Kathryn Stresak, Dorian Gomberg, Ed Vlcek, Brad Krautwurst, and Naomi Neal are Shimer students participating in the Shimer Internship/Mentorship (SIM) Program. They regularly post updates about their internship experiences.
Today I have pictures and video! I even caught a queen bee on camera! This may not seem altogether too exciting, but believe me, it was a very lucky day.
The last week or so has been busy. We have been preparing to go to market, which means, among other things, harvesting and extracting honey. To explain this in detail I need more photos, so I will save it for a later post. For now, I want to talk about wax.
Wax is a substance secreted from the bees' abdomens in sheets that they then use to build the honeycomb. You can imagine it as bee sweat. The Wikipedia article on Beeswax has the scientific details, if you are interested.
Throughout the beekeeping year there are all sorts of ways in which wax is used and reused: the bees ovbiously build their houses out of it; we use it to mend small holes in bee cages and other such-like fixes; and we melt it all down to make candles and body products like lip balm and lotion.
The melting process usually involves a pan of some variety, a thermometer, and electricity - but no longer! We are now using one of these wonderfully simple contraptions, a solar powered wax melter:
All it is a wooden box with a glass lid, a metal sheet with a lip, a screen, a basin for catching wax, and two legs to get a good angle. And the magical power of the sun teams up with gravity to do the work! The stuff piled up inside is old comb and foundation made from wax. It's quite mesmerizing, and because it melts so quickly and dries so quickly, you can be around the wax in several states within just a few minutes. This is what it looks like in liquid action, with the "slumgum", a residue made of bee c0coons and other goopy stuff, holding back at the top -
Besides melting wax, which is a pretty easy thing to do, we worked on equalizing a few hives today. There are a couple of hives at the site in Back-of-the-Yards that somehow lost their queen, so to make good use of the population, we decided to combine those with some really healthy hives. This was slow, bee-disturbing work, so we cooked fairly well out in the hot weather. But it all got done. Taking apart hives gave me a good opportunity to take some video of the bottom board covered in bees -
When a hive goes queenless, often times workers with start laying, but because they are unfertilized, they can only lay drone (male) bees. So, when we inspected these queenless hives, we checked the pattern of developing larvae to make sure that they were all drones. Curiously, a few weren't. We hypothesized that it was probably from the former queen, and thought little of it, although we did start to check for queens more carefully.
So at the end of the day, we were packing it all up, and I was wheelbarrowing into the field to gather up all our supplies. To my surprise, there was a tower of bees hugging a small plant, in a tiny swarm!
And of course, there was a queen after all, and we had shaken her out onto the ground without even knowing it! So we took some emergency measures and caught the queen!