how natural she was handling and being around the bees. Way to go, Mary Jo! She will make a great beekeeper. "We're farm folk," Chris explained. I sure could tell! As we got into the hives we saw lots of pollen coming into one nuc in shades of bright orange and greenish white. Some of the pollen patties I'd put on a week prior also were being worked. Bees need their protein as well as their carbs to feed their young. Pollen patties help on rainy and cold days when foraging isn't an option. Seeing these nucs build make me more than ever a believer in the power of protein.
We reviewed core bee school concepts like bee space and how many frames go in a standard Langstroth brood chamber. Then I pointed out what happens when you violate those concepts, as I did here, and show the group plenty of burr comb and cross combs that I'll have to take care of in the coming days. But I do love to experiment, and as such I have to deal with the consequences good and bad. So far all of my nucs are in 4-frame double-hives that share a middle wall, or a 9-frame deep + a shallow, and 5 of 6 nucs are increasing. In two colonies we saw the first drones of the season, just 1 or 2 but they were there, along with new wax being made. Yep, swarm season (and spring increase) won't be far off! All in all a very positive outcome for my experimentation in over-wintering 2015-16.
Mentee Kathy Baughman is all smiles as she cooly handles her first frame of bees this year. Kathy also sweetened up the mentor with her most excellent homemade whole wheat chocolate chip cookies. Hey, even a mentor needs his protein (and the mentor's wife)! Kathy also gave the mentor a great idea of which colony to combine the struggling nuc with. Mentors learn as much from their mentees, is what I'm finding out. Another successful experiment underway! Way to go, Mecklenburg County 2016 Bee School!!
Tom Davidson is the owner and beekeeper at T's Bees.
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