Episode 2 - Meet A Healthy Hive

Skip, our fearless new beekeeper you met in Episode 1 (Is Beekeeping For You), is ready to learn the basics. Danny Weaver introduces Skip to the gear he needs to work the bees, and helps him get started. From lighting a smoker and cracking into a hive and checking on the bees, Skip gets his first real peak at a hive.... and so do you. Danny shows Skip the basics of hive manipulation and the components that make up the hive. Skip gets a hang of the lingo and learns what to do 'when the bee stings'. He also learns some beekeeping basics, and so do you.


Announcer: Meet the Weavers. They've owned an apiary since 1888. Meet Skip. He thinks he's ready to start a bee colony.

Danny: Hi. I'm Danny Weaver.

Skip: Hi. Skip Walker.

Danny: Good to meet you, Skip.

Skip: So I get to wear all this.

Danny: This is the basic equipment that a beekeeper needs in order to get started. Coveralls are optional. A lot of people like to wear these both for the protection against bee stings that they offer and just to keep your regular clothes clean. Gloves are something you don't have to have for most manipulations, but particularly for a beginner, it usually increases the comfort level.

Skip: I'm all about that.

Danny: The veil is what keeps the bees away from your face. You've got to have a smoker too. When your smoker's brand new, it won't have a lot of creosote or tar built up on the inside, so it gets really hot. You want to avoid burns. You're going to need a hive tool. A hive tool is used for prying apart the components in a colony. You can't diagnose a healthy hive unless you can pull it apart.
That's pretty good, Skip. But a couple of things.
I noticed you got loafers on and not boots. As a general practice, you're better off if you tuck your pant legs into some boots.

Skip: You got a lot less gear than I do.

Danny: Yeah. You don't always have to wear the full complement. I prefer this because it's comfortable to me.
Okay, Skip, there are many things that you can use to fire up a smoker. We prefer to burn wood chips, and I usually start my smoker with half a piece of newspaper. But you've got to be careful. Smokers are very handy, but they can burn you, and you can inadvertently start a fire. So you have to handle them with care.

Skip: So what is the smoke for?

Danny: Smoke calms the bees and interferes with their ability to communicate alarm to one another using a pheromone. That's a good thing because one mad bee is trouble. But a whole hive full of mad bees is impossible.
Okay. Now we've got a smoker lit here. Give that a puff. Don't puff it in your face. You might shoot hot ashes into your eyes or something.

Skip: Okay.

Danny: One of the things I've got to caution you about is put enough on your colony, but don't over-smoke. Okay. Don't smoke too much.

Skip: I'll try.

Danny: Smoking too much is unhealthy for the bees.

Skip: And unhealthy for you.

Danny: Are you ready, Skip?

Skip: I'm ready.

Danny: Okay. Well, let's go on over here and work a colony of bees together.
Okay, Skip. The first thing you want to remember when you approach a colony of bees is don't come right up in front of the hive and approach the entrance directly, at least not without smoking first. Okay?

I always put a puff of smoke on the entrance. Position yourself comfortably near the hive off to the side, not right in front of it. Okay? Because all the guard bees are going to be down here by the entrance. Okay?

We also have an upper entrance in our colonies, and you don't want to block that because you'll keep foragers from returning to the colony. That will get them excited. It's all about keeping the bees calm and disturbing them as little as possible. Okay?

So now we've put a little smoke on the entrance. Let's get the smoker in our left hand. Let's pull out our hive tool and put it in our right hand. We're going to put the hive tool underneath the cover of the lid of the hive, and we're going to pry it up gently. As soon as we get it pried up, we're going to put a little puff of smoke underneath the lid. Okay?
All right. Like that. Then I'll put the smoker down gently and lift the lid off.

Okay. Now I'm going to take off the top honey super. The honey flow has not begun in the location where we are right now, and this is an empty super. We're going to remove the first super above the hive body, where the brew chamber usually is. Again, I've cracked it back using my hive tool. Once I've got it leaned back and before I even pull it off, I'll put a puff of smoke on there. All right.

Okay. Now, there are lots of things that you need to pay attention to when you go into a hive of honeybees. The first thing I noticed here that a beekeeper wants to know about immediately is the presence these two features right here. Those are queen cells. So we know already, before we've even pulled the first comb out of this colony, that we need to make sure that this colony is queen right, that is that it has a laying queen, because sometimes a hive can go queen-less. When they do, the hive will start to try to raise a new queen, and that's what they've done here.

Okay, Skip. We found the queen. There's the mother of all the bees in the colony. She can live a long time. Some queens live to be three or four years old. Very rarely queens are reported to live five years old. The drones are much bigger and fatter and blunt-ended. They don't have stingers.

Now, worker bees, Skip, they will sting you particularly if you provoke them. Now, I don't whether you can see it or not, Skip, but if you look down in these cells right here, there will be tiny little embryos or eggs at the bottom of the cell pointed upright at a slight angle, almost like tiny little grains of rice. Those are the young larva, Skip, and those are tiny little caterpillars. They will grow and grow and grow and get to be larger and larger caterpillars.
The pollen is the bright orange, yellow, red that's in these cells. The bees store that, Skip, because that's their protein source. Can you see the difference, Skip, between the brood comb, which is a slightly lighter shade of brown versus the darker brown, that is the honey comb in the brood nest?

We've got a drone comb over here on the edge of the colony. You can see it's a drone cone because the cells are so much larger. We have all three casts right there next to one another. There's the queen. There's the drone. And there are worker bees all around the queen too.

Okay, Skip. This is something you need to know about. I just got stung. You need to remember when you get stung, don't panic. The most important thing to do is to get the stinger out quickly. Now, there is a venom sac there along with a little muscle that pumps that venom into you. You want to get that stinger out quickly. So you get your fingernail under there and just flick it out. Okay, like that. Flick it out right away.

Okay, Skip. So what we're going to do for this hive is we're going to give it a hive body, a second hive body on top of the bottom hive body. Okay. So before we put this second hive body on, we'll put a little smoke on those bees because we've kept this hive open a while. We're going to take the second hive body, and we're going to put it on top. Okay. Now this is drone comb. It doesn't have to be drone comb. You can use foundation. The queen will move up into it faster though because it's a drone comb. Okay.
So we're going to put that on top, and then we're going to put the excluder back on. Finally, Skip, I'll say that it doesn't really matter what equipment you put your hive in. You can configure a hive any number of different ways. For instance, this colony has two honey supers put together. That's okay too. It's whatever you choose to do.