Tuesday, July 5, 2011

It Was a Dark and Stormy Spring

Normally, Pacific Science Center’s bee keeper orders new colonies of bees in mid April, raises them in conventional hives until May, and installs them near the middle of that month.

This year, due to cool, wet weather, the schedule kept getting pushed back, but finally in June we had enough warmth to risk taking the bees out of their boxes and transferring them to the observation hive.

There are risks to the bees as we transfer their comb from one place to another. Cold air can chill the larvae, or brood, developing in the cells. If badly chilled, brood may be killed. We chose the warmest day we could, but it was still below the 60 degrees we would have hoped for. We worked carefully to avoid crushing bees between the frame and the glass covers on the observation hive, and transferred the entire structure even more carefully. Dropping it would have resulted in broken glass, escaping bees, the loss of the entire colony – not to mention honey on the carpet.

The observation hive is installed above an exit tube allowing the bees to come and go. From there they fly around Seattle Center’s grounds, seeking nectar and pollen producing plants. In case they couldn’t find much, we placed a jar of sugar water near the entrance to the comb, inside a weather proof box. The bees can survive on this syrup until they become established, at which point the nectar from locally grown lavender, ceanothus, butterfly bush, and other garden plantings will sustain them.

During the month to six weeks the bees spent in a hive box before we got them, they were given several preventive treatments. Traces of one such treatment can be seen on the side of the hive facing the butterfly house. The waxed paper between two of the frames was originally topped with a mixture of shortening and powdered sugar. As the bees transported this substance, it coated their skins, making them more resistant to the tracheal mites that are among the many pests and diseases troubling modern beekeepers and their bees.

So far the bees are adjusting well. Their brood is developing correctly, with no sign of being chilled. Workers are actively entering and leaving, and new food is being collected and stored. We wish our bees success!

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