Monday, June 22, 2009


For those of you following the soap opera that is my hives, I checked on the bees today.

We have BABIES!! Trey's daughter, who is currently nameless, has larvae and lots of them! I snuck in the hive today in a brief break in the rain and took a look. The bees were packed but that is to be expected since they haven't had decent bee weather. I only looked at two frames and there were lots of larvae of various ages.

After my workshop training I am confident that the biggest larvae are five to six days old. Now the colony can be called queenright where there is a healthy, mated queen laying a lot. Whew!

So any suggestions on her name?

A gross of beekeepers

Along with 143 other beekeepers, I spent the only nice day for weeks hanging out with someone else's bees! I went to the Massachusetts Beekeepers Association Annual Field Day. This was held in Deerfield at UMass Ag Center.

One of the things I wanted to learn about was using fewer chemicals in my hives. The most common chemicals found in a hive are those added by beekeepers. Delicately balancing the use of chemicals and reducing the mites, beetles, and harmful critters is critical to the survival of bees and us.

Ed K, from Norfolk County, pictured here uses a great method for helping his bees get rid of mites. He shakes powdered sugar in his hives. Yep, the same old stuff you dust on your cookies, we dusted on bees. It takes about 15 second and doesn't require the removal of honey from the hive.

The treatments I used last year are soft,gentle and even in CA are considered organic. Nonetheless, they take three weeks and I have to remove the honey. Sheesh - this was soo much easier. (Yes I glossed over the other three steps in the process, but they are a bit esoteric for non-beekeepers.)
One beekeeper brought a drone comb frame. This was amazing to see because they were emerging in waves!

What really made my day was the final talk I went to taught by Rick Reault. He was the source of Red, our beautiful queen. After watching him -and I was so enthralled I forgot to take pix!- I realized that he is the kind of beekeeper I want to become. He was so in love with the bees, he was calm, he moved so gracefully, and he was incredibly knowledgeable.

Rick explained the three clues that a hive is getting ready to swarm - and I'd only known about one before! He also had an intuitive, simple way to tell the age of larvae. During the workshop, he marked the queen and it was so simple! I thought the only way to do that was to catch the queen in a special grabber that looks remarkably like a hair clip. Not Rick - he just held the queen still for three seconds and touched her with the marker.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bee in Flight

Check this out - I found a fellow blogger (Growing with Science) who has a Bug of the Week. Bees are this week's bug!

Her video of a Carpenter Bee in flight is amazing.

Go see:

Monday, June 15, 2009


We have a new queen on the way! We are going to call her Pink since she is Red's daughter.

You can see the peanut shaped queen cell that was capped within the last week. We didn't see Red or any young larvae suggesting that she is no longer in the hive.

I am really sad to see the end of Red. She was the first queen I ever installed and the last remaining queen from last year. On the other hand, we loved her temperament - this hive has, until yesterday, been super sweet and gentle. We are very hopeful that Pink will be just a beautiful a queen as her mom.

Yesterday it was clear that things were not right in this hive as the bees were jumpier than I've ever seen them. Queenlessness is a very disturbing event for a colony. The queen exudes many pheromones including the one that a colony recognizes as home. Without her, there is no home.

Pink will be begin exuding her home pheromones shortly after mating. Her nuptials should take place a few days after she emerges from her natal cell. If all goes well, she will mate with many drones on her two or three nuptial flights.

You go girl!

The pebbles remind us that the colony has no larvae. Each week we will remove a pebble if there are no eggs or larvae present. Pink's subjects will only wait so long and without a strong, mated queen the colony will fall apart.

We've been there before and it isn't a pretty sight. Unmated workers will start laying and there are just bee that shouldn't be making babies. Workers can only make drones and drones don't help a colony. They have one job... and you know what that is!

Pink has a busy month a head of her. I hope she mates often and well.

Then gets her satiated butt back in the hive and lays lots of eggs!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Yesterday I was reminded of a lesson I have struggled with my whole life and even more intensely since having my second child.

Fairness is about giving everyone what they need, not about giving everyone the same.

I struggle with giving my kids the same - yet they are wonderfully individual people with their own separate strengths and struggles. My youngest is heading out to kindergarten this fall and is very excited. She has gotten such a different slice of my undivided time by having that time while she is four and five rather than like her brother who was an only child until two.

I feel like it wasn't fair to me! I want that same delicious time with my son where we can actually -do- things together. When my son was a baby we were very active but the quality is wholly different. My daughter and I have created a shared space that is impenetrable and joyous. I want that with both my kids.

I want the same!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Bee City

The skyline of our beehives just grew considerably. Two of the three hives tower above the deck railing and it is a happy sight.

Hope's hive is just moving along nicely. I move the first honey box off the top and it was heavy - yep, there's honey in those cells and it is capped. The box weighs about 25 lbs right now. It has a ways to go, but I put a second box under it. Yay! I saw Hope too and she is just as gorgeous as ever.

Red's about to be superceded. Her bees have started making supercedure cells and given her spotty laying pattern over the last two weeks, it makes sense. I can't tell you how happy I am to see those supercedure cells. I want one of her daughters to take over the hive and not some store bought queen to swoop in and grab the glory. I hope that the princess is just a even tempered as Red.

Trey's hive has pebbles. When a hive supercedes you put three pebbles on it. Each week you take one off and if you don't see larvae by the third pebble, you need a new queen. So Trey's hive has pebbles. There is no sign of supercedure cells or young larvae. I did get to see a drone emerging from his cell - and that was cool!

Thank goodness there is Hope.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The New Queen

The new queen in our lucky hive should emerge sometime very soon. Normally it takes about 14 days from egg to queen so she should be ready any day now.

This is one of the queen cells - there are two others. She will have to kill the other queens if they've also emerged or pierce their cells if not.

Since the queen is so much bigger than the worker bees, her queen cell needs to be bigger too. This was attached part way down one frame. You can see the size of the worker cells all around.

The bees all around her now are her sisters and they will live about six weeks. Just about the time the new queen's babies are coming out of their cells, they will be desperately needed. The heaviest nectar flow around here is in June and July.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Landmine Detecting Bees

I was just reading the BUZZ, a newsletter from Bee Culture Magazine and learned about bees being trained to find land mines. What an amazing idea. Since they fly rather than walk like sniffer dogs, they are not going to accidentally set of a mine.

This is an elegant use of the natural behavior of bees. Bees use odors from flowers, water, and honey to find food and the gaseous pheromones from their hive navigate. It is not a huge leap to expect they could detect other chemical odors and be trained using food rewards to find explosives.

You can see this exact behavior in the picture. Some of the bees are sending the scent of home into the air by using their wings to send pheromones into the air.

You know the coolest part, bees naturally train other bees to find food using the waggle dance and circle dance to communicate the location and concentration of food sources.

Here's a brief quote from the BUZZ:

Using bees to detect land mines has its roots in decades-long research at the University of Montana , conducted by research professor Dr. Jerry J. Bromenshenk. Dr. Bromenshenk and his team have found that bees are expert sample-takers. They collect everything: air, water, vegetation, and chemicals in gaseous, liquid and particulate forms. A single colony can generate up to hundreds of thousands of flights every day, each bee returning to the hive with his collection.

More recently, Dr. Bromenshenk and his team began focusing on “odors of interest” under a DARPA [DoD researchers] contract. The team was able to document that the bees’ acute sense of smell enables them to function as fine-tuned, highly accurate vapor detectors for chemicals that are present in explosives, bombs,and landmines. Under certain conditions they can detect concentrations at approximately 30 parts per trillion, with the potential to reach an even lower threshold.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Coup

I spent a fair amount of time just looking at the bees this weekend. After the storm, I thought it would be restoritive to see them as un-dinged. There is little in the yard that doesn't still speak of the hail storm with shredded leaves, broken plastic, or just plain dents.

Alas there are dents in the bees too.

Trey is gone. There is no sign of her - no eggs and no baby larvae. There are capped supercedure cells meaning that the workers are replacing her. I feel like I personally lost her! I am glad the other workers are so calm and relaxed about the whole coup thing, me I am a bit nervous. I imagine this is what many fathers from my dad's generation felt - excited, full of anticipation, scared, and completely helpless.

All hail the new queen in less than two weeks. Since I don't know when the cells were capped, I don't know the due date and there are no ultrasounds available. She should be a scrappy queen since there are no less than three queen cells, it will not be bloodless coup. She will have to fight for her queen-ship, and make no mistake, it will be a battle to the death of two queens.

Red is looking great. She makes me so happy to be her worker bee. She makes the most beautiful bees - they are golden and gentle. Ok, so they aren't making honey for me. They are making me thankful they are in my life. She reminds me of why I love doing this strange little hobby of mine.

Hope is true to her name as always. Her girls have started putting nectar in the people honey chamber. It will soon be golden, delicous, and my honey. I am down to a memory in my honey jars.