Olga's Down, MimiKo and Bickman Are Up

My friends, I'm sad to report that the outlook of the Olga hive is not good. Mr. Neil, Non Birding Bill and I headed out to do a quick bee inspection...Olga has no eggs, no brood, nothing. And the overall buzzing sound is just sad--dissonant. The new queen didn't take. We're not sure what happened. We purchased a new queen to replace the one missing in action, and Lorraine made sure to release her and it didn't work. There could be several reasons: was the new queen not fertile (doubtful) or did she get released and not all the bees in the hive accepted her and at some point killed her? Is there democratic movement going on and the workers have decided to ditch the monarchy system?

We decided to make one last ditch effort by putting in a frame with some eggs from the Kitty hive to see of the Olga bees will grow a queen, but that's going to take another 16 days and then if they get that far, she has to go on a "maiden voyage" and will she find drones to mate with? Will she get eaten by a great-crested flycatcher or purple martin? It's just time to let go and let bee--see if they can sort it out themselves, we've done all we can.

After we checked Olga, I began to understand why so many people I meet and find out that I keep bees say, "Oh yeah, I did that once." Last summer was so fun, something new to discover every week, bees mostly following the books and doing some cool things on their own. I was feeling down and getting irritated with my junior beekeepers. When NBB and Mr. Neil went to retrieve a frame of eggs from Kitty for the Olga hive, Mr. Neil dutifully came over with a frame full of eggs...and Kitty bees. "NO!" I shouted. "We can't have bees, and the queen could be on there, you can't put Kitty workers in with Olga workers! The Kitty Queen could be on there!"

NBB insisted that they both had checked for the queen and would brush the Kitty bees back into their hives. I was feeling the pressure and felt bad for snapping at them. Two hives not doing super great. The unhappy buzzing of Olga just made me question the whole beekeeping operation. Sure, even if Olga dies, we'll still get her honey, but what went wrong? Was it something we could have prevented? Is this spot too shady for the bees? We had to move Olga over a little bit this spring, did we move her too close to a tree trunk? Also, like last summer, I found that we were trying all sorts of things to try and save her and it seems to be postponing the inevitable.

Then we left the Kitty and Olga hives and went over to the new Bickman and MimiKo hives and the world shifted. These were happy, healthy hives! And MimiKo was getting creative with her comb. Mr. Neil and NBB took off the top brood box and we found this:

They drew out some funky comb! Go MimiKo. One side had eggs and the other side did not, so we decided to smoosh it onto another frame without eggs. The buzzing at these hives was much happier, much more in harmony. Despite the fact that a couple of weeks earlier when I stole a frame of brood from this hive and angered them, they were still pretty cool with us and we barely needed the smoker.

The Bickman hive was just as happy and friendly. Here is the sound of a happy Bickman bee with full pollen baskets waiting for another worker to help her unload. Watch her little butt bouncing in expectancy:

Hear that happy buzzing in the background?

Another worker approached and started to get the pollen. Check out the bee with the pollen baskets. Notice anything strange in that photo? It looks like she has not wings. I think she was moving them so quickly that my camera couldn't pick them up at that setting. The happy buzzing sounds, the friendly bees, the industrious drawing out of comb, the healthy harmonious sounds--now I remembered why I love beekeeping. I looked at NBB and Mr. Neil and was overcome with joy. Though Olga might be failing, Kitty isn't doing so bad and MimiKo and Bickman are going like gang busters. The beekeeping life is good.

Mr. Neil and I have made the leap from newbie to true beekeepers. The one thing that is a constant among all beekeepers is disagreement. You ask 5 beekeepers a question, you'll get 5 different answers, all thought out and with reasons (good or bad) for the madness. I learned from the Beekeeping Short Course that in northern climates like Minnesota, you should do a three deep brood box systems so your bees will overwinter. The bottom two boxes have brood and honey, the top is all honey. Mr. Neil has been reading online about a two deep brood box system that some people in Wisconsin have tried and think that it helps to keep your bees clustered and warm. We were "discussing this" and in the middle we suddenly stopped and realized--"Hey, we sound like beekeepers! We're arguing over method! Sweet!"

Now I think we can truly call ourselves beekeepers and not "I'm a new beekeeper."