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Queenless

When I arrived at the bee yard before class yesterday, our instructor was in the middle of searching the frames for a queen we would never actually find. Though we would see evidence she was there. Young, eggs, the hive was fairly healthy, he was confident we were simply missing her.

The other hive would be different. We got to see something he hadn't seen in 40 years of beekeeping. It was a swarm he'd captured about 3 weeks ago and he saw the queen...he put her in. But when we opened the top if the hive, we found numerous, large queen cells including one queen who had already hatched. But no queen? This hive was currently queenless and making new queens like maniacs. Late into the fall!

It is a mystery what will happen. He mentioned "swarm again" in the back of his mind...but it's too late in the year for a new hive to make enough honey to survive the winter. So he's really hoping he ends up with a healthy, functioning beehive with a new queen in a few days.

I didn't suit up in the typical white outfit with veil and zippers last night and managed to survive my observation by being patient when the bees landed on me. Others--even in the bee suits--were not so lucky. The bees climb and got up one of my classmate's legs to sting her. The instructor got several because he was not wearing gloves. But he's used to it. A few other observers got stung before I arrived, apparently, including one person on the face.

Personally, Greg told us everything we needed to know. But we were having a discussion while standing there about people being unable to fight the urge to swat and move around. Bees go to motion, dark colors, sting usually only when the hive is threatened, and give off signals to other bees to sting when they sting. So calmly avoiding that first one is key. As I always tell my kids, the bees don't care about you unless you bother them. The teacher even picks them up, holds them, brushes them off him. The bees like gentle movements.

Most of class last night was the ins and outs of equipment and how to actually take apart and handle the hives. We still have to go into pests and diseases and how to physically harvest honey...though we've talked lots about how much, where, when, etc.. We've talked bee life cycle and the cycle of the hive and how to light a smoker properly. Very informative. Since most of us had already seen him before class really working two hives, many of us had practical questions that he willingly answered.

Then there was more mead.

We got to taste cranberry and blueberry versions (the fruit is on the second ferment with these). Quite good! We talked about how to make creamed honey, how good honey is crystallized--but not in the hive!--and a few different theories for queening your hive in the spring, whether to start over and not winter your bees, the like.

Class three next week.

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