Thursday, January 2, 2014

Hidden Opportunities

We lost one of our hives early in December and since there's really nothing to do with it until things get warmer, I just covered the entrances and let it be.  But when my sister and her family came last week, I realized that a winter deadout is a fantastic hidden opportunity to teach people, especially kids, about bees.

First off, I knew for a fact the middle hive was a deadout because Lily and I had already opened it to make sure a few weeks ago.  We thought the nuc was a deadout too and had opened it only to find that not only was it alive, but defensive.   On this day, we left the nuc completely alone and opened only the hive I knew was already dead.

The day was cloudy and in the lower 50s.  We did see a couple of bees from the big hive come out for exercise.  I had the boys put their ears to the back of big live hive and then I knocked so they could hear the hum.  

Then we opened the deadout.  We showed them propolis and how the bees had sealed up all the cracks. 

We talked about how winter bees are all girl bees and how they kick the drones out when it gets cold but the queen lays more when it starts getting warmer.   We talked about how drones don't have stingers. 

The boys got to hold dead bees.   They thought that was really cool.  I showed them how fuzzy they are and where the stingers were and that an insect has three parts:  a head, thorax and abdomen.   

We showed them how the cluster was arranged like a ball in the hive and then we pulled out a frame with bees on it and show how they were arranged in the cells and over the cells to make the cluster.   We looked for the queen but couldn't find her.   We did see dead brood and showed them the capped brood under the bees.

Eric explained how when bees are born they start out as nurse bees, then progress to foragers and finally water carriers.  

I pulled out a frame of honey and cut some off so everyone could taste it.   The wax was crispy from the cold, but the honey was gooood.

We showed them the pollen stores and some unfinished nectar and the capped honey and a couple of places where the caps were shredded and honey must have been robbed out.  We talked about how bees make honey from nectar.

They wanted to know what killed the bees, so we talked about varroa and Eric pulled the bottom board so we could show them a few.   We talked about how a varroa on a bee is like a tick the size of your fist on you, passing on diseases like Deformed Wing Virus and that those things will weaken a hive so it won't make it through the winter.  

We talked about where the hive entrances are and how you stay in the back of the hive when you check things.   They asked tons of questions and it was one of those times when you can see learning happening.     I think from now on, whenever I have a deadout I'm going to make a point of inviting people over to look it over.   It's a great way to teach people about bees.


  1. Wow. It's sad that the hive died, but what a great opportunity.

  2. That is an awesome opportunity! I've got some neighbors who ask questions about the bees, I bet they'd be interested in seeing the inside of a hive, from the safety of a dead hive. Thanks for sharing!


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