I am a real beekeeper now!May 31, 2009
My intrepid assistant (my 13 year old son who is not phased by the bees at all) and I had some work to do Saturday. I’ve been learning about various approaches to beekeeping and my own approach has been evolving toward natural, organic beekeeping. I, and many others, believe that left to their own devices, bees know better how to manage a hive than people do. One small step I’m taking is transitioning my frames to foundationless.
In this picture from when we were first installing the bees you see frames with foundation. The black plastic rectangles are the frames and the foundation is the solid black in the center of each frame. The foundation is imprinted with hexagons and the bees will build comb to match those hexagons. The only problem is the hexagons aren’t the size the bees would naturally build. You can buy foundation that is a more natural size, but that was just too expensive at this point in my new hobby. An alternative is to let the bees build their own comb; overtime the cell sizes will get smaller and smaller until they are the size bees used to build. [Why the bigger cell sizes? Because people thought bigger cells would yield bigger bees which would yield more honey. It does yield bigger bees, but not more honey.]
Of course I couldn’t just pop out the old foundation – in the material I have it is molded to the frame. I practiced with one frame and was able to cut the plastic out with a jigsaw. I did installed that one foundationless frame 9 days ago to see how the bees would take to it. This is what it looked like yesterday. They were perfectly happy to make comb without the foundation.
If you just leave the foundation out I’m told the bees are likely to build comb up from the bottom, and then it may not be very straight (straight is nice so you can remove the frame for inspection and harvesting honey). If you put something as a comb guide at the top – something like craft sticks – then the bees should make the comb from the top down. A little glue, a little wood, some staples for extra support and you’re done.
Here is where I became a real beekeeper. I was working without gloves because the gloves make it hard for me to pick up and replace the frames. The bees are remarkably docile. I pulled out frames, brushed off bees (with a brush, not my hands) tore apart comb they had built in between and underneath frames. They buzzed but they did not sting. Except when one was getting pinched as I put in a frame. My first bee sting from my own bees. [We have a winner! Maryann picked May 30th in the bee sting pool and will be receiving a jar of our first honey later this summer.]
I got stung on the tip of my right thumb. Yes, it hurt, but I did have to show my son the stinger before I scraped it off. The bee loses it’s stinger and part of it’s rear end when it stings – so the bee is toast. In addition, I didn’t die or go away so the sting was for naught. Poor bee.
But, all in all, the bees are going gangbusters and doing what they are suppose to be doing at this point – making bees. Here’s a frame of bees and brood and honey that’s textbook perfect. In the corners and along the top is capped honey, all the other part is capped brood (bees-to-be) and places for eggs. And they did it without reading a book.