On Friday, we finally got around to opening our hive. The last time I blogged about the bees, I wrote about my fears - that they would be dead, or suffering, or that we'd be stung repeatedly for our various transgressions. I'm happy to report that none of those things happened. While our hive is certainly smaller and weaker than it was at the height of last summer, it's alive and kicking and for now, that's enough.
We've had a hard time in the past with the smoker - using too much smoke, or smoke that was too hot, aggravating the bees when we were trying to keep them calm. This time, we seemed to strike that magical balance, and the bees were docile and unperturbed by our presence. Once upon a time, we thought we didn't need to wear any kind of protection, that we would somehow charm the bees with our good looks and winning personalities. Twenty or so painful stings later, we realized the error of our optimism. Since we can't afford real bee outfits right now, so we made due with Tyvek paint suits, gardening gloves, and straw hats draped with mosquito netting that we tucked under our shirts. We may have looked silly, but at least we felt safe.
When we opened the hive, we didn't know what to expect. The super (a shallow box, placed on top of the deep hive bodies) looked untouched - no bees crawling around, no comb, no honey, no brood. Uh-oh. We checked each frame just to be sure, then set it aside and delved into the next hive body.
Here, we had better luck. The outer frames hadn't been drawn out yet, but all over the inner ones the bees were hard at work. We didn't find the queen, but we saw evidence of her - capped brood where bee larvae were waiting to hatch and lots of nurse bees attending them, and stores of honey and pollen. We cheered, but quietly and without any sudden movements.
After checking all those frames, we set that box aside and looked into the bottom hive body. This one was thick with comb, but empty of honey and brood, and there weren't too many bees hanging out there. I think the bees must have eaten all their honey stores over the winter, and since there was nowhere else to build, they moved up.
Right now, our main concern is growing the hive population. I suspect that our cold and wet spring caused the bees to get a late start, and that's part of the reason why their numbers are low this late in the season. While we've never had to feed them sugar water, I've done some research and I think it would be best for the hive at this point. It'll give them the burst of energy then need to build, and it'll encourage the queen to lay the eggs the hive so desperately needs. Once the hive is more robuts, we'll let nature take over, and any honey we harvest (probably not until next year - sigh) will be pure at that point.
Even though our hive needs help, there's a lot to be hopeful about. Considering how little hope I had before, I'm feeling pretty good about our future with the bees.