Before I get to the nitty-gritty of going into one of my hives yesterday, let me first present to you my adorable assistant Ripley. Can I just tell you that this was his natural pose? I just told him I was going to take a picture -- and this is how he stood. He loves the camera, just like his Avo (Grandfather in Portuguese). I had to go into my hives in the middle of the day, so Ripley was around. I just had him sit by the garage at a safe distance away. He really didn't need the whole get-up, but he was eager to have a bee suit like his older brother. So, I got out a white dress shirt and Victor's veil and -- Voila! Pleased as punch (as you can see).
Now, the nitty-gritty. Yesterday's task was to go into each hive and check to see that the queen had gotten out of her cage through the soft candy plug (consistency of salt water taffy - but not stretchy) that I'd already poked a hole into with a large nail to help her attendants dig her out. If she was still in there, I was supposed to pry open the cage (over the hive, so as not to lose her!), set it down on top of the frames and watch her crawl out. Although she can fly and all, that's really not her main thing. Unless you drop her or squash her, she will happily go into her hive to do her work. These honey bees have a mission. They have work to do! The other thing I knew I'd probably have to do is take out / off some burr comb, which is comb that the bees build in areas they are not supposed to. They will fill up any open spaces with comb. Because of the queen cage, my frames were askew so I knew this was a possibility. Okay, so that's what was supposed to happen.
Now, let me tell you what did happen. I got myself and Ripley all suited up. Ripley took his safe place back by the side of the garage and dutifully sat down and watched. I told him, no talking or moving. He's a very mellow reliable 4 year old from that perspective. Check. Got my smoker stoked and lit. I don't know how good a job I did with it. The thing is, all of these tasks are so foreign and new. Every move you make feels like you've been plunked into Saudi Arabia (a country with a foreign language and culture I've never been to or experienced first hand) and are expected to function properly. So, I got all of my props - hive tool, bee brush, smoker, more fuel for the smoker (pine needles) and I went over to the right hive (still need names, any suggestions?).
You always approach your hive from the side so you're not in the line of traffic (bee line? :) ). Did that. Check. I puffed smoke from my smoker into the entrance and then as calmly as I could muster I took off the rock, the lid, the top box and feeder. There were bees sucking away at the sugar water in the feeder -- not knowing what on earth to do (being a skittish novice) I just slowly put the thing down and hoped they crawled out. At the time I didn't even think to put it on the ground right side up, or to bee brush them off. Can you say overwhelmed? And I hadn't even opened the actual hive body yet!
So, then I went about taking off the "inner cover" which is this thin (5/8"?) top that covers the frames where all the bees are busy in the frames. When I lifted that cover off I immediately felt and said quietly out loud "Oh my gosh, I don't know what I'm doing. I have no clue. What am I doing in here?!" (Not to mention a few unmentionable sentences.) So much for positive thinking and positive 'self talk'. You can read all you want and go to every single bee class (like I did) and still feel totally inept and overwhelmed at opening up that hive. In reflecting on it, I think the thing is -- it's simply unnerving to go into a buzzing hive of bees at first. When I pulled the inner cover off there was this large piece of burr comb stuck to the underside of it. It looked like the dorsal fin of a dolphin -- every millimeter of it was packed with honey bees. I just froze. Okay, now what? What to do? I grabbed my smoker and puffed a few puffs into the hive and onto the comb. Not one bee moved. Okay, now what? Uhhhhh, pry off the comb (which is very easy to do, no 'leverage' required). I got out my hive tool and pryed it off so that it dropped gently on top of the frames with the other bees. Then, I placed the inner cover on top of the other box to the side. I turned back to the hive and slowly picked up the burr comb. I tried to give it a little shake. Nothing. All bees stayed put. Again, not knowing what to do, I decided to grab my bee brush, which looks like a very soft, long 'haired' dust pan brush. I brushed the bees off. That worked just fine. But the bbbbbuuuuuuuzzzzzzzzinnnnnnggg got louder. They didn't like being brushed. Who would, right? Even Benjamin and Ripley complained. I puffed the hive with a little smoke. (maybe I should try that with my boys?) I don't know that the smoke did anything . . . it was effective when I had 2 or 3 bees come at me -- granted I had the full on bee suit so they couldn't get to me if they tried, but I smoked them away anyway.
I put the burr comb to the side and then looked at the queen cage wedged in between the frames. It was packed with bees all over the outside of the cage. They want their queen out! I could see that the hole was bigger. I held onto the little cage and pulled it out. I could still see (sort-of) through all of the bees clinging to the outside of the cage, that there were still bees inside the cage. I didn't know what to do. I felt like the hive was already mad at me, even though I felt like I'd done what I was supposed to and I didn't know if I should proceed. I was supposed to pry the little wire mesh off the cage and allow the queen to crawl out . . . but the thing was covered in bees. I shook it. I smoked it. Nothing. I just didn't know if I should bee brush them off. They were teeved at me as it was. Can you bee brush the queen cage?? That will really get them mad (I guessed). No knowing what to do. I just buttoned that hive back up. I put the queen cage back in it's place with all of the bees crowding on it and closed her up. It's one thing to not know how to bake bread and to get through it by trial and error. It's a whole 'nother thing to go into a buzzing hive and feel clueless. Overwhelming.
I immediately called my friend Diane the beekeeper and talked her ear off. Poor gal. Thank God she's a nurse. She calmly talked to me about the whole mess and encouraged me and told me (in the end) to try going in tomorrow. I took that advice and ran with it! After the fact I felt like I'd accomplished nothing and had been a complete and utter failure. I've never done drugs, hardly ever take even aspirin -- but I was thinking that right about then a Valium would have been helpful. I was a mess.
In hind sight, and thanks to listening and encouraging friends, I can see that I did learn something by going into my hive. This was my main accomplishment. Learning. But it was tough unnerving learning. Unsettling. The bottom line was not knowing what to do moment to moment. When Diane had been by my side during the install, I was totally calm. I felt comfortable even! And there were many more bees just flying around not knowing where they were or where to go. Fear of the unknown. Like walking into Junior High for the first time, but with more bbbbuuuuuuuuzzzzzzzzziiinnnnggggggggg.
And, I also removed a large piece of burr comb. Deep in each cell glistened fresh nectar (or sugar water) that the bees had put there. Here it is. Neat, huh? Today I am going in again. Pray for me.
Incidentally, I asked Ripley afterwards if he found watching overwhelming or fun and interesting. He said "fun and interesting". So, that's good. At least he enjoyed it.
On a completely different note, Ripley had his very first T-ball game last night. There was a mix-up with his uniform shirt, so he didn't have one, but thankfully that didn't bring the tears. I was worried.
Here he is in the outfield at the ready -- in the white shirt.
Here he is glowing on third base -- having the time of his life.
Afterwards, I made two variations of asparagus and goat cheese pizza. I didn't have a recipe, so I was winging it. It was very yummy, but I don't know if it was 'perfect'. The first one has garlic and olive oil on the dough -- I cooked that for a few minutes, then added the asparagus. Cooked it for a few minutes, then added the goat cheese and red pepper flakes.
This one I put a thin layer of red sauce on the dough. Experimenting with pizza is a lot easier than experimenting with honey bees - - just so you know.