Not-so-zombie Bees, Just Some Clean-freak Bees

Ok, so they’re doing it again, washboarding that is. This time isn’t as dramatic and bizarre as seeing an entire organized army of sisters on the front of your hive washboarding in the same direction, at the same time, in the same tempo, but I captured it on video this time and it will at least give you an idea, on a smaller scale, of what I saw them doing before.

After seeing them do this a second time, I’m now pretty sure that they are in deep cleaning mode. A yellow streak had been building up right at the entrance of the hive due to all their pollen deliveries. Seems like these girls are a stickler for a neat and tidy home.

First, I’ll show you what normal looks like.
General comings and goings

Now take a look at washboarding.

Disposal of Pupating Honey Bees

Yet another interesting observation today. I went out to check on the hive and sat and watched them come and go for a couple minutes when I noticed one bee carrying a large white object out the front entrance. It seemed to take a lot of effort to drag it and once it got to the edge of the hive it was able to fly about six inches up and six inches away into our lawn where it then dumped the white object. While it had been in mid-air, it almost seemed like the white thing was alive and wriggling. I went over to where it lay in the lawn and found that it was a honey bee that was near the final stages of pupation. It seemed to be large in size, but not queen size, and it had absolutely no pigment just yet.

I went in the house to grab my video camera and bring my husband out to look at it. Video camera had no juice, but when I brought Andrew out with me we were both able to witness another body being disposed of. Later in the day I found a total of three carcases in the lawn. I have no idea what this means, if anything, for my hive. A couple of online searches mentioned potential viruses and mite problems, another talked about how some hives can over-estimate on the number of drones they should produce in the spring and how they cart off the extra ones.

I’ve charged up my camera and plan to go out tomorrow around the same time to see if I can catch them in the act again.

2nd Inspection

We did our 2nd inspection, this time not using any smoke. I’m getting more and more fearless with the bees, which will probably take me getting stung to pull back a little bit on my bravery. On that note, a few of them shot right out at us as soon as we opened up the top cover this time, pinging our veils as if to say, “hey you, I’m watching you – don’t make any false moves,” so we calmly walked away and came back after a moment. They hadn’t done the before but being that I didn’t use smoke, that may be why. I pulled out a couple of the more central frames and definitely saw a lot of progress with the comb they have built on those frames. Still no activity on my plastic cell frames, however. I’m not sure if this would be an accurate observation, but as I was looking around the hive it seemed like their population has increased since when I first brought them home.

Overall, lots of activity on the warm sunny days and still pretty busy on overcast days. On occasion I have seen a couple bees doing what seems to be a very fast fanning motion with their wings as they sit stationary at the entrance of the hive while facing inward. It’s almost like they are gripping the floor beneath their bodies tightly so that they do not fly upwards. At the same time, they also rotate their abdomens around in a circle. My guess is that they are letting off pheromones and fanning the scent outward. I suspect this could be a duty they perform for the young ones that are taking their first flights.

We did a little photo shoot of the entrance to the hive too. Here’s one favorite of a honey bee flying back to the hive while others prepare for their foraging flights. This is constant, however. I could literally watch them for hours coming and going, like they are my favorite part in a movie that I can keep rewinding and watching.

Zombie Bees

We observed some strange behavior yesterday afternoon from the bees that were on the front of the hive. At first glance, I was surprised to see so many just kind of lingering on the front side of the box. Looking closer, however, they all seemed to be doing the same motion – they were standing in place rocking forward and backward repeatedly, and at the same pace. I watched them for a long time and couldn’t draw any conclusions from my observation. They literally looked like an army of zombie bees. It was really quite eerie.

Googling key words like “bees rocking back and forth” brought up a search result called “Washboarding bees arockin’ and alickin'”. It turns out there is an actual term for this strange behavior – Washboarding! You can also see a video that shows you what the bees look like when they are washboarding. I did some more searches in forums, and it seems like no one really knows why they “washboard”, but there are a few consistent theories out there such as: 1) the bees are licking the surface to protect against other organisms from living on the surface of the hive, 2) the bees are more permanently etching in their scent so that fellow bees can more easily find home, 3) the bees are twiddling their thumbs due to lack of nectar flow, 4) the bees are young and don’t have a role in the hive yet.

I noticed again today that there were quite a few doing the same thing, although, not as many as were doing it yesterday. I’m going to see if they do it again tomorrow and hopefully get it on video. How weird!!

Week 1 Inspection

Ok, ok – I know I’ve had them for longer than a week at this point…better late than never though! We did our first inspection at the 1-week mark since installing our bees into their new home, and these are the photos from that inspection. There was some noticeable progress; however, not much at all on the frames with the plastic cell foundation at the far ends of the hive. Seems like they are staying in the center for the most part, which is to be expected from what I hear. I don’t have much else to say right now since I’m still learning about what to look for and what it all means.

Why I Am Doing This

I am getting a lot of questions about why I have chosen to start keeping honey bees. People seem to be very interested in the “why” and “how” I got started, and I don’t think my About section is really satisfying the curiosity. I’d like to take a moment to explain a little bit more.

A few years ago I heard on the radio about this awful thing that was happening to our bees – Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD – and I learned how important honey bees are to human survival. Until hearing this radio show, I hadn’t realized that honey bees were such an integral part of the pollination process for much of the food we eat.

CCD was discovered in 2006. It devastated beekeepers across the world and left the agricultural industry at a significant loss. No one really knew why CCD was happening. Bees were just disappearing without a trace –  entire colonies abandoned. Over the next few years a lot of research went into learning what could be the cause of CCD. Viruses, mites, and pesticides were the large contenders. Recently, new studies have come out to show that a certain pesticide could be the root cause; being sprayed upon the crops that were visited by the bees and brought back to the hive, infecting parts of the hive and therefore the entire hive, leaving the bees more and more disoriented whenever leaving the hives, to never return again.

This radio show took place a while ago when it was all still a really big mystery. They promoted a book on the show called the The Backyard Beekeeper, and so I bought it. I dabbled in the book here and there reading bits of chapters occasionally. Each Spring I kept thinking how great it would be to keep bees, that me and my husband had started a nice little garden in the backyard of our new house and how nice our garden could be at the same time as helping bring the honey bee population up. But each year passed and I never looked into it, it was just something I wished to do someday.

Then, at the start of 2012, I picked up the book again and started reading it from the beginning. I just became so fascinated with how each bee has a particular role during it’s life to play, and how each bee works very hard all for the purpose of the success of the hive. The way they communicate to one another to indicate a particularly good pollen location, how they navigate the world around them and know precisely just where to go even at different times of the day and varying weather.

Then I googled beekeeping class Detroit. It was mid-March, and I had decided I really wanted to learn more about how to start beekeeping. The first thing that popped up in the search was a Beekeepers Conference at Schoolcraft College, it was just days away. I attended the conference and was struck by how many people were there.

It was a full day of sessions with different paths you could take depending on your level and what you were interested in learning. I learned about equipment and history of beekeeping, I made notes about local suppliers for hive parts and packaged bees. But above all, I  realized that I could really start a hive for minimal money and time effort and ultimately bring bees to my backyard, my community, and help increase bee population in the Detroit area.

Following the conference I placed my nuc order that included 3lbs of bees, a queen, and 5 frames already started with brood. I purchased my unassembled hive and protective gear, boardman feeder, hive tool, and smoker. That pretty much takes you up the very start of this blog when I received my equipment and began assembling, priming, and painting it, making sure I had everything ready for when I brought home my bees!