More new bees

We’re about a month into our effort to get a weak bee hive, taken from the soffit of a house in Cotuit, strong enough to survive the coming winter. Our friends Claire and Paul have helped us take the heroic measures required: adding two frames of brood and nurse bees, and replacing the lackluster queen.

As astute commenter Kat noted when we got the bees, there’s an expression that goes, “A swarm in July isn’t worth a fly.” The later in the year you get a colony, the harder it is to coax it through to spring. It needs enough time to build up sufficient honey stores and a critical mass of bees. An August colony is an iffy proposition.

So when the phone rang yesterday morning and Brian, the beekeeper who’d taken me on the job to get the August bees, told me he had another colony, this one from a house in Brewster, I wasn’t sure what to say.

My first impulse was, of course, to tell him to bring ‘em on over. I’ve got an empty hive ready to go. But if an August colony is iffy, what hope is there for a September colony? Would housing them and feeding them be an exercise in frustration and a waste of sugar?

But there’s really only one possible answer when someone calls and offers you bees: Yes, please.

Brian came over with two vacuum canisters full of bees and a container of comb. The comb had very little honey but quite a lot of brood. We dumped the bees into a hive box with five frames of empty comb from my old colonies, and filled five more frames with the new bees’ own comb.

The colony had clearly come from a beekeeper’s hive; the queen was marked with a blue dot. Although I got the colony yesterday, it probably swarmed earlier than my August hive; the bees had been in the Brewster house for some time. The brood pattern looked good, there were lots of larvae, and there was reason to hope the queen was strong and active.

As I looked at the frames of comb, and helped Brian put the bees in the hive, a funny thing happened. I realized I wasn’t completely at sea anymore. I had some idea what I was looking for when I looked at comb. I had a plan for this hive, which included getting it through the winter if it looked strong, or using it for spare parts for the other hive if it looked weak. I was beginning to feel comfortable with my bees.

I’ve talked before about how much I enjoy the steep part of the learning curve. The step from knowing nothing to knowing something is remarkable; it opens up a brand new subject. The steps after that, from knowing something to knowing something more, can never be quite as compelling.

It’ll be a long time before I’ll be classified as ‘expert’ at any of the things we do, and I wouldn’t even hold my breath for ‘competent.’ But ‘not clueless’ is a surprisingly satisfying start.

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  1. Have hope! I started a nuc last september with one of BCBA’s cape cod queens… a few frames of brood and honey and fed them sugar syrup until freezing and fondant most of the winter. They made it through with only one deep and had a slow start in the spring (re-queened themselves or swarmed) but are doing fine now. Those Cape Cod queens have some good genes!

    • Melissa, that’s the best bee news I’ve had all month! I’m very glad to hear you got a nuc through the winter — I now know it’s possible. I hope I do as well as you did.

  2. I’m still pathetically clueless, when it comes to bees, but I’ve been leaving them to their own devices all summer and have zero plans to take any honey; I really want them to survive the winter, which will be more wet and chilly, than really cold.

    I realize that I’ll have to be more hands on this winter, though, because I’ve read that bees won’t leave the huddle in the cold to go get food, so I’ll have to stay on top of moving comb with honey it it closer to them throughout the season.

    I just really don’t want anything suffering from my ineptitude, and I’m kind of leery of ‘practicing’ on the poor dears…

  3. I would see what the bees can do for themselves over the next 2 weeks or so, and then decice wehter I nurse two weak hive through winter, or combine them into one strong hive and let the bees choose the strongest queen. It’s a gamble either way. I have had single deeps winter over, but I prefer double deeps, I have had late swarms make it over winter, and I have lost late swarms during winter. It all depends upon the numbers of bees available for clustering. Not enough in one, merge them. Good luck! And I never doubted your ability to learn your way around an apiary. Fresh, real honey is a powerful motivator to locavore foodies like me and you.

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