By Cliff York, Michael Kelly, and Pete Lund
A beehive is designed to support high productivity. The bees themselves play a key engineering role in the design of the hive's internal structure. Rows upon rows of wooden (sometimes plastic) frames, not unlike a picture frame, hang from a ledge in the sides of hives—essentially a set of wooden boxes stacked in layers or stories (called "supers").
The bees create thousands of five-sided cells made of beeswax within those frames. Those wax cells serve as both a pantry and a nursery for the hive. Honey is stored in the wax cells, but the same cells are also used as a nursery for the transformation of bees from eggs laid by the queen to a pupal stage, to worm-like larvae, and ultimately to fully developed flying insects that emerge after the juvenile bees chew off the wax cover of their cell.
Broadmead's beekeepers continue to suffer the loss of hives, as do almost all beekeepers in this area, probably due to the use of agricultural pesticides. By August 2019, we were down to three hives, which we treated with a gassy medication that eliminates the varroa mite, a tiny predator that infests the trachea of honey bees and weakens a hive, making bees more susceptible to the risk of pesticide poisoning.
We lost another hive and thus started in the fall with two hives. The two surviving hives thrived with a steady diet of fondant during the relatively mild 2020 winter. Fondant is the result of cooking table sugar, water, and vinegar, which then cools to form a hard plate-like surface. The plates of fondant can fit easily above the frames in a hive super—hard and cohesive enough to stay relatively dry, but just soft enough for the bees to be able to consume it.
This spring we acquired three small "nucs" (a small box with a nucleus of a queen and five frames of bees). Adding the nucs was good planning for what we recognize as a treacherous future for bees these days.Although we went through periods of optimism and pessimism this year, we produced more than 200 jars of honey.