That’s a mighty pretty sight, my friends: a bee truck, loaded with the first honey supers of the season.

Although at first glance all the bee boxes in this picture look to be the same size, upon closer inspection you can see that the bottom two boxes of each hive are bigger than the boxes on top of them.

These bottom two boxes are where the bees live, all year, in Montana and in California and on the flatbed semis in between.  They are called brood chambers.  The queen lays her eggs in the frames of beeswax in the brood chambers, and the workers raise and care for the bee babies until they are ready to be workers.

The boxes on top of the brood chambers are only part of the hive this time of year, when the conditions are right for the bees to make honey.  These boxes, called honey supers, are slightly more shallow than the brood chambers.  Before adding the honey supers to the hive, we place a “queen separator,” a white plastic grate, on top of the brood chambers.  The spaces in the grate are large enough for the workers to pass through, but not large enough for the queen to do so.  This keeps the queen in the bottom of the hive, which is good for several reasons.

First, keeping the queen out of the honey supers means that when we pull full honey supers off the hives and add empty ones, we’re not taking the queen home with us.  She’s the lifeblood of the colony, and an expensive lady, and we don’t need to worry that we’ve accidentally sent her through the extracting equipment and left her workers behind to fend for themselves.

Second, keeping the queen out of the honey supers ensures that our honey stays as light in color as possible.  Laying eggs turns the honeycomb in the brood chambers dark brown, and we like white honey, as do so many of our customers.

So, the queen stays in the brood chambers and the worker bees pass freely back and forth, making honey in the supers, and we check in periodically, pulling full supers off and giving the bees empty honey supers to fill.

We have about 1,000 hives of bees, and another truck of hives arriving this weekend, so we have a lot of supering to do!  We hope we’ll be extracting honey from the full supers by July 15 … keep your fingers crossed that we get a little more heat and a little less wind … and that this is The Big Year!  You never know, and as farmers we have to have boundless optimism.  Which serves us well in many aspects of life.

Fingers crossed!

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