Science Department
Tualatin Valley Academy
Hillsboro, Oregon

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Observation Hive
Mason Bees

When the observation hive in my classroom failed for the third winter in a row I decided to keep a regular hive at home to provide extra honey and bees when needed.

When starting a new hive you must order a package of bees.  Each package of bees contains 3 pounds of bees (roughly 10,000 workers), a queen within a small screened cage, and a can of sugar syrup to feed the bees in transit.

Yes, I found 10,000 bees a bit intimidating at first, but as I gained experience I discovered that working with honey bees can be a rather relaxing hobby.

My first 3 pound package of bees.

Lucas helps me put straps around my gloves to prevent any bees from going up my shirt sleeves.

Spraying sugar syrup on the package of bees provides food and tends to calm them down before opening the package.

The bees are knocked down to the bottom of the package.

The sugar syrup can is removed to open the package.

The queen in her special screened cage is removed and placed in the new hive between a couple of frames.  The small cork is removed and replaced with a marshmallow.  The workers will eat away at the marshmallow to eventually release the queen from her cage to give her access to the rest of the hive.

The worker bees are dumped out of the package into the hive.

Sugar syrup is poured into the internal frame feeder.  This will provide food until the bees start making their own honey.

A patty of pollen substitute is placed in the new hive to help feed new brood.

Bees working away at the pollen substitute patty.

Inspecting the sugar syrup feeder.

The empty feeder is removed and a new frame will be inserted in its place.

We search for the queen and make sure she is laying eggs and that the brood is doing well.

Lucas inspects the newly formed honey comb.

Capped honey at the top of the frame.  The open cells at the lower portion are still being filled and cured.

Inspecting the bottom board where debris fall from the hive.  We are looking for signs of varroa mites.

The smoker is an essential piece of safety equipment and great fun for any little fire bug.

Hive entrance.

Our hive has grown and now includes two deep hive body boxes and two western honey supers separated by a metal queen excluder.  The queen excluder prevents the larger queen from laying eggs in the frames where the honey is being stored.  Note that we have added an improved telescoping lid.  The telescoping lid provides better ventilation.  Humidity within the hive is a major cause of death during the winter months.

Workers at the entrance bringing in pollen.  Pollen comes in an amazing variety of colors.  Lucas and I love to sit and watch to see what color of pollen the bees are bringing home each day.

Uncapped brood reveals small white grubs.  Capped brood appears light and fuzzy.  The dark yellow cells are filled with pollen.  The shinny uncapped cells are being filled with honey.

Lots of capped brood cells.

Winter snow fall of December 2008 covers our hives.

This nucleus hive box will help us split our colony and raise replacement bees for the observation hive at school.

Beekeeping is a great family activity.

The queen is in the center of this picture. Note the longer abdomen compared to the workers.

In July 2010 a wild beehive was discovered in the tool shed behind our school.  The outer wall was removed.  Then I slowly cut off pieces of the comb.  Hair clips were zip tied to top bars and were used to hold the comb in place as I lowered them into their new hive box.

Honey Harvest 2010!

Freshly capped honey comb.

After years of trial and error we finally get a significant honey harvest.  Almost 20 gallons from 5 hives!

Chunks of honey comb in these jars.

(click to enlarge)

During our snow day (November 23, 2010) I inserted a temperature probe into two of my beehives. The outside temperature was -2.2C, but inside my warmest hive it was a toasty 38C!  (That is an incredible 100F!) I thought the probe must have been pretty close to the center of the winter cluster, but with a little searching I learned that when bees are maintaining this high of a temperature they are still raising brood.


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