I have no objection to slave labor of the animal variety. Our chickens wouldn’t exist unless we humans had long ago endeavored to domesticate them for their eggs and their meat, and I think we’ve struck a deal with them. Our end of the bargain is to give them a good life and a humane death. Their end is to lay eggs and taste good.
We’re making a similar deal with our turkeys, only without the egg part. It would be the same with any other animal we raise for food. We provide food, shelter, and, we hope, some modicum of happiness. They take advantage of these amenities, and then ultimately give us back the life we gave them in the first place, sometimes providing eggs or milk along the way.
The animals, though, have no say in the matter. If they don’t like the deal, there’s not much they can do. It’s like one of those elections in totalitarian countries – we’re the only choice they have. They can’t really make a break for it, since they’re poorly equipped for life in the wild, and when the time comes for making the ultimate sacrifice, there’s no negotiating. There’s no appeal to a civil court system or board of arbitration. However good a deal it is, it’s a deal we enforce by fiat, despotically.
Bees, though, are different. They can survive perfectly well without our intervention. In fact, if it turns out that the captive breeding of bees (which has only happened in the last fifty-some years), has some role in colony collapse disorder, we will be able to say that they survived much better without us. There’s nothing we do for bees that they can’t do for themselves.
They can also take off, and head from greener pastures, any time they feel like it. Successful beekeeping is all about providing a more hospitable home than your bees could find in a hollow tree. They need to decide to stay.
It’s lucky, then, that they don’t know what those two little boxes on top of their hive are for.
One of our hives, Big Bee, is doing so well that we added two honey supers a couple of days ago. (Little Bee seems to be fine, but it’s a bit behind.) We’d added the second hive body about a few weeks before, and when we checked it last week the frames were almost all drawn out with comb, and the center seven or eight were quite full with brood and capped honey.
That’s the point at which you’re supposed to give them a new area in which to store their honey, and the two shallow boxes on top of the hive serve that purpose. The bees naturally fill the upper combs with honey and the lower combs with brood, so we can expect that the two honey supers will have almost nothing but honey in them.
Many beekeepers use a queen excluder – a screen that workers fit through but the queen doesn’t – between the top hive body and the bottom super to make sure no eggs are laid upstairs. Our local veteran beekeepers work successfully without one, though, so that’s the route we’re going.
Because there aren’t many plants that bloom in July, it’s late for optimal honey flow. We’re not sure how long it’ll take the bees to fill out the supers, and we’re resisting the urge to check on them every few days.
Right now, I suspect the bees are thinking their accommodations are pretty luxurious. We’ve given them two completely empty boxes in which to store their honey – that’s like giving a packrat a shed. When we wait for them to fill those boxes and then take them away, though, I wouldn’t blame them for hightailing it to the nearest hollow tree.