Mystery honey and falling combs

One of the unfallen combs

One of the unfallen combs

Apparently, my bees heard that our camera’s memory card malfunctioned, destroying the pictures of my husband Paul cleverly repairing their fallen comb, and they wanted the world to know of his ingenuity. They obligingly let another comb fall, so I have fresh new documentation of man/bee symbiosis.

I’d been thinking I should probably do another hive inspection—it had been a week and a half since the previous one—but I realized I needed to get on that right away when I saw that my hive was dripping.

At first, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing, but upon closer inspection (and a surreptitious taste), I realized that there was unripe honey oozing out the hive’s bottom. Had a leaky cow wandered by, the scene would have been positively Biblical.

As much as I liked the idea that honey was being made, I had a bad feeling about it. Therefore, as soon as Paul got home from work, I conscripted him to be Inspection Back Up.

He obligingly lit the smoker as I donned my bee veil (I’d learned my lesson about that). He puffed some smoke into the hive, and I lifted the first bar. Sure enough, there was a piece of comb on the bottom, oozing half-finished honey. It had some cells packed with pollen but, fortunately, no brood—as far as my neophyte eyes could discern, anyway.

The fallen comb

The fallen comb

Conveniently enough, the bees had waited until the purchase of our shiny new camera to drop their second comb, so I was able to document the repair this time. After lifting it out of the hive, I took it to Paul’s shop, where (as before) he cut off the edge of the comb so it would lie straight and melted it onto the bar. This time, he also used a piece of string to reinforce the comb and (we hope) keep it from falling again.

Paul melting the wax onto the bar

Paul melting the wax onto the bar

Sage watching Paul reinforce the comb with string

Sage watching Paul reinforce the comb with string

Being manly, he didn’t bother with the bee veil when he stuck his handiwork back into the hive, and the grateful bees did him no harm. (I know it’s anthropomorphizing, but whatever their bee logic, the fact remains that they left him alone.)

Paul putting the repaired comb back into the hive

Paul putting the repaired comb back into the hive

I was so occupied with Repair #2 that I didn’t do a careful inspection of the other combs. Most of the cells looked full, and I think there was some puffy drone brood on at least one comb, but that’s about the extent of my observation.

Since the weather has now gone from unseasonably cold to mid-summer heat, I realized I should open the bottom board to allow some air circulation; the lows were supposed to be in the 60s for the foreseeable forecast, so I figured it was safe. The day had been in the mid-80s, and I thought that since the colony is still sadly scant (it was originally a smallish two pound package, and it lost quite a few in the cold snap after its arrival), it couldn’t adequately cool the interior. Maybe the wax had melted and detached?

I opened the bottom board (there’s still mesh on the bottom so everything doesn’t fall out) last evening, and all seemed to be well until I noticed more drips oozing out this morning. I was worried that a second comb had fallen, possibly crushing all the brood on one side, but I couldn’t investigate thoroughly since I had to work at the library.

Fortunately, upon my return, I realized I could open the bottom board as far as it would go. (It attaches at one end of the mesh and opens on hinges.) I did so, crawled underneath, and was relieved to see four combs still hanging. That was good news for Paul, who was spared more bee repairs and could focus on his current building project, and good news for me; I’d been fretting about my bees the whole time I was at work.

I still don’t know where the honey is coming from. I’d feared it was dripping from the combs, but it doesn’t seem to be coming from under them. Rather, it seems to be coming out under the sugar water feeder. The texture is thick and similar to honey, but maybe the heat has thickened the liquid into a syrup??

It’s a mystery to me, at least until I conduct further investigations, but in the meantime, I’m glad to know that A) my bees seem to be competent architects after all and B) Paul gets to preserve his comb-repairing ingenuity for posterity.

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5 comments

  1. Intriguing title and “sweet” story. Another one to pass on to my son. By the way, your husband’s shop looks neat and tidy.

  2. I wonder if bees can sense nervousness? I can’t ever see myself opening a hive without a thick veil (or hazmat suit), but I have a feeling my fear would annoy them into a swarm anyway.

    1. Nonsense! You would simply lull them with the dulcet tones of poetry, and they would hum contentedly about you as you wander through the flowery fields. (Or something like that, anyway…)

  3. My online friend in New Hampshire, Martha, keeps bees (http://marthaschaefer.com/) and I think it must be so wonderful to have your own honey. I think I’m too much of a coward though 🙂

    1. Take courage on the bee front! I’ve heard that different colonies have different personalities, but so far, I have no complaints about mine; the girls let me sit in front of the hive, almost with my eye up to the entrance hole, and they obligingly fly around me. Given that a bee loses her life when she stings, I commend them on their pacifism! I doubt I’ll get any honey this year though; their population is still pretty thin, and I’m leaving them every resource they have available. They’re so much fun to watch, though, that it’s worth having them, honey or no honey. Thanks for your feedback on my blog entry, by the way!

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