Clay has talked about having bees for years. He lucked out this year when the gentleman farmer that sold us our pigs informed us that he was moving and we offered to buy a couple of his hives from him. Also, Clay works with a young architect that has been dabbling in bees since he was a teenager and Clay peppers him with questions that fueled his desire to get into the apiary business sooner than later.
The young architect let Clay borrow his bee suit so he could take a look inside the hives without getting stung to death. The young architect is just a tad smaller than Clay which is obvious when you see how we had to duct tape the suit and around his ankles and wrists. Clay felt a bit trapped. Have I ever mentioned that Clay is horribly claustrophobic? He hates the feeling of being trapped.
Note that little orange tool in Clay's pocket. That is called a hive tool and it is crucial when you want to open a hive, especially one that hasn't been opened all winter because the bees glue everything shut with something called propolis or bee-glue or virgin wax.
He's suited up and protected from any stinging bees. The next step is to create some smoke to sedate the bees before opening the hive. We don't have a smoker yet, so we created one in a metal coffee can. Not the best solution, but it worked, mostly because it was a cool windy day the the bees weren't very active.
Dryer lint and leaves make a good smoke. Kansas wind makes it difficult to start a fire.
But that same Kansas wind was very helpful blowing the smoke into the hive. A little smoke into the entrance below and then....
take off the lid. The smaller white box on top is where we will collect the honey, it's called a super. The lower two boxes are where the bees live and work and breed and most importantly, it's where the queen reigns.
All of these things have names like supers, boxes, brooder, nukes, blah, blah, blah. I would fail a test right now, so bear with me as I learn. Clay is using his hive tool to take out all the things that the bees will build wax comb on and then insert golden honey, we call them frames.
The frames come with wax or plastic bases that have a hexagonal shape embedded on them. The bees build their wax directly on top of the hexagon grid. You can see a bit of the yellow wax that has already been built on top of the white plastic grid.
Down in the that oval shaped hole you can see the bees. Clay blew a few more puffs of smoke in the top of the hive so I could rush over and take these photos.
After taking out all the grids Clay loosens the top. The bees glue down everything. That is why you have to have a hive tool.
I can't remember what this board is called but it can be used to invert a jar of sugar syrup inside the hive to feed the bees and you can place a little one way door in the oval to keep bees in one part of the hive.
It was glued down pretty tight. The bees were calm and stayed inside the hive because it was incredibly windy and a tad chilly. You should never open the hive if it's below 55 degrees F.
There are approximately 40,000 bees in this hive. They could product up to 50 pounds of honey.
The brown specks are the bees. Clay was contemplating his next move. This was the first time he had opened the hive and he was excited and nervous.
In the end he decided it was too darn windy to take out any of the frames inside the hive for fear he would find the queen and she would blow away. So he removed the wooden board with the oval hole and inserted a queen excluder which looks like a metal grate. You can see it lying on the ground on top of the white lid. It allows the worker bees to crawl up to the top super and make honey but the queen is too big to get through the grate, so she stays below to lay eggs.
Here's what we have spent on our bees thus far:
$200- for two completely built hives includes two queen excluders, only one hive had live bees.
$50- to attend a bee conference and become members of the Kansas Beekeepers Association which sends out newsletters and crucial information for beginners.
We still need to buy a suit for Clay ($70-90), hive tool($5-7) and new bees for the second hive ($????).
Stay tuned I'm trying to get another post written about our hive that died.