by Claire Anderson
The BackYardHive Bee Doctor Intensives felt like a summer honeybee retreat and a sweet, intensive-learning holiday. We all gathered in Eldorado Springs early in the morning around 8am, before it would get too hot to work the beehives. It was a pleasant time of year with the smell of summer in the air. We sat on Corwin’s back porch sipping green tea and creating a plan for the day. I enjoyed the dynamic variety of people who showed up. Some people were fairly new to working in hives and others were seasoned bee guardians.
The mix of people helped set the tone of learning and discovering together. Corwin would explain a ‘concept of the day’, usually something relevant for the hives we were planning to visit for the day. An example, one morning we contemplated, discussed and visualized how a hive "locked" by cross combing might fit together dimensionally. Then we discussed how we would pull the spacers to peer down into the hive to assess how we might proceed. Another great learning experience was reading through several emails from people who had different hive issues or problems and everyone discussed what they thought the problem might be and how they would propose to solve it.
Each day we had 3 or 4 hives to visit and a rough plan for the day. Working with honeybees requires a certain amount of flexibility to a plan because once you open a hive, generally that is when the problem solving and tweaking of the plan begins. This sort of organized chaos is one of my favorite aspects of being a bee guardian, hive doctoring and catching swarms.
One day, I think it was our third day, we were just getting into our cars to visit the first hive to help a family harvest honey comb from a hive with crossed combs, when we suddenly got an urgent call from a woman who woke up to find her two hives toppled over with fragile combs broken and bees flying everywhere. She hadn’t set up an electric fence yet because she lived, what she thought was outside of bear territory. It was very lucky that it happened during the intensives because we were like an emergency squad ready to respond within minutes. We quickly gathered our supplies, hopped in our cars and were off to check it out.
Beehives attacked by a bear.
Sure enough, the hives were toppled over and the combs and bees were sitting out in the sun in complete dismay.
The Bee Doctors came to the rescue to put the hive back together again.
When a colony gets traumatized, the bees have a very specific tone and feel throughout the hive. It’s sort of a helpless cry for help and each colony reacts differently in the first moments when a bee guardian begins working to help set things right. Sometimes a colony will let go, sort of seeming to sense that we’re trying to help and other times a colony is so distraught that they defend their toppled hive with all that they’ve got.
On this particular adventure, both hives seemed to sense that we were there to help. We were careful not to rush right in, just as a first responder wouldn’t rush right into the scene of an accident before assessing the situation. After evaluating the situation and carefully planning out what we were going to do, we got our ‘surgery kit’ (Bee Doctor Bags) ready with string, extra spacers, magnifying glass, hive tools and clean comb pieces used to reattach the broken combs to the top bars.
We carefully worked together moving the combs from the ground back to the hive while paying close attention to how the combs fit together and the orientation front to back, always keeping a sharp eye out for the queen. We worked to save as many combs as possible that we carefully reattached to the top bars with a string technique.
As we worked we realized that one of the hives didn’t seem to have a laying queen (there wasn’t any brood that was less than three days old and the tone of the hive seemed “off”). The other hive was doing well, and since both hives were Golden Mean sized, we decided to transfer one broken off comb, which had brood eggs that were less than three days old, from the stronger hive to the weaker hive. This we believed would give the queen-less hive a chance at drawing out an emergency queen. We attached the comb, which had brood less than 3 days old, to the top bar with string and used part of a spacer at the bottom so the string wouldn’t cut into the comb.
Bee Guardian is examining comb with a magnifying glass to look for eggs less than three day old.
What a great learning opportunity this was for everyone. After we got everything in order, we were all ready for lunch so we headed back to the Eldorado Springs apiary. Lunches were always such a nice time of the day with everyone sitting around in the shade, sharing food and chatting about bees and life. People came from all over the country and it was great to meet and chat with so many new people excited about honeybees.
After a leisurely lunch, we would set out to cover other bee doctor calls or work on hives in the Eldorado apiary for the rest of the afternoon. In the late afternoon, we would come together for watermelon and summing up the day. Those who could, would reconvene in the evenings for hikes in the amazing Eldorado Canyon State Park, right out Corwin's back door or join Corwin and Karen for processing the comb that we harvested that day. As each bee guardian completed their intensive days and began transitioning to Bee Doctors, we would have a little ceremony. The people who had completed their apprenticeship and were ready to work hives on their own as hive doctors, received their silver bee medallions, as a symbol of this accomplishment.
Bee Guardians receiving their silver bee medallions
It was quite an adventure for everyone and I can’t wait until next spring when the bees are buzzing again!
Bee Guardians after a day of hive doctoring!