6.13.2011

Getting Mentored

Our rooftop hives

Bees don't need a beekeeper to survive, but if you're going to take on that challenge, do it right. Get someone who knows what they're doing to follow you around to watch if you know what you're doing.

Paul started the San Francisco Beekeepers Association decades ago, or so we've been told (we weren't there). One late foggy morning, he stopped by and offered to guide Charlie through working our hives. 

Charlie suited up in his electric-white, brand-new full suit while Paul threw on his veil. As Charlie began to move around the hives, he asked, "Am I disrupting anything?"

"You're moving fine," Paul said. "You obviously know what you're doing."

"I do?"
"You have good, healthy colonies," Paul said. "All your hives look really good. Let's pull out some drone larvae and see if we can find any varroa mites." Varroa mites, the parasites that attach themselves to the shoulders of bees and eat them alive one by one before eventually killing the whole colony, like to live and reproduce in the drone larvae. "You'll see little orange dots."

The only hives old enough to have drone larvae are the two packaged hives. They pulled them out of both and couldn’t find one mite. There were a few, round red mites on the bottom board, but Paul said that's normal.

The Golden Gate Girls, our feral swarm, is still so small that, since Paul was here, Charlie asked if he could look at them and see if they're okay.

Drone Larvae
"They're population is sustaining," Paul said, "but not growing. The queen is laying eggs but can't get ahead of the cycle. In a couple of weeks, you can take a brood frame from your strongest colony and put in their hive. That'll give them a jump start. Leave the nurse bees on the frame. Put it in the hive with the hitchhikers still attached. That'll increase the population in two ways."

"Won't the bees fight?"

"Nurse bees don't fight. All they care about is their babies. They don't care what colony they're in as long as they're nursing."


No fighting in nature? Who knew?

"If, by accident, foragers also hitchhike in," Paul added, "they will fight. Watch out for that. And don’t do it now or you’ll weaken the strong hive. Then you’ll have two weak hives."

"What about this feral hive from Oakland? When I opened up their hive, they dive-bombed me. They stayed right on me, trying to sting, attacking long after I put their roof back on and moved out of the way. I had to sit on the other side roof, swatting them off for a good fifteen minutes before I could go inside without them following me."

Still without a suit and gloves, he said, "Let me take a look."
Bottom board with two varroa mites (upper right/lower center)

He opened up the roof and started poking around the frames. The previously angry bees acted as if he wasn’t even there, making pollen, nursing, flying busily like bees normally do.

“That’s different than when I went in,” Charlie said. "To say the least."

“Was that the first time you’d been in their hive?”

“Oh yeah.”

“That’s probably it," Paul said. "They weren't used to human hands. They’re fine now.” 

If you've ever watched "The Dog Whisperer" and seen how antagonistic, belligerant dogs become sweet little pups once Cesar's visited, replace Cesar with Paul and dogs with bees and you'll know exactly what we feel like.