I went across to Tatworth yesterday where apprentice Sarah is keen to get some hands on experience with the bees I have placed on her Bee Happy Plants nursery. There were people, WWOOFers (Willing Workers On Organic Farms), docking the docks close to the hive but they seemed unconcerned by it.
I found Sarah in her home and was greeted by her noisy hounds. She climbed into her brand new all-in-one beesuit from Buzz Beekeeping Supplies. It fitted her height but had plenty of room for extra girth and the wrist bands were a little slack. I lend Sarah my Buzz gauntlets but, although they are fine on me, again they were slack on her wrists: the girl’s just too scrawny!
We went to the hive, my original Top Bar Hive, built of pallet wood about 15 years ago, which seems to have become lowered very slightly at the front end, although it might be partly an optical illusion because of the slope of the land. The bees, a nucleus I put in some weeks ago, were flying strongly and bringing in pollen. Drones were to be seen also. One of the WWOOFers, a Spaniard I think, asked Sarah, in her space suit, where the rocket was!
Last time, it was I who did all the handling while Sarah watched. Now it was her turn. We didn’t use a smoker and didn’t wear gloves, just a squirt of scent on our hands and a spray of liquid smoke at the entrance. I reminded Sarah of the importance of slow, gentle, hand movements while handling bees in order to reduce the chances of getting stung. It is years since she last had a bee sting so we don’t yet know how she will react when she gets one.
Having removed the roof, she started at the rear by removing an empty bar to give some working space, then gently, bar by bar, worked forward until bees were found dangling from the bars in wax-drawing mode. It was about this time that a design fault became apparent: Sarah is too short and her arms aren’t long enough to work the TBH completely from the rear. We didn’t have the opportunity or means to stretch her then, so she had to move to the side and work from there.
She was able to lift out the bars of bees gently, fearlessly and stinglessly but hadn’t understood or remembered the way to invert them vertically to look at the other side, so I looked for her and was pleased to see a good slab of sealed brood surrounded by unsealed. We saw the queen. I showed Sarah the propolis that the bees had used to fill gaps between bars and showed her how to scrape some off as her first harvest.
Sarah managed carefully to replace the bars and close the hive without squashing any bees. Well done! She put the propolis in her pocket and I told her that she must remember to take it all out as it would stain for ever. She tasted some and loved it, packing some round an aching tooth as a temporary filling.
Back at her home she showed my her copy of my (co-authored) book: Getting the Best from Your Bees. Judging from the bookmark, she is about half way through and seems to be enjoying it. I autographed it for her.
By now she may have applied a spirit level to the hive and, if necessary, levelled it with a wedge that I left with her. When you aren’t using foundation and the bees are using only gravity for guidance it is important that hives, conventional or top bar, are level.