Tuesday, October 30, 2012


The girls made it through the storm in tact. Sandy really blew hard and there were a lot of branches in our yard but most were very modest. A few larger trees did come down in the woods blocking paths so we cut them up today.

I restocked honey today as the girls really slurped down the extra honey. I expect that tomorrow I am going to have to refill both hives.

One bee got stuck on the screen to our deck and rode out the storm at our house. After a day and a half on the screen, she flew off today. I hope she has good stories to tell her sisters!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Bees in Sandy

A friend of mine and I were chatting Saturday about hurricane preparation and she asked me what I did for the bees.

I had just spend about an hour in the bee yard getting ready for the storm. I knocked down the combined hive so that there were only two super boxes making the hive shorter. Then I gave them half a gallon of honey. This honey is just for them to slurp down.

The strong hive was doing quite well. I didn't give them honey, just took off the empties. They have a honey super so if they get really hungry, they have some food.

At the end, I put extra rocks on the top of the hives. The rocks are about 3lbs each so there is nearly 10lbs of weight on the top of each hive. I put some bales of hay behind the bee deck to help break up the wind.

Over the past few we've taken down trees and branches that could potentially take out the hives. It is by no means perfect as there are still trees in the area, but few are at all close to the bees.

Now it is just a matter of waiting and watching the winds.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fall in the bee yard

Last night was one of my very least favorite activities I have to do as a beekeeper. M and I combined our two weak hives. It is hard, ugly work.

Here is how it goes. First you have to knock down the two hives so they are using as little space as possible. In this case, both hives lost honey supers and that was it. One hive was only using a single brood box. No way they could possibly have enough bees to make it through the winter.

So was it that cute little single-box hive that had to be moved? Oh noo. It was the bigger two box hive that moved.  Moving it was eye opening and in no small measure, scary. First it is dark out. Then we are ticking off a few thousand venomous stinging insects.

The hive that was a swarm was really light. They have not stored nearly enough honey for the winter. Their honey super (where people honey lives) was empty.

Then comes the actual combining of hives,  and it is just as it sounds. We put one hive on top of the other - in the dark so they can reorient and find their new home in the light. A single sheet of newspaper goes between them to slow down the introduction of bees. We used the obituaries. Turns out that is the only sheet of newsprint we could find that was all black and white. And since one queen would be dying, it seemed fitting to our sadness.

This is the second time I've had to combine hives and in so many ways this was easier. The temperature last night was steady which helped the bees to fly home and not get stuck on us. Second, we had an idea of what we were going to do. Finally, we had done the prep work well. Like so many things in life, good preparation really helps hard jobs go more smoothly.

Not entirely surprisingly, we both got stung. What was surprising was that it was only once each. We headed back to the house after the event and found that M had brought in a dozen bees stuck in the folds of his gear. I had one caught in my veil.  There were some very exciting (read scary) moments dealing with these newly warmed up bees, but they were all taken care of quickly. It is a real challenge to find good gear for such a tall man.

Checking on the hive this morning, it was clear that something was going on. The lower colony has many bees on the outside. Not surprising given the nice weather and that they lost about a third of their space. In a few days the paper will be gone and they will have many new sisters and plenty more space.

And our beeyard will be down to two hives again.

Friday, October 12, 2012

WCBA meeting

With my sister visiting from Arizona and two afternoon soccer games, I could only attend the first part the WCBA October meeting. I usually LOVE the all day meetings and this held such promise.

Alas, the first two talks I did hear didn't live up to my expectations. Dr. Jamie Ellis from the University of Florida was one of the most entertaining entomologists I've ever heard speak, but he didn't have anything new to tell me. Just for the record, Go 'Noles.

The best bit I heard him tell us is that honey bee is entomologically two  words. When an insect is what it's name says, then it is two words.  When it isn't what it's name is, then it is one. Very confusing but think of it like this - honey bees are actually bees, so two words. Butterflies are not actually flies, so it is one word.

The second talk was the one I was most interested in hearing. The speaker was going to tell us about evaluating our hives without opening them. He did mention it, but most of his talk was about getting older as a beekeeper. I would have love to have learned more about what to do if I observe certain things or when it is worth going in based on outside observations.

So I am going to work on building my beekeeping knowledge from books and asking a lot of questions at the next meeting.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Honey Harvest

We had a dollop of honey from this year left in the honey bucket and added it to our everyday bottle. The honey we just harvested is a tad darker!  It looked like last summer's honey swallowed it. Eventually the darker honey settled to the bottom.

Fall honey tends to be heavier and will crystallize faster because it has a slightly lower moister content.  If you have fall honey that does crystallize, just warm it up gently in hot water from the tap.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Spencer Fair

This was the first year since we started beekeeping that we didn't enter honey into the fair. We hadn't extracted honey and unless you extract early, it is tough to win that blue ribbon.

As usual, the family and I volunteered to help at the Worcester County Beekeepers Association's booth. My son sold honey sticks like crazy and my daughter helped other kids roll candles. My husband and I floated around answering lots of bee questions. I thought I would share some of the most common.

How long to bees live?
Queens can live about four years. In the summer the worker bees live about six weeks. In the fall, bees emerge that are going to live all winter in the hive. These bees will die off in March.

Why do the worker bees cluster around the queen?
The queen exudes pheromones, chemicals that give information. The queen's pheromones tell the workers that she is well, laying eggs, and she's healthy. They cluster around her to get this information as well as to groom and feed her. The workers take very good care of the queen.

Do the bees know me?
No the bees don't know me. Bees don't have memories that would include a person. Generally the bees may only have me in the hive a few times in their lifetime.

Do I get stung a lot?
Nope. I rarely get stung and usually when I do, I am in someone else's bee yard. When I am in my own hives I tend to be calm and focused. I don't do things to startle the bees. Those of you who know me personally, know that I don't wear a lot of scented products so that I don't irritate the bees. Bees operate by smell as much as vision outside the hives- so staying calm (so I don't stink with sweat) and moving with purpose help to keep the bees calm.

What is my favorite part of beekeeping?
This is really hard! There is really so much to love about beekeeping. I love the feeling of calm that stays with me after being in the hives. Honey is a wonderful benefit too. But I really think I am in it for the bees. Go bees!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Banana Report

A few weeks ago I put a banana in my hives to see if this would help with the chalkbrook issues in all three hives. Our big hive, Sun's, got a whole banana and the other two each got a half.

Well this is Serenity's hive- this was the split we did earlier this year. You can still see the blackened peel at the top and bottom. There was a PILE of chalkbrood mummies on the bottom of this hive. The bees were doing a great job of cleaning them out of the frames, just not out of the hive.

The banana peels had mold on them and looked nasty. Yech, but I will tell you that two out of three hives are looking pretty chalkbrood free. I am now wondering if we need to move the third hive to a sunnier location as they still have wicked chalkbrood. Sigh.

So will I do this again- sure it didn't hurt the bees and along with better ventilation, might help. It certainly didn't hurt the bees.

Along with all this crazy chalkbrood I have been waiting for the bees to supercede Sun. She's three years old and is starting to lay in a patchy pattern. Perhaps my talk to the bees worked because what to my wondering eyes should appear today but a new queen. She was camera shy so I only got an iffy shot but like her mum, she's all golden. She is lighter than Sun but she has no marks on her abdomen.
Serendipity- our swarm hive- is building slowly. Partly this is the chalkbrood but I think they are just not in a good location. They are off the bee deck (my hives sit on a deck originally built for a hot tub) and it just might be too cool.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Getting Stung

I got stung last week while I was checking a fellow beekeeper's hives while he was out of town. This is a critical time of year for many hives with lots of swarms and supercedures (replacing the queen). His hives looked good but on the last hive check I got stung. 

My ankle swelled up so more that it did when I was pregnant and it was very hard to move.  This is a fairly typical response to bee stings for me and a number of other beekeepers I know. 

I've been asked lots of times if I get stung often and truthfully I do not. This was the third time I've been stung in three years - yes, once a year is my average lately. Given that I am in my hives about every 10 days from March to November, I am feeling really good about that. 

How do I not get stung often?
I am calm around my bees and pay attention to the moment. It is a very meditative experience for me. I do wear gloves and a veil but they are more as an aid to me to remind me to be in the moment. My gloves don't get stung either. 

What do I do when I get stung?
First, I take out the stinger. I usually use my fingernail to make sure I have it out. The venom is excreted in less than two minutes, so be quick.

Then, if possible, I chew plantain leaves and get them on the sting. Plantain grows in most people's yards and looks like spinach. This can help to neutralize the venom.

Finally, I use spray antihistamine to relive the itch. The itch is primarily from the swelling, so if you don't have it, don't use it.

Monday, June 11, 2012


I did feel a bit bananas to be putting bananas in my hive. As a beekeeper for just over five years, I have been hearing for just over five years not to eat bananas before going into the hives because the smell of bananas is very very similar to the alarm pheromone of bees. Twice I have smelled the banana oil alarm and packed everything up and left the bees within moments. The smell is quite distinctive and I am sure that I reeked of my own alarm pheromones at that point as well. 

So it was no surprise when a fellow beekeeper suggested I give my hives bananas to help them with the chalkbrood that I thought he was bananas. Nonetheless, I decided to give it a try. This is the top of Sun's hive and since there are LOADS of bees in that hive, they got a whole banana, sliced in quarters atop the frames. The other two hives split a banana.

How did the bees respond to this unorthodox use of fruit?  They were very curious. They crawled all over the fruit but didn't act alarmed or fly around. 

Why does this work?  All my research online and in books suggest this may work by triggering a cleaning behavior in the bees. When they finish with the strange fruit in the hive, they may continue to clean out the infected brood. Honestly no one really knows and no scientists have tracked it either. The state bee inspector was very curious and agreed to recheck the hives later this summer.

Can this lead to some scientific proof? No, for two reasons. First I treated all three hives so there is no control. 

Second, I also removed the mouse guards from the two hives that still had them in place - so I also increased the ventilation. Serendipity's hive only has a partial  entrance reducer so I left that on for now. I wanted to make it as easy as possible for the bees to remove the infected larvae. 

Time will tell.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Annual Inspection Report

I contacted the bee inspector and asked him to check the hives. I've been seeing chalk brood in the hives lately which is normal here in this area in the spring. Unfortunately  the chalk brood is getting worse not better. And it has advanced to a serious level.

Chalk brood, what is that? I hear you say.

It is a nasty little infection in hives that kills the larva. If it is bad enough, more babies die than become adults and a hive dies. And we are in a bad way here.

Now some bees - or I should say some hives - just seem to deal with it and keep it at bay. My girls are having trouble doing this. Could be there just aren't enough hive-keeping bees or mortician bees to remove the corpses. Some hives just are better at getting rid of dead bees than others.

It is important to get the bodies out quickly so they are less likely to continue to give off the disease. However it is still in the wax.

Soo what can I do?  Truthfully, not a lot. The bees need to knock this out themselves. I have heard of a folk remedy which I am going to try tomorrow. But regardless, if you have a moment, wish the bees well and hope that a good nectar flow starts here soon. The stronger the bees are, the better they can fight this infection. Time will tell and in the next few months the story will fully unfold.

Other than wicked bad chalk brood, the hives look fine. The inspector and I found two of the queens. And I got to not only see Serenity but I held her. It was a huge moment for me. She is soo beautiful. She looks exactly like the honeybee queen from all the books.

Sunshine showed herself too and she is still just as golden red as always. She's clearly getting older and I expect the bees will supercede her soon. Her laying pattern is still good but not as good as it was last year. She is starting to leave a few holes every now and again. This could be due to chalk brood or her age. Not sure yet what is going to happen, but something is going to happen.

Very mixed report this year and lots to watch. I learned so much this year. I really felt ready and open to all the knowledge that the inspector had to offer. Go bees!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Five days later

Five days later, I get a call from the fabulous Rob who is off at some family function. He had gotten a call from the police that someone had reported another swarm. Did I want them, he asked.

Well, OF COURSE! It is just me this time and my wonderful handy husband screwed some wooden ware together for me so it would be easier to manipulate alone and off  I go - me, a box, brush cutters and LOTS of bungee cords.

The address I was given must give the postal carrier heartburn. There are two houses with the same number on that street. So here I am, in full bee gear, knocking on the wrong door. Friend to bees and nice person she was, she directed me to the bees. I see a few small balls of bees - hardly worth coming over for. Nonetheless, I gather these poor girls.

Then the other family at that house number, but in a different house, came to see what was going on. They had been the ones to call. As I am ambling over to say hello, I pass a ball of bees about the size of a basketball. Oh, THOSE are the bees!

They had been up in a tree, but thankfully had fallen. Into a brush pile. On a down hill slope. It took a while to get all the bees. It was like a giant game of pick up sticks. I had to cut the branches into little sections and carry them to the box. Shake the bees in and I stacked the brush next to the box.

Once I had the queen, the bees settled a lot. It took about an hour from start to finish. I bungeed the hive in the back of the truck and drove home slowly chuckling to myself. If only the guy in the red truck behind me knew why I was driving slowly, he probably wouldn't have tailgated me.

So now we have three hives and it will take some time to readjust the bee-deck to accommodate all three. In the mean time, here is the set up.

The new queen - is Serendipity.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Swarm Season

 I got a call two weeks ago from a local beekeeper who works at town hall. There was a swarm outside the second story window and could I come help him get the bees. Of course!  It would be my first swarm and his too. This is what it looked like when I got there. It was pretty high up, but so far that we couldn't manage. 

After a ladder and some clippers were secured, Rob pulled the branch down over the box, I clipped the last 2 feet of the branch off, and shook the bees into their new temporary home.

Clearly we had the queen and she was safely in the hive. All the bees not already in the hive, began to circle the box and soon moved in. Rob switched out the wooden ware and the bees are in their new home happily making babies.

Guess what happened five days later?

Monday, May 7, 2012


I love putting in packages of bees. It is such a fun experience. Here is what a package of bees looks like. The small box in front holds about 3 lbs of bees, a queen and a can of sugar water. We have to get those bees out, install the queen properly and close the big box behind - without getting stung.

That is the plan. It worked out pretty close to plan as well. These are Owen's bees. The only hitch we had was that the tab holding the queen broke and she fell into the mass of bees making it a bit harder to install her cage properly.  Thank goodness for duct tape is all I am going to say.

Owen did a tremendously good job with this. It is a scary thing to do the first time. However the moment it is over, you just want to do it again! Over the next week or so the bees will chew the sugar candy holding the queen in her cage and they will start building wax. It will be a thing of beauty.

And before any experienced beekeepers out there have a cow, he did paint his other box and swap these frames into that box.

Go bees!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bee School

So where have I been lately?  Bee school - which is not as the name implies for bees, but for beekeepers. I got to hawk shirts in all these great colors.

I will be happy to hand off this job to the fabulous Liz Jo next year who will do a bang up job. I am going to be looking for another volunteer opportunity in the club. After three years of folks asking what size their husband or wife (who is not present) would wear or, this year for the first time, what size do they wear, I am ready to be done.

This is one deeply amusing job - fodder for many an amusing conversation with my non-beekeeper friends.

 I brought my 8 year old daughter on the last day. We were learning about the pollen and nectar producing plants of Worcester County. Very interesting list and fed her interest in botany.

As you put in your spring flowers, think of the bees. Choose native plants as often as you can. Leave a section of your yard to grow wild if you can. And leave the pesticides/insecticides at the store.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Sunshine and a new hive

Today was the day. I split the hives. Sun's hive had made a supercedure cell - which means that they were thinking about making a new queen. Hello! She is awesome but they might have felt a bit crowded. So I solved two problems at once.

I was looking carefully at the frames to see if there were any drones. With my nose only a few inches from the bees I saw one big bee and thought A-HA a drone! Duh. It was the queen!  She looked great by the way. She was just as golden an unlined as I recalled. Wish I had the camera.

I moved two frames of bees and three frames of honey to an empty box. There were capped drone cells so there should be drones by the time the bees make a new queen. 

The bees got some empty frames and a couple of foundation frames. They need to build out new frames so I can toss out the old yucky ones.

I a few weeks I will need a new queen name so start thinking now!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Paying it forward

My mentor, Mary Duane, is fabulous and I miss her!  It seems like she was always taking my calls and emails about this, that or the other with the girls. She came dashing over when I was in a panic and she suffered through the Mean Bee Period.  She is a saint as far as I am concerned.

Alas as I get more experienced as a beekeeper, my emails, calls and visits are few and fewer.

But I actually have the opportunity to pay her kindness and good will forward. I am going to be helping mentor a new beekeeper in my community. I am beyond excited about this opportunity. He should be getting his first bees this spring and will be visiting my girls this weekend - if the snow (yes SNOW) cooperates at the temps really do reach the 50' promise of the meteorologists.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Bee School Tee shirts

This is the last day to order Bee School Tee shirts.

This is on the back:
And this will be front left: 

Colors are
sky blue
light green
heather gray
yellow haze
bright pink.

Drop me line if you want one - but don't wait, the orders go in tomorrow. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

prose and a new queen

Working the bees is generally poetry to me. The smell of the bees and their wax, the hum of their work, the zen rhythm of our movements together...

This day was not poetry. This day was entirely prose. 

I took down the dead colony and cleaned the hive. The weather was cool and the work was dirty. You wouldn't think the dead insects would be so grimy but it was. I cleaned each frame of any excess wax and propolis rendering my hive tool a mess and gloves no better. Soon sweat and blood added to the earthy mix.

The bees in the other colony did not seem to care about my presence so close to their home or perhaps it was smell of dead bees that held them at bay. Regardless, when I took off my gloves, I didn't worry about getting stung. 

It was easier anyway. I pulled the dead bees from the cells with my finger nails until I had added bee guts to my smear of filth covering my hands and hive tool. The veil soon followed so I could look for the queen in the mass of dead bees at the base of the bottom box. 

She was never found, but easily could have been there. The pile was much bigger and deeper than I originally suspected. 

So the hive boxes are cleaned and ready to go when I can get a queen from the remaining colony.

Those bees seemed to sense the need for a queen even it isn't exactly in their own hive. Their queen is laying beautifully - while she remains enigmatic, her eggs and larvae are abundantly evident. Along with a supercedure cell. If they make more than one, I will be ready to requeen shortly. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

One is the loneliest number...

We are down to one hive. Our smaller hive was fine at the February check and seem to be doing all right but not great. Yesterday, being 65' out in our yard, we headed out to bring honey and to a big check. There were only dead bees in one hive. Still so much honey it was very hard to lift the upper super and... ok this is kinda gross ... fairly freshly dead bees.

Freshly dead, I can hear you asking.

They weren't missing parts or particularly fragile and the freshly dead bees weren't dried out and crispy. Yeah, eeeww.

The remaining hive is a super looking hive and had a plethora of bees. (Yep, that's for your M!)

I am thinking that we might split the big hive early and either give them a queen if we can find a Yankee queen (one whose mother overwintered here) or let them make a queen (must wait for drones to be grown or she'll remain a virgin).

So, there is still time to plan but not much. Spring is coming early this year and pollen producing plants are out. The first flowers of the year are in bloom now and pollen is coming in.

Monday, January 23, 2012

You might not think much is happening this time of year in the hive, but you'd be totally wrong! Lots of stuff still happens in the winter although it doesn't take much care from me.

The queen has started laying eggs again. Yikes, you say - isn't it too cold. The worker bees (the girls who emerged in October and November) are using their body heat to warm up the hive from a nice 60' to 93'F. They aren't warming up the whole hive, just the part around the eggs. And we aren't talking hundreds of eggs yet, more like a handful at a time.

The bees are going out for their cleansing flights. Bees don't pee or poop in the hive so on balmy days like tomorrow is supposed to be in our area, they will go out and do their business. If you look carefully in the picture, all the little yellow spots are ... well bee pee. Expect it again tomorrow!

And what are beekeepers doing in the winter?  We this one is missing her girls and planning the spring split. I am going to take a few frames from my strongest hive and start a new colony. I am also assessing what equipment I need to purchase, repair and build. Being one hive short has given me plenty of equipment, but I need to get better landing board/bottom board combos. Right now they don't fit. The landing board is just where the bees land when they come into the hive. While not strictly necessary, I think it looks good.

I am also going to have to make a pile of new frames. The dying hive got wax worms - {shiver} yeck!  So a number of frames are going to have the wax cut out and new foundation put in its place. I usually replace the foundation in about 1/5 of my frames each year, but this year I plan to do a bigger replacement.

Why you ask?  Well at a conference last summer I learned about all the pesticides that build up in wax and decided that this spring we will be more rigorous about getting rid of wax older than five years.

I have also been reading. A lot. Which is no surprise to any of you who know me well. The librarians all recognize my voice from "hello" when I call. I will share my reading shelf in another post!

And that is what beekeepers do in the winter.