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On a mild afternoon in early January I realized that Lada was being robbed by her sisters from Brigid. Where Brigid's bees were bringing in pollen (even in January, wtf?) the bees coming and going from Lada were doing so with barren pollen baskets and acting nervous at the entrance like robbers do. My suspicion was confirmed after watching a couple forages fly directly back to their own nest just a few feet away and I decided then to tear her down to minimize exposure of my last remaining colony to any possible residual pesticide or pests that might still inhabit the "ghost hive" that was Lada.

I removed her roof and quilt divided the hive bodies into manageable pairs and, as I expected the upper most pair was heavy with stores while the bottom pair was considerably lighter. What was unusual was that I failed to find the cluster of dead bees starved or frozen in an upper corner of the comb as I was accustomed to finding in the dead-outs of previous seasons. The entire colony had abandoned their summer stores and absconded completely. The separated sections of the hive bodies each fit into large trash bags to the keep the moths and ants out and were sealed closed with tape and stored on the porch out in the cold until I could gather the meager materials and make time to extract the honey.

The grid, serving as an array of top bars, is fixed over the upper-most hive body with propolis. Just as I expected, the bees began drawing comb here and raised their first batches of brood as a fledgling (artificial) swarm. After the young bees vacated their cells they were cleaned out and back-filled with nectar. Large folds of honey filled comb can be seen through the bars. (click through for larger views, and here for a close-up)

A view of the drawn comb in the bottom most hive body. Comb acts as a baffle for the currents of air entering the hive from the bottom entrance giving natural comb this beautiful undulating pattern. At this point the boxes are still firmly connected to each other by the internal attachment of comb which extends uninterrupted through the space created by stacked boxes. The boxes are easily separated with length of cheese wire. Much like the honey badger, honey bees don't give a shit, either!

Using the longest serrated knives I could find at the local thrift I separated the combs from the inside surface of the hive body to which they are secured. The spale, the length of oak rod that extends diagonally, is put in place before the swarm was introduced to provide support for fragile comb.

Once all the attachments along sides of the box are severed the spale can be cut free and combs are removed individually. These are brood combs from third hive body from the top. This comb is newer than the comb from the top two boxes and bore a cycle of brood but was never filled with nectar having been drawn after the flow. A closeup of the abandoned brood comb reveals a few cells of capped brood and might contain residual evidence of what destroyed this colony, although the sparse, patchy brood pattern suggests to me that the (packaged)queen was probably failing. In hindsight I should've encouraged them to swarm by keeping the size of the hive at four medium boxes for the first season rather than encouraging them to move into framed boxes underneath.

After all the combs are inspected all the salvageable honey is collected in a capping tank were it's crushed by hand and allowed to drain through a double sieve to strain out the majority of the solid bits. The conservation hive is designed around the concept of honeybee as a superorganism where the hive itself acts as the exoskeleton. Contrary to conventional woodenware, its smaller capacity maximizes nest heat and scent retention which bolsters natural colony immunity to pathogens but at the expense of large honey harvests. This hive yielded about 14 lbs. of raw honey that will serve to make a couple small batches of mead.

Bittersweet. . .


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The exquisite itch

October 2015

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