When I was a kid we had 150 leased acres of sandy bottom ground on which we raised vegetables. We had a bee keeper who kept 5 or 6 hives on the property. I was always fascinated by how industrious those bees were.
Yes, they are really busy pretty much all the time- once we got them home this spring, they wasted no time in finding pollen and building their hive.
Amazing instinctive behavior. I assume this hive is yours. Have you seen any of the "colony collapse disorder" I've read about? Some farms with hives around here have experienced it, but it seems to strike randomly.
Yes and no. Technically the hive is our neighbor's, but my wife maintains it; they have little to nothing to do with them.
About the CCD, to be honest we're not sure. Since little is actually known about it (scientists have a good idea of contributing/influencing factors) we don't know if the losses we saw the winter before last was in fact CCD.
This whole bee venture started in 2012 when our neighbor was given a hive setup with Italian bees. They were going to be out of state during the expected delivery time, so my wife stepped up and offered to get them unpacked and going. She also took care of all the care and maintenance- hive inspections looking for mites and such, feeding sugar water for the first few weeks, then later straight water and so on... They worked through the summer on their stores of honey for winter. One last hive inspection in the fall showed their numbers were strong and no discernible mites. When springtime came around, there was no activity in or around the hive. Subsequent inspection showed very few bees, all dead. This is consistent with CCD. In our case the bulk of their numbers disappeared, leaving the remaining few unable to cope with the cold. There was ample honey, but the bees were found in the comb, head first (dead)- typical of "cold starving".
Fast forward a few weeks when we went to order more. At the time, we didn't realize the demand for bees was so great, so we didn't get our pre-order filled in time, so no bees last summer. This year, we picked up a batch of Carnolian bees. It's really a pretty informal process. My wife drove to the bee farm and got a cage with the queen and about 7-8 thousand bees. There were a few stragglers, but no big deal. Just set the container in the back seat and the half a dozen or so loose bees followed the queen. After a few minutes of driving, they settled down.
Once home she got them unpacked and all set up. Let me tell you that they hit the ground running, er, flying... With less then optimal pollen conditions, they managed to make more comb and breed greater numbers then their Italian counterparts in the same time frame. And I'm here to tell you, they are mellow! Observers are only obstacles to be flown around- they only care about getting to and from the hive! They tolerate inspections well, and such- no PPE is worn. Though skirts or dresses are strongly discouraged! My wife says that while some may fly out to see what's going on, the most they will do in land on you, then buzz off to find something better to do. The most important thing to do is stay calm. These bees are so laid back that I can run the riding lawn mower within 12" of the hive entrance and have never been stung, though I don't push my luck and mow that close when it's hot out and there are hundreds or thousands of bees in the immediate vicinity of the entrance! When it's cooler, there may only be a dozen or two at the entrance.
Mite prevention is comical! She chooses not to use chemicals to ward off mites, instead using powdered sugar. Bees are very, very clean creatures and dusting them with powered sugar makes them go into cleaning mode. During the process of removing the sugar, the mites get knocked off as well. Since it takes them a few hours to completely remove the sugar, you get to see some "albino" bees flying around!
I wished we could give an accurate idea of their current population, but cannot. I can only relate what we have found so far. When she brought them home, she set up the first box, they only occupied 3-4 of the 10 slats in it, the "deep super". A little over a month later another "deep super" was added to accommodate their growing numbers. Finally she added a "honey super"- so basically almost tripling the size of the hive in a few months time. I suppose, if I had to make a guess, I would say there are about 50-70 thousand bees.
Who knows what winter will bring this year. So far, the hive has been in great shape, with their numbers growing fast and no mites or pests bothering them, so we will have our fingers crossed.