Monday, October 10, 2011

Welcome to the Honey Bee Spa

There is nothing like going to the spa to keep the girls happy. I often see bees sipping at our bird baths (which they think they are bee baths) and various puddles around the yard, but on Saturday, I witnessed something unusual. There were bees, lots of bees, at the metal birdbath and none at the two stone birdbaths on either side of it. At one point I counted 14 of the girls in there, drinking, grooming and even swimming. And the frolicking went on all day. And Sunday, they were back for more! When the foraging bee found the bird/bee bath on Saturday, she must have returned to the hive and made a very specific bee dance indicating water at the exact location of the metal, but not the stone, vessals.

There are eight bees in the above picture. At the 9 o'clock position, there are two bees grooming each other. I can only guess what was going on there, perhaps something like this.

On Friday, I tended to the hives. It took me an hour and 15 minutes to tear down the hives, make hasty inspections, replace pollen patties, dust the bees with powdered sugar (the 3rd and final treatment for varroa mites) and fill the hive top feeders with sticky syrup. Once again, I saved the cranky girls in Hive 3 for last. While I was working on their hive, I gave them liberal amounts of smoke and cooed to them about how calm they were and what good bees they are, storing honey for winter and staying on their best behavior. I transported about three gallons of syrup in a clean, white bucket, taking care to keep it covered with a carpet scrap to discourage robbing and to keep the bees away from the motherlode of easy eating, right from the bucket. An uncovered bucket full of syrup near the hives would be like delivering 100 pizzas to a school right before lunch.

After I was finished with the feeding, as I collected up my paraphernalia, I saw that several bees had gathered in the bucket to collect the remaining sticky droplets. I carried the bucket closer to the house, but outside the range of Sam the Doodle's invisible fence. I knew that if I brought the bucket to the garage, I'd have bees in the garage, and if the bucket were inside of Sam's territory, he would hunt the bees, resulting in a bad outcome for both insects and canine. I turned the bucket on its side so I could see into it and for the remainder of the day bees (and yellow jackets) collected in there. After dark, I took a closer look. There were still honeybees in the bucket. Frankly, they didn't look too good. I had sifted about four pounds of sugar into the hives and the girls were well-coated. When they went into the bucket the syrup droplets got on them too, and I think they were becoming candied bees. There was a lot of grooming going on in that bucket. Bees continued to scour the bucket on Sunday. By late Sunday afternoon, I saw no bees in the bucket so I picked it up to wash it and put it away until the next feeding. Washing was really unnecessary, as the inside of the bucket was 100% unsticky. I was amazed at how thorough they were in getting every last bit of sweetness.

Is it a coincidence that at the same time the girls were hot tubbing? I think there's a correlation here.

Here are some more observations from the beeyard this past weekend.
  • Because I don't make the same mistakes twice, I took Benadryl before I went out to tend the bees.
  • Even on pleasant fall days, I steam inside my protective suit. By the time I collect my gear and hustle back to the garage, I am breathing hard and feeling soggy.
  • Between the drugs and the stress of staying focused and trying not to make mistakes that result in stings, after I come inside, I shed the suit and plotz, safe but spent. Really, this takes the stuffing right out of me. Every time.
  • Watching a honeybee hover two inches above a bird bath, I can see the water ripple from her wings. It's not like she made whitecaps, but how fascinating that she moves so much air that I can see it on the surface of the water!
I am delighted to report that this week I beat the reaper. I took care of my bees and my advanced human brain out-thought 150,000+ itty bitty bee brains. The sting count remains at 13.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Almost Got Away With It

Yesterday was my target day to get back in the hives. My last encounter left me with one eye swollen shut for two days, after which my face was merely frightfully puffy and distorted, so I didn't venture close to the hives until Thursday. I am reminded of lessons about trust which we taught to our children. It is easier to keep trust than it is to regain it. I was feeling pretty rocky about all those girls. When I visited on Thursday afternoon I was happy to see lots of bright yellow pollen being carried into all three hives. I'm guessing that the pollen is from the goldenrod that is blooming in nearby weedy places. The nurse bees feed pollen to the larvae, so seeing it going into the hive is a good thing.

However, the bees needed to be dusted again with powdered sugar, they needed new pollen patties and they needed syrup, doubly sweet, in their hive top feeders so they would have enough food to sustain them through the winter. So, I gamely suited up and staged everything near the hives: syrup in covered containers, pollen patties, many bags of powdered sugar, stoked smoker, tool basket and hive top feeders.

A new item in my tool basket is a bottle of A1 Sauce. At the beeyard on Wednesday, I got to hear many stories from sadder but wiser beekeepers who have been at it longer than I have so they have had more opportunities to make stupid mistakes. State inspector Barb told me about being nearby when someone dropped a whole hive box fully loaded with bees. There were no happy beekeepers there that day. Barb's favorite topical treatment for a fresh sting: A1 Sauce. There is something about that tasty stuff that breaks down the enzymes in bee venom. She should know, right? I have room in my basket for something like that.

Meanwhile, back in the meadow, I had to decide which hive to open first. Since Hive 3 was the cranky one last time, I decided to start on the left with Hive 1 and save those nasty girls for last. Maybe the ladies in Hive 3 are jealous because Hive 1 is full of goody goody girls who are calm and just do what bees do without any attitude. Things in Hive 1 looked good, as usual. There was brood way up in the 3rd box up, so I switched boxes around to try to get the queen back down to the bottom. Many frames were heavy with capped honey.

On to Hive 2. I was surprised to find the queen. The colonies are now so full of bees that it is more difficult than ever to spot the queen. I really wasn't even trying to find her and would had been content to find larvae, but there she was. I do have concerns about this colony. It is only 3 boxes tall and many of the low frames have empty cells where bees have emerged but no new eggs have been laid. I was so intent on staying calm and radiating calm that I forgot to examine one of the hive boxes. I saw plenty of stored pollen and honey and I do hope that the frames I didn't examine are full of brood. Perhaps this Ohio queen is slowing down her egg-laying as winter approaches. There are plenty of bees, lovely calm bees, in the colony right now, but the newly emerged bees will be old bees, if not dead bees, come spring.

On to Hive 3, my nemesis. My smoker had not been producing as much smoke as I would have liked, but since the bees in the first two hives were so docile, I wasn't too concerned. Approaching Hive 3 without clouds of thick smoke didn't seem like what I wanted to do. I worked those bellows until sparks were flying out of the spout (not really the goal), cracked the cover, puffed in some smoke and did the same at the front door. I opened the lid.

When I started getting ready to head into the bee yard, it was a sunny, cool fall day, perfect beekeeping weather. By the time I got to Hive 3, the weather had changed. The sun was gone and it left behind a gloomy gray sky. This is not what I want the weather to be when I work on the hives. I hadn't yet noticed how the weather had changed, but the bees had. Or maybe the personality of Hive 3 is just all cranky, all the time. Bees were flying everywhere. They were banging into my hood, clinging to the screened face. I knew I was as protected as I could be, but still, it's disconcerting to have 4 or 5 bees angrily buzzing a mere inch away from my face. I talked to the bees, encouraged them to be calm, and went about my business.

Then I felt it. It was at the base of my thumb, right through the goatskin glove. It was not a loud, ouchy sting, but a minor annoying one. I applied more smoke to the frames and blew some on myself. I finished my work, feeding and dusting and got the hive buttoned up again. I was feeling pretty stressed and hurried to get away from the hives and back into the house, all the way across the meadow with bees crashing into my suit. It was then that I realized the weather had changed.

When I was safely back in the garage, I gratefully unzipped the hood and jacket. Even on a cool fall day it gets hot in the protective clothing. The adrenaline was pumping, I was sweating (or do lady beekeepers only glow?) and breathing hard from schlepping and tromping through the meadow in rubber boots. And I wanted to crack open that bottle of A1 Sauce. The smoker was finally producing great clouds of cool smoke, just in time for me to cork it closed to snuff the fire.

My body's response to the sting through the glove was slight. The leather didn't prevent the sting altogether, but it did keep the stinger from embedding in my skin where it would have pumped venom until I could remove it. I'm sure the A1 Sauce helped. Well, not really, but who knows? While I am sorry to have suffered yet another sting, this one is no worse than an itchy mosquito bite and has resulted in a non-eventful aftermath. I took another Benadryl, shed the rest of my protective clothing and spent the next hour in cool down mode.

Sting count: 13.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

No Photos, Please!

How many mistakes can a new beekeeper make and still live to tell the tale? Keep in mind that I don't make the same mistake twice.

The plan for today was to open up the hives, put grease patties on the bottom to prevent tracheal mites, check the pollen patties and generously dust each hive box with sifted powdered sugar to control varroa mites. I also wanted to see if the bees were storing honey again.

Starting in Hive 3, I began to examine the frames. Yes, there is new honey being stored, but it is not yet capped. I was glad to see this as it indicates that the flowers have nectar and the bees are finding it. This is goldenrod season, a boon for the bees and a misery for allergy sufferers. I have given up all thoughts of harvesting any honey this season from these three hives.

Dusting the bees with powdered sugar is an integrated hive management technique. Integrated hive management means the beekeeper uses natural products instead of chemicals and poisons to control and prevent problems in the hives. The pesky varroa mites can't hang on to the slippery sugared bees and all that white powder spurs the girls into grooming behavior. I was told to sift four pounds of sugar into each colony. This is a lot of sugar and the bees were heavily coated. While working on Hive 3, my high tech sweatband slipped off my head and the band was bouncing around the inside of my veil/hood. When I finished my work in Hive 3, I moved away from the hives to unzip the hood so I could remove the sweat band. BIG MISTAKE! I had the right idea to move away from the hives, but I didn't move far enough away. As soon as the hood was unzipped from the jacket, a bee found her way into the hood and slammed into my right temple. I was stung and I knew this was going to be bad. Another bee was flying around inside the hood which was still on my head. I quickly moved across the meadow to shed the jacket and attached hood. I could feel a bee in my hair and as soon as the jacket was off, I bent at the waist to shake out my hair. It was a good idea, but not effective, and I knew if I ran my fingers through my hair I'd be stung on the hand. I hurried into the house and went for the wide-toothed smooth metal comb I used to use on my Himalayan cat's matts. The bee combed right out of my hair and fell to the floor, along with another I didn't even know was there. Those girls went out the back door.

My fingers went to my right temple and I could feel the stinger. It brushed out easily. Because I don't make the same mistake twice, I had taken a preventative Benadryl before I ventured out. The site of the sting was only slightly swollen, a normal reaction, and as beestings go, not particularly painful. After a moment of decision-making (do I go back out there or hang it up for the day?), I donned my jacket and hood and went to finish what I had started.

The sugar-coated bees were bearded off the front of their hive--thousands of them spilling to the ground. I wish I had taken my camera as it was quite a spectacle. I went to work on Hive 2. I figured if Hive 1 was as crazy full of bees as Hive 3, I wouldn't be able to work the middle hive. The girls in Hive 2 were very calm. These the the offspring of my Ohio queen. Most of my original bees and the offspring of my Georgia queen are dead. I can see that the bees in Hive 2 are different. These bees are very dark, almost black, instead of golden. This queen is not an egg-laying machine like the Georgia queens, so the hive is not so heavily populated. Everything appeared fine in there. They got their grease patty and sugar and I closed up the hive. The bees proceeded to make a beard on the front of the hive, but not as extensive as Hive 3.

On to Hive 1. There is much honey production going on in there, too. These bees were also calm and easy to work around which was a good thing as I was running on adrenaline and really just wanting to do what I needed to do and to get safely indoors. Grease patty, sugar dust, close the hive, collect my tools and gather all those empty powdered sugar bags.

The pollen substitute patties I placed in the hives on Labor Day were all gone. When I open the hives next week for another sugar dusting, I'll give each colony another pollen patty.

My tool basket and tools were covered with sugar, so I took the time to clean them up and went inside to assess my face. Only the slightest swelling was there, just at the site of the sting. I had enough time to shower and still take Sam the Dog to the club for the annual Doggy Dunk, a riot of a time held the day before the pool gets drained for the season. I made some lunch and the swelling began. In no time at all, my right eye was puffy and I knew I wasn't going anywhere.

By 3:30pm, the eye was swollen shut. I have been treating it with ice packs, Benedryl and Advil. As stings go, it is not very painful or itchy, but it looks dreadful. If I try hard I can open my eye enough to see with it. I cancelled my dinner plans (who would want to eat looking at this eye?) and pondered this hobby, beekeeping.

Let me describe my face. The right eye is swollen shut. If I open my eyes enough, I can see, but my field of vision includes the edges of my puffy lids. My right cheek is slightly swollen, making my face somewhat lopsided. If you have ever seen anyone after a nose job or eyelid surgery, it's a lot like that, except there is no bruising. If I had gone a round with Muhammad Ali, I might look worse. Lucky for Harvey, he has an airtight alibi as he left town Friday and is a thousand miles away. No, I will not post a photo.

Sting count: 12

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Mystery of the Vanishing Honey or Who Stole the Sweets?

Today was supposed to be honey harvest day. The last time I opened the hives (3 weeks ago), the frames were loaded with capped honey. I signed up to borrow the extractor from my bee club (COBA) and begged for help from someone to please be here when I attempted my first harvest. Master beekeeper Dana agreed to help me if I promised to help someone else in the future. That was an easy promise to make.

The plan was for Dana to come this morning at 10AM. Good news: the temperature was cool. Bad news: the sky was very gray and had low ceilings. I didn't think it would rain, but I knew that this is not the kind of weather we want when we open the hives. Bees get downright cranky with we open their hives on days that are cloudy, windy or rainy. They like sunshine.

I secured the extractor to the pole that holds up the house in the garage, prepared the smoker to fire it up, schlepped my tools out to the hives and staged the equipment just so. And Dana declared a delay due to the weather. We postponed and decided to make a decision at 12:30. By then, the ceilings had lifted. The sun was nowhere to be found but we decided to go for it. Dana arrived and I suited up.

Notice that Dana and I do not appear to be dressed for the same party. I was covered from head to toe (boots this time!) and Dana was wearing well-loved pants and a sweatshirt. No veil. No gloves. No jacket. In this picture, we are looking at a frame from Hive 3. We saw bees. We saw larvae. We saw capped larvae. We did not see capped honey.

Dana pulled out more frames. I bent over for a closer look. No capped honey.

We closed up the hive and moved on to Hive 1, my poster child.

About this time, Harvey, who had been playing the role of photographer, got stung on the back of the neck, so he retreated to the safety of the kitchen.

Dana and I looked in Hive 2, just because. I knew I would not be taking honey from this hive as those girls just weren't as far along. Three weeks ago, Hive 1, currently 5 boxes tall, had one super completely filled with capped honey. Today, plenty of bees and larvae, but empty comb where the honey had been.

I fed a pollen substitute patty to each colony to help them maintain their vigor. We removed one super from Hive 1, gathered our stuff and headed back to the garage, sans honey. Being a master beekeeper, Dana was not surprised that we had not found honey. Being a newbie, I was perplexed. I knew those hives were loaded with capped honey. I saw it myself and that's why I added the supers. Dana had asked me more than once how long it had been since I had examined the hives. He knew, based on the variety of bees (Italian), the very hot, dry weather and the fact that there isn't much nectar available in August, that my girls would have been dedicating themselves to raising brood which requires them to use lots of honey to feed themselves. Since there was no nectar to convert to honey, they ate what they had been storing for months.

What I should have done was to harvest honey when I saw that it was plentiful 3 weeks ago. Then I could have been feeding them sugar water like I did when the hives were first established in April and May. The bees would have used that "honey" for nourishment and the last flowers of the summer, Autumn Joy sedum and goldenrod, would have provided nectar for late honey.

This has been a tough year for the bees. Our May was drenched with rain which kept the bees from foraging and knocked the pollen out of the trees and blooming flowers. Our July and August were hot and dry and the plants did not have much nectar.

We have little expectation for honey yields from newly established hives. We hope for a vigorous, vibrant population of bees and if we get a little honey, sweet! I know my hive in Madison County had some honey harvested from it in June. I wonder if there will be a late summer harvest.

Today, I beat the reaper. Sting count remains at 11.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Learning the Hard Way

Experience and a bee suit brings confidence, or so I thought. I thought I was so protected. HA! On Sunday afternoon, two weeks after my last inspection (note that this writing is happening on Tuesday), I donned my suit and stoked the smoker. The day had been overcast with intervals of sunshine. I KNOW the best weather to open the hives is when it's a sunny day, but it didn't seem like rain and with encouragement from Harvey, I went ahead with the inspection.

I started in the middle with Hive 2, still only stacked three high. The uppermost box revealed half the frames full of honey and I thought the girls were finally ready for another super, but when further inspection revealed they hadn't filled most of the frames, I decided to wait for the room addition. I patiently worked my way to the bottom of the colony, finding no queen and less larvae than I expected. I'm sure the queen was in the very bottom somewhere, but it's hard to find one among the thousands. The bees were calm and I gave them plenty of smoke. Before it was all buttoned up, I felt sharp pain at the top of the base of my left thumb. One of the workers had stung me right through my goatskin glove. I can't imagine why I was stung there, and could not rationalize nor justify. I knew the stinger was not in my skin so I moved on to Hive 1.

The girls in Hive 1 were very active, flying everywhere. This is still the most populated, strongest hive. As I worked my way down through the frames I could see that this hive was ready for a 5th story as the upper frames were filled with honey. I didn't see anything wrong. I didn't see the queen. Again, it seemed like there were fewer larvae, but there was plenty of capped brood and I did find young larvae way down in the bottom. While I was restacking the hive boxes, the bees were zooming everywhere. What, me worry? I was still smarting from the sting on my hand, but I was unconcerned with the bees that landed on my bee suit. Then I felt the sting.

If you have never been stung by a bee, let me describe for you the exquisite initial pain. This time, it was on my left foot between the outside knob of my ankle and my achilles tendon. It feels like someone is pinching you with pointy splinter tweezers, and that someone is not letting go, but just keeps the pinch going. Really, that doesn't quite do it justice, but it will give you the idea. The sharpness of that pain lasts for several minutes and for most people, that's the worst of it. For most people, getting on with whatever needs to be done provides enough distraction to move the focus from the site of the sting.

I moved away from the hive and tried to get a look at my ankle. The unfortunate worker bee was curled up below the elastic of my bee suit and she was caught up in my sock. A bee sting causes some misery for the person stung, but it's a death sentence for the bee. I brushed the bee away and finished closing up Hive 1. Oh, did I mention the really bad word I yelled when it happened?

Doggedly, (stupidly?) I moved to Hive 3. I'll admit that the last hive got a very brief inspection. I got into the 2nd box from the top and decided to quit for the day. I had not taken Benadryl before I went to the hives (see how confidant I was?) and I wanted to get some in my system, the sooner the better.

I stumbled my way back to the garage, doffed my bee suit, picked the stinger out of my sock, swallowed a double hit of antihistamine and looked at my poor ankle and foot, already swelling. Here it is, two days later, and I'm finally able to write about it. Since Sunday, while treating myself with expensive topical prescription medicines and ice packs, through the haze of Advil and Benadryl, I have asked myself over and over why I subject myself to this. I was deeply discouraged.

I thought about why this happened, two stings in spite of all the protective clothing. I thought about what I did wrong. I thought about how to be a better beekeeper, which in this case means one who gets stung less often. I should not have opened the hives on a cloudy day. I can't come up with any other reason for the sting on my hand. The sting on my ankle would not have happened if I hadn't pushed on when the bees seemed agitated. I should have abandoned the inspection, but the bee suit gave me a false sense of security. Next time I'll pay closer attention to the weather, pay closer attention to the mood of the bees, take Benadryl before I suit up and I'll wear boots. I always knew that a bee suit is not foolproof; the heavy fabric is sting resistant, not sting proof.

In the morning, before things got ugly, I had visited the hives and saw that the bees were laden with pollen as they returned to the hive. That's a good thing as they need the pollen as their source of protein.

Sting count: 11

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Meanwhile, Back at the Meadow...

After five weeks away, I returned to my Ohio home Saturday about 5PM. As soon as the dog had been turned loose, the cat freed from her carrier/prison and the torts were released from their cramped traveling quarters, I headed out to the hives. It was too late in the day to open up and examine the hives so I had to be content with seeing how things looked from the outside. At dusk, I revisited my tree stump perch. The bees were returning to their hives. Due to the heat, they were forming slight beards on the fronts of the boxes. The bees keep the temperature in the hive at about 90 degrees, so when they are too warm, they hang out on the front porch.

This is Hive 3 at sundown.

Sitting on the front stoops, waiting for dark.

I stayed out there until it was almost completely dark. The decreasing light made the meadow look even more lush, the cicadas were singing, the house wrens were scolding me for coming too close, the hives were humming and maybe best of all, the fireflies were flashing their messages across the meadow and deep in the ravine.

Sunday morning, while it was still only in the 80s, I was ready to examine the hives. Right before I donned my bee clothes, took a precautionary Benadryl, grabbed my tools and smoker and got down to business, the meadow had a visit from a doe and her two spotted fawns. We admired them all and allowed them to munch on some meadow greenery before letting Sam out to chase them off.

Hives 2 and 3 are making similar progress with drawn out comb. While Hive 3 is one box taller than Hive 2, not much is going on up there. There were some bees in that super but little comb, no eggs, brood, larvae, pollen or honey. The next box down had frames heavy with honey. I continued to examine frames in the next box down (2nd from the bottom), where I saw lots of capped brood and larvae. I didn't find the queen but since the girls were getting jittery (one went into attack mode on Harvey's arm) I decided not to examine the bottom hive box.

Hive 2 had less honey but the frames looked perfect with brood and I could see that comb where bees had emerged was prepared for another visit from their Ohio queen. I found her in the middle box so I closed it all up without delay.

Hive 1 is still the strongest of the three hives. Her majesty has been busy running a great hive. I got to see her, too! The inner lid of Hive 1 was so loaded with bees, perhaps 1,000 of them, I knew there would be many accidentally crushed when I reassembled the hive so I shook them off in front of the hive. After the hive was safely closed, I went to the front of the hive and got to see all those bees marching in a wave back to their front door. What remarkable little creatures they are.

Sting count remains at 9.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Urban Beekeeping

This morning, there was an e-mail in my inbox about trends in restaurant concepts. While the e-mail had nothing to do with beekeeping, at the very bottom of it was a link to a video about urban beekeeping. I just watched it and think it is worth sharing on my blog.

In six short minutes I learned what it is like to be a rooftop beekeeper in Brooklyn. Take notice of the hive artwork.

It's good to know if I ever want to give up the suburbs of Columbus for urban New York, I can still keep bees.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Ingrates

Were I not leaving for a month, I would not have bothered my bees today, but since I am leaving, taking the dog, the cat and the torts, the harsh reality is that my bees will not make the travel team. My friend and fellow new beekeeper, Susan, will check the hives in a couple of weeks, but she hasn't seen inside them for over a month and she needed to see how they are buzzing so she'll know if they continue to make good progress. We started off by checking her hives together. She has two hives, one doing okay, the other not. We did a little frame swapping to boost her weak hive. The most interesting thing I saw in her weaker hive was some spun silk in the corner of the lid. It was not beelike. I poked at it and a seriously large, black, fat-bodied spider fled. I know what that arachnid has been eating. It has a sweet tooth for honeybees.

In my own beeyard, I knew Hive 1 would be ready for another super (hive box) and that possibly Hive 3 would be also. I suited up and got the smoker going. As usual, I started with Hive 2, my weakest colony. Actually, it's looking very good! I saw lots of calm bees, capped brood, capped honey, and larvae in cells that have already housed larvae and pupae from which bees have emerged. I pretended to look for eggs, but didn't pretend I saw any. I didn't see any real eggs, either. I also found a few queen cells at the bottom of some frames, so I removed them. What I didn't see is the queen, but she has certainly been there since my inspection last week.

Hive 1 is still picture perfect and with most of the frames drawn out in comb, was indeed ready for the next super. The bees were calm. The queen eluded me.

Hive 3 seems to be going strong. I saw plenty of capped brood, capped honey and comb being reused, but I couldn't find the queen. Three strikes on Where's Queenie? It seemed to me that there was not as much larvae as I should have seen which makes me wonder if the queen is still there. Time will tell. The topmost super was about half drawn out in comb, but since I'm going to be away, I added a super anyway. I also moved some well developed frames into the bottom hive box, as a couple of frames there had not been drawn out in comb. I had this hive open for a while as I inspected all the way to the bottom, looking for the queen. I could tell by the amplitude of the buzzing that the bees were getting agitated.

I removed the feeders from all three hives, setting them on the ground. Each feeder had several bees walking about, so I left them to give the ladies the opportunity to mosey back to their hives. Here is a photo of the hives, with four boxes on two of them and three boxes in the middle. The embellishments are partially obstructed by the telescoping covers. If I get to add a fifth hive box some day, the designs will be completely visible. Hive 1 sports a caricature of my husband. His alter ego, Har-bee, is holding a dollar bill. My caricature designed for my labels is on Hive 3.

I put the empty feeders away in my basement. I'll need them again in the fall. It's always a good idea to keep the bees in the loop, so I went out to tell them I would be gone for a while and to say goodbye. I was dressed in my wicking walking clothes--no bee jacket or veil. I noticed that there was a gap where the top super of Hive 3 sits the hive box below it. I thought there might be some mulch or a stick acting as a shim, so I gently lifted the corner. BIG MISTAKE! Several bees shot out and came right at me. I felt a sharp sting at the top of my left leg as one of the guards defended her hive. Two other bees were viciously stinging a fold in my shirt, hurting no one but themselves. I was backing away from the hives, all the while being chased and pursued by ungrateful worker bees. I was lucky to have gotten only one sting, my ninth. Infinitely wiser, I suited up and lit the smoker, determined to adjust that box and close the gap. By now, I had Harvey's attention and he actually did the honors. I have reframed my thoughts about that gap, since it remains. It is ventilation! If the bees don't like it they will seal it up with propolis.

In my reading about bees, one beekeeper wrote that opening a hive without smoking it first is something you will do just once. Since I was stung through my shorts I got to skip the chapter where the imbedded stinger pulses bee venom into my skin. I got some Benedryl into my system and some topical medicine on my skin and so far, there is just a little swelling. I hope to not have another big, nasty reaction. Ever.

Sting count: 9.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Birds and Bees, Flowers and Trees

Early summer things are happening in the meadow. The baby house wrens have fledged. Harvey took this picture one or two days before they left their nest. I still see house wrens in and out of three of our nesting boxes. Maybe they will have another clutch.

The meadow is greening up. I see the usual weeds: violets (pretty, but unwanted), crabgrass, black locust volunteers, sour clover, other familiar mystery weeds. I called in my landscaper. Since he planted the seeds, I hoped he would recognize if any of them were sprouting or if we are just growing the Worthington version of Arthur's Weed Patch (remember the comic strip Miss Peach?). Jason, the Garden Guru, showed up the next day for a look. Yes, we have plenty of nasties in the meadow, but he pointed out tiny seedlings, the chosen weeds. We call them wildflowers. There are native grasses, rudbeckia, echinacea, and lots of other good stuff. Tiny, tiny seedlings, but seedlings nonetheless, all over. In the photo above you can see the remnants of our daffodils. The taller plants are undesirable weeds, but the all over green haze is a lot of the right stuff. You can also see the three hives, each three boxes tall.

This is a closer look at the infant meadow. Almost everything in this picture is desirable. The paddle-leafed plants are rudbeckia, easy to identify because the leaves are hairy. Many of the good seedlings are smaller than my pinky fingertip. The plan for meadow care this year is to not pull any weeds (and is that ever hard to do!) because some of the prairie seeds will take a year to germinate and pulling out weeds would not only disturb the still slumbering seeds, but also awaken the billions of weed seeds now dormant in the soil. Anything that grows taller than 6" this year can be whacked with the string trimmer because nothing that we want will grow taller than 6" this first season. The black locust seedlings can grow that much in a day. Because of the clay soil and our frequent showers, we have plenty of mud out there. These plants actually like dense clay soil.

This beautiful rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan) is one we planted last year--a plant, not a seed. This one just started to bloom, but even more exciting are the several baby Susans nearby, offspring of our second year plant. This plant, like many of the others in our prairie mix, self sows, which is why it takes a good three years to coax the meadow into becoming a riot of native flowers and grasses. I can now easily spot these seedlings in the meadow. Sticking up through the right side of the Susan is one of those pesky locust trees. The green sprinkles are all good things.

The bees are going to love what is happening in the beeyard/meadow.

Down in the ravine, the humans are staying slightly ahead of the poison ivy and honeysuckle. All our efforts to control the noxious plants exposed rich, leafy humus with oodles of earthworms. A walk down there today revealed extensive patches of worm castings (yes!) and a lot of erosion because the honeysuckle is no longer holding the soil in place (oh, no!). We have planted so many things down there, and most of them are doing well. Without the honeysuckle hogging all the light and all the terrain, other plants will now have a chance to grow. It is time to let benevolent Ma Nature do her thing.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

I Felt So Safe

After receiving sting #8 on the tender skin of my inner upper arm resulting in a particularly nasty local reaction to the venom, I decided it was time to buy some protective clothing. The night before I left for a week's vacation in wine country, I stayed up late with my beekeeper supply catalogs spread out on the kitchen table. It seems like every beekeeper supplier has its own version of the suit. What the suits have in common is that they are white and have lots of pockets and zippers, but fabric content varies from nylon (how hot does the beekeeper want to bee?) to poly/cotton to 100% cotton. Whatever the composition, when I see these suits a little voice in my head says "E.T. phone home." I know the suits get toasty so I settled on the only one that is 100% cotton. Coveralls are for mechanics, so I selected the jacket with the zip on domed hood/veil and separate drawstring pants. These suits are not what one would call tailored. When the package arrived, I found both top and bottom to bee plenty roomy so I can wear my civilian clothes underneath. The looser the fit, the less likely I will be stung. I like all that air space.

The forecast for the next seven days is for thundershowers, so when the rain stopped late yesterday afternoon I decided to seize the moment. I donned the new gear and Harvey and I headed over to the hives. The inspection was as I expected. Hive 2, the weakest one, is still the weakest one. The original bottom hive box still has some frames with no drawn comb, but the 2nd story was quite full. I couldn't find her majesty but I found plenty of honey, capped brood, larvae and comb being reused as a nursery. It was overcast and close to 6PM, so I didn't even try to see eggs. This hive had several queen cells, which I removed. I added a third box to the hive so now all three colonies are three high.

Super duper Hive 1 is still super duper. I found the queen in the middle box so I stopped inspecting. This colony is everything I want it to bee. It could bee in the textbook for what a good hive should look like.

Hive 3, the latecomer to my beeyard is also doing very well and is not far behind Hive 1. I couldn't find the unmarked queen but I did see capped brood and larvae and that will have to do.

The protective beesuit did its job. These suits are not sting proof, but sting resistant. Even with 100% cotton, the humidity outside made a steam bath inside the suit. I wish I hadn't forgotten the sweatband I had procured from Harvey's bureau drawer. My hair was soaking wet and my shirt and t-shirt were soggy. My leather gloves were sticky with bee stuff and the fingers are too long. Alas, I crushed many bees while handling the frames and I saw some of my girls trying to sting my fingers (and I felt them vibrate against the leather), but thankfully, those gloves are sting proof. The new domed hood is a huge improvement over the hat and veil I had been using. So much of the beekeeping is done bent over and the old hat and veil would flop around loosely on my head, a serious distraction. The new domed veil zips to the neck of the jacket and this is a far better design. I have improved visibility and my hat can't fall off.

Sting count remains at 8.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Going Up!

I expected that the girls would be getting crowded again, so when I inspected the hives today I was prepared to add another box. Also, with the temperature in the mid 80s, I decided to wear my Underarmor walking shorts and a short sleeved shirt. It's plenty hot under the veil and long sleeves and long pants really make the beekeeper schvitz.

As usual, I started in the middle with Hive 2. You may recall that this is my weakest hive and the one with the new Ohio queen. Things are looking much better inside with lots of capped brood, stored honey and pollen. The frames in the upper hive have several empty sides not yet drawn out with comb. The lower box has frames not drawn out either. Since the rule for adding a new box is to wait until the frames are 70% full, this colony is not ready for more room. I did spot that lovely Ohio queen. She has been doing her job and I saw lots of larvae. O-H-!

On to Hive 3. This is the hive with the unmarked queen. In spite of that, I found her and saw plenty of capped brood and larvae. Another healthy colony. The upper hive box was almost full of drawn comb so I added a box.

Hive 1, my poster child hive, had frames so loaded with honey I had to break some comb to pry out the first frame. I saw lots of comb, lots of honey, capped brood from one end of the frame to the other, larvae and comb from which bees have already emerged. Another hive body was in order. I didn't spot her majesty in the upper hive box and since I have so much trouble seeing eggs and because the bees were being so calm, I decided to go into the lowest box and keep looking. I'm glad I did! I found the queen, and finding her way down there means she is doing just what I want her to do, which is reusing the comb from which bees have already emerged. I saw various ages of larvae in darkened, previously used comb.

All the feeders were dry. I have continued to provide syrup for the bees, but I haven't been giving them as much as I used to so I was not surprised that all the syrup was gone. They don't eat it all, but they move it into storage to be used later as food. They treat the syrup just like honey. Real honey can only be made from nectar they collect.

I was feeling pretty smug about the bees. The hives are thriving. The bees were calm. Two hives have another story of frames. All have syrup in the feeders. I found all the queens. The hives were completely reassembled. And no stings.


Just as I stepped away from Hive 1 and began to gather my tools and supplies, I felt that familiar tweezer pinch hold of the soft skin on the inside of my upper left arm.

Sting count: 8.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Neither Snow nor Rain nor Heat...

My niece Blair sent me this bit about a New York City swarm. She says if bees swarm because they want more room they ought not to live in Manhattan.

To read the whole article, click on the link and then click on "bugs" at bottom left under the image. Personally, I think the bee box looks way more interesting than the other ones.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Dressing up the Hives

While what goes on inside the beehive is what is really important, not much attention gets paid to the exterior of the hive. Most hive boxes are made of pine and we know that unprotected wood does not fare well with outdoor elements. Beehives can be stained, but most often, they are painted. It seems that bees don't care what color their hive is. Most of the time hive boxes are painted white or whatever color is on sale on the oops shelf at the paint store. My hives are painted the color of my house, a very light cream, because that's the bucket of paint I had in the basement.


My daughter-in-law Anne is not only beautiful and smart, she paints. What does she paint? Among other things, wooden cigar boxes! When I asked her if she would like to paint my beehives, she was abuzz with the thought of it. I was thinking of beehive hairdos and other bee motifs, but she started doing research and discovered a website with more tempting images than I have hives. Andrew Gough, a master of esoterica, has studied and documented bees historically through the ages and shares this sweet history at Here are my hives, newly adorned with ancient beelore.

Hive #1 is graced by a bee hieroglyph design from the ancient Egyptian temple Luxor.

Hive #2 is a colorful graphic rendition of a Minoan gold bee pendant from Crete, circa 2000 BCE. The Minoans were expert beekeepers and taught apiculture to the Greeks. The website has a photo of this gold pendant. Wow!

Hive # 3 sports an ancient Egyptian ideagraph for honey.

Before Anne and daughter Rebecca left town today to return to New Jersey, Anne painted three more boxes that I will add to the hives as the bees need more room to store honey.

I have the most beautiful beehives in town, in Ohio, in the country, maybe in the world! Thank you, Anne!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Beekeeper's Assistants

Rebecca and Anne are here for the holiday weekend. Rebecca has understandable misgivings about being in the midst of thousands of potentially stinging insects, but I learned that Anne has been interested in bees since her high school days when she considered six weeks of beekeeping for her Linworth Walkabout.

Anne is an artist and loves to paint, so she agreed to paint the hive boxes. There will be more about that tomorrow. With three hive boxes suitably decorated and ready to put in place, I wanted to do that when she was available to watch. I knew she wanted to get close to the bees. In addition to swapping hive boxes, I needed to examine each hive and see what progress had been made since last week. I also had made a new batch of syrup for food and some grease patties to protect the bees from tracheal mites.

The grease patties are made of sugar, crisco and peppermint essential oil. Examination gloves were a smart idea for the mixing and pattying. A patty is placed under all the boxes on the bottom screen of the hive just inside the front door. When the bees come and go, they must traipse through the sugar, grease and aromatic oil. When the ladies clean each other up, they medicate themselves and make themselves resistant to tracheal mites, tiny critters we can't see but can weaken the bees and wipe out the entire colony. The patty should last a couple of months and then will be replaced.

The hives are all in great shape. The bees are drawing out comb in the upper level hive boxes. In the lower boxes I can see where cells are empty after providing safe haven for pupae. The workers will clean out all the newly empty cells and the queen will lay eggs in them again. Each hive has frames filled with capped larvae, developing larvae and capped honey. Hive 1 continues to be the star of the show. I only saw one queen (Hive 1) and God knows I tried, but I couldn't see any eggs. I do believe they are in there. Formerly weak Hive 2 is looking much healthier with its new Ohio queen, even though I couldn't find her. And latecomer Hive 3 is almost as full as the others.

I convinced Rebecca that drones have no stingers and showed her how to spot them. Then I put one in her hand. Oh, how those boys buzz! Anne took lots of terrific photos which I will post soon.

The bees in all three hives were oh so calm today. What a difference from when I released the Ohio queen last week. Even though I removed all the frames from each hive, swapped out the upper boxes' frames into the newly painted ones, placed the grease patties, scraped burr comb and poured syrup into the feeders, I am happy to report none of us were stung.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Beekeeper's Couture

It was a rare day (not raining) so I took advantage of the break in the weather to check on my new Ohio queen in Hive 2. This would be her fifth day in the hive and I thought she would have been released by her attendants by now. Since I had no plans to leave the house today and expected no company, I decided to forego my bra, threw on my jeans and a long sleeve t-shirt, then donned veil and gloves. I figured the bees would be busy building on the frame foundation and wouldn't mind if I was not wearing my own foundation.

I smoked the hive and worked my way to the spot where I parked the queen cage (pictured above). The queen and her attendants were still inside the cage. You can see in the photo that the candy plug (fondant) is still blocking the exit. In the days it takes for the workers to eat the candy, they acclimate to their new queen's pheromones. By the time the candy is gone and her way is clear to exit, the bees know who their queen is.

These were some restless bees, today. I repeatedly applied smoke but they remained agitated. I decided to release the queen myself by prying open the queen cage, but the candy resisted my handy dental tool. A quick study of the structure of this bee cage revealed a plastic plug next to the exit tube. It pried out easily and the queen and her ladies in waiting dropped into the hive box.

While all this was taking place, one of the girls ran into my shirt where my bra wasn't and stung me. Stings through clothing are not a big deal as the stinger doesn't imbed in the skin. That said, this is a tender place. I can not endorse braless beekeeping and, for sure, can not recommend topless beekeeping.

Sting count: 7

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Queen for Today

At 9am I was in German Village to pick up my new Ohio queen from beekeeper and queen grafter Nina. Nina is creating genetic lines of Ohio queens from colonies that have strongly survived our Ohio winters. The idea here is that these queens will produce offspring that will also survive Ohio winters. I wish I had taken a picture of the queen cages Nina uses which are a plastic mesh. This photograph is of cages that held two of my original Georgia queens.

On my way back to Worthington I called John, the Plain City beekeeper who helped me yesterday. He met me at my house, we fired up the smoker and headed to the hives to install the new queen in Hive #2.

We took yet another look at the frames to try to find the original queen. While we did not find her (again), we did find new eggs. Some of the eggs were two to a cell, indicating an egg-laying worker. The problem is, this worker is a pretender to the throne. Her eggs are not fertile and nothing good can come of them. A hasty phone consultation with yet another highly experienced beekeeper, Dana, brought the new game plan.

This is where it gets complicated. Dana advised us to take all the Hive #2 frames with brood, including the nurse bees, and switch them with the brood and bee laden frames my happiest hive, #1. It was imperative that the queen from Hive #1 remain there, so we had to find her. There were plenty of new eggs so we knew she was there, but where? Oddly, we found her on a frame in the upper hive body. We made the presto/change-o frame swap and cradled the new queen in her cage between two frames in Hive #2. And then we buttoned up the hives.

The idea here is that the nurse bees from Hive #1 now residing in Hive #2 and all the newly emerging bees will happily accept the new queen. The bees formerly from Hive #2 now in Hive #1 will happily accept the Hive #1 queen. The foraging bees returning to the hives will go back to the real estate from whence they came. The worker bee that had been pretending to be a queen in Hive #2 will be killed by the real queen in Hive #1. We simple beekeepers could never figure out which worker is the pretend queen, but the pretender can't fool the true royal.

Are you following this? If so, you can explain it all to me later. I just had a mental picture of a diagram of a complicated football play.

This is what I know for sure. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon. My bees were zooming all around all three hives with lots of coming and going. In three or four days I will check to make sure the new Ohio queen has been released from her cage. Several beekeepers who know way more about all of this than I do assure me that I will now have stronger, healthier colonies.

From their lips to God's ears.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Queen Me

When I took my beekeeping class with the Central Ohio Beekeeping Association (COBA), I was told if you ask four beekeepers the same question you will get six answers. Last night at the COBA beeyard at Ohio State, I asked what to do about my problem hive #2.
  • I was advised to let nature take its course and if my workers want to make a new queen, let them. and then let the bees choose which queen will rule the hive.
  • I was advised to requeen.
  • I was advised to take a frame of brood from my super duper hive #1 and move it to hive #2.
  • I was advised not to move a frame.
Beekeepers seem to belong to a helpful community. One of the established beekeepers, John, asked where I keep my bees and offered to come have a look.

I called John this morning and in no time he was on his way to Worthington from Plain City. He gave me a much needed lesson in lighting the smoker and we headed to my beeyard. We gave hive #2 some calming puffs of smoke and had a look inside. There were more drowned bees in the feeder, but not too many. There were signs that new bees have been emerging. That's a good thing. We looked and looked but could not find the queen, so we looked some more. And then we started over, frame by frame, looking for but not finding her. John believes the queen is gone--that either she died or the workers threw her out.

We examined the three queen cells. Only one had an egg, indicating that the queen had been there in the last three days. We saw some larvae, but very few eggs. Not good. A good queen lays about 1,000 eggs per day.

John's advice: if I could locate one, requeen with an Ohio queen, destroy the queen cells, don't move a frame of brood.

I called one of the COBA members who grafts (creates) queens and she has one. So I will be off to German Village tomorrow morning to get my new queen. Those of you who know this city understand how appropriate this is!

John will return tomorrow to help me install the new Ohio queen and make sure my original queen is gone.

Of course we took a look into the other two hives. The girls in hive #1 are doing an incredible job tending to the nursery. Brood is emerging and they are storing honey. I found the queen, which I had been unable to do the last two inspections. Hive #1 gets a gold star! Hive #3, the newbees, is also coming right along. Those workers are very busy drawing out comb and while we looked for the queen, we didn't see her. We know she's there, though, because there are lots of eggs. I got smart and took a magnifier out with me, so I finally got to see eggs. They are very tiny so it's going to take some practice for these old eyes to find them.

While John was here, my friend Wendy came over to see the bees. Lucky Wendy got to come close and watch us examine the hives.

Stay tuned; I will probably write another entry tomorrow about how the requeening went. The weather forecast is for a nice day. I would appreciate that, and I know my bees would, too.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What's Going On In There?

What parent has not uttered the question, "What's going on in there?" I opened up my hives today and in two out of three cases, I know the answer.

The first hive I examined today was the middle one, Hive 2. When I looked last week, things in Hives 1 and 2 seemed to be pretty much the same, except there were many bees in Hive 2 that had drowned in the feeder. Hive 2 has been noticeably less active than the other two all week. There were many drowned bees again this week; some were left over from last week. I dumped out the remaining syrup and the hundreds of dead bees and continued my inspection. I found the queen, I found lots of drawn out comb and very little capped brood. I found a few queen cells.

Queen cells are brood chambers where larvae are being fed royal jelly, the special food that turns an ordinary larva into a queen instead of a worker. They look like peanuts in the shell. Workers create new queens when they sense something is wrong with their queen or if the queen is dead/missing/gone, or if they are crowded and want to split the colony by swarming. These bees are not crowded and should not be wanting to swarm. Her majesty is there; I saw her. She is laying fertile eggs or they wouldn't be able to make a queen cell. I could see larvae. I have more questions than answers for now.

In the middle of the inspection it started raining. All the literature says not to open hives when it is windy or raining. And bright sunshine helps make it easier to see the tiny eggs, at least that's what I hear as I have yet to see an egg. When I finished inspecting Hive 2 I was soaked and ready to quit for the day. The rain stopped.

On to Hive 3, the newbees. This has been the most active hive this week. The workers are drawing out the comb, storing pollen and doing everything they are supposed to do. They are not very far behind Hive 2. I found the queen which is all the more to cheer about as she is unmarked.

Hive 1 was a real treat to inspect. There is frame after frame of capped brood, wall to wall. I did not see the queen but she is certainly in there. I saw larvae. The frames in this hive are mostly drawn out into comb and these girls are getting crowded. They had built some beautiful burr comb in the lid. Harvey, dressed in his hooded NAPA coveralls, started scraping off the burr comb. We noticed there were larvae in the burr comb. The bees were NOT happy with him and a couple took off after him resulting in two stings on his hand and a bee in his hood. When I peeled off the hood, the bee was sitting on his cheek right in front of his ear. She did not sting him and I brushed her off.

Harvey was not feeling the love towards the bees and noticed that they were all lined up at the tops of the frames. I remember reading about this in Beekeeping for Dummies (for real) and when they do that they are sentries guarding the hive. This would be the time to use the smoker, except that it had gone out. I just kept working, hoping that the ladies would humor me and not sting me. I hastily admired all the capped brood, did not find the queen, gave the hive a second story (I gave all the hives second stories), poured the syrup, finished scraping the burr comb and buttoned it up until next week.

Sting count remains at six.

One last story. The burr comb, like all the other comb in the hive, is full of "honey." Actually, for now it is the syrup from the feeder which they are storing for food for later. Scraping the fragile comb makes it ooze and it is very sticky. I left the scraped burr comb near the front doors of the respective hives knowing the bees would take the syrup out of the comb and put it back in the hive. A couple hours after the inspections, the sun was shining as if it had been a pretty day all along so I went back out to see if all the workers had left the burr comb, in which case I would collect it. They had, but at the back of Hive 3 there was one worker on the ground that was drenched in syrup to the extent that her wings were stuck to her body and she couldn't move. I picked her up and put her on top of the hive but I could see that she didn't have much of a future. I moved her to the landing pad at the front door of Hive 3, as I knew that bees will clean syrup off of each other, and immediately, she was surrounded by several sisters who got right to work. Within 10 minutes, she was cleaned up, her wings were functional and I was no longer able to tell which bee was the one that was surely doomed.

How nice to see that they care for each other as much as I care for them.

Friday, May 13, 2011

I Was a Little Worried

I'm not usually a worrier, but all this rain we have been having has turned me into one. When it is rainy, bees stay home. That means they are not out there foraging for nectar and pollen. Since I am feeding them syrup, they won't starve, but they need to collect pollen to feed their brood.

To make things even worse, while they are not out doing what bees do because it is raining, the rain is knocking the pollen out of the trees and early spring flowers. That's good news for allergy sufferers but bad news for bees, because when the rains finally stopped this week, the workers headed out to forage but there was no pollen to bring back to the hive.

How do I know?

I have been taking advantage of the break in the rain to plant in the ravine so I have been spending more time than usual watching the bees return to the hives. I spent about 30 minutes yesterday, just watching. In one 15 minute observation period in the afternoon, I saw a few bees returning with their pollen baskets stuffed but in the evening observation period I saw no pollen at all coming in.

So, I worried. No pollen means the brood isn't being well fed which means the population of the bees will not increase as quickly as it should which means there will be fewer bees to forage for nectar which means less honey at the end of the season, not that I was counting on much extra honey this year. The really worrisome question is will there bee enough honey in those hives to sustain the bees through the winter?

This morning I headed to the ravine with the last of my new woodland plants and my trusty trowel. As I watched my girls, I was relieved to see many of them returning to the hives with their pollen baskets full. I am less worried today than yesterday.

Thank you, Harvey, for finding the terrific photograph of the honeybee with her filled pollen baskets. Look at how cute her little bee butt is all dusted with pollen.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

All the News that's Fit to Print

Wednesday in the Columbus Dispatch, honeybees got front page above the fold placement. Our rainy weather has made beeing a bee even more difficult in Ohio. One of the beekeepers mentioned, Barry Conrad, is the one from whom I learned most of what I know about bees. He's the beekeeper who drove to Georgia to get my bees.

Please see Hard-hit honeybees can’t get a break on Page A1 of Wednesday, May 11, 2011 issue of The Columbus Dispatch

It seems that in addition to the litany of woes of the honeybee (mites, the mysterious colony collapse disorder, etc.), this rainy weather packs a double whammy. Not only do the bees not go out collecting pollen and nectar in the rain, the rain washes the pollen out of the trees and flowers so when the sun finally shines the pollen is not available. Pollen is the protein source for feeding brood. We expect this will not be a good year for the honey harvest.

The Central Ohio Bee Association meets every Wednesday evening at the OSU beeyard. It's a terrific opportunity to see everything going right in a hive, and a few things going wrong. It is also a good time for newbee beekeepers to ask questions of more experienced ones. Just in case you are on "Jeopardy," if the answer is "red maple tree," the question is "where does red pollen come from?"

Sunday, May 8, 2011

All My Children

It's Mother's Day and the afternoon was filled with sunshine. Perfect conditions for my weekly bee check. Because I had more to do with the newbees, I started with Hive 3, in the forefront of the photo.

The newbees had devoured all the syrup in their feeder and had industriously built a large piece of burr comb in the lid. Burr comb is honeycomb that the bees put where they want it and beekeepers don't, like in the lid. I am collecting all the beautiful white burr comb to render into cakes of beeswax for future projects.

Once I got into the frames in the hive body, I removed the queen cage to see if she had been released. Each package of bees comes with a queen in a queen cage, a wooden box about the size of a lipstick. The bottom has a hole with a cork. When I installed the package of bees, I pried out the cork. Underneath the cork is a piece of candy. The whole shebang is hung in the hive body and within a few days, the workers eat the candy and release the queen. While waiting for her release, workers feed and groom the queen through the screen. All the while, she is releasing her unique pheromone scent and by the time she is free, all the workers have gotten to know their queen. I think someone missed a great opportunity to call these carriers something spiffy, like chariots or thrones.

The queen cage was empty. I looked among the thousands of workers for the newbee queen, but her majesty eluded me. The queen is larger than the workers and more slender than the drones. It would be helpful if she wore a crown, but she doesn't. What she does wear is a painted dot on her thorax and if the workers aren't piled on top of her, it does make it easier for new beekeepers to spot her. Even so, I could not find her. In another week, I'll try again.

After examining all the frames and prying out the burr comb, I reassembled the hive, added syrup and moved on to Hive 1. The girls in Hive 1 had also eaten all the syrup in their feeder. Their queen hid from me, too, but many of the frames were covered with capped brood. She's in there.

Hive 2 also had lots of capped brood. I was able to find this queen. Uh oh, her paint spot is wearing off and looks like a crescent moon. I wonder if I can repaint. Both of my original hives are coming along.

In all three hives I saw bees with filled pollen baskets and cells in the honeycomb with stored pollen. Most of the pollen is golden, some is pale green, and some of it is vibrant red. I saw a few bees with their pollen baskets filled with red pollen. I wonder what it comes from.

This Mother's Day, in addition to hearing from my human children and checking on my 30,000+ stinging children, I visited my bird nesting boxes. One bluebird house is still vacant. In the other bluebird house, the first of the seven chickadee eggs hatched on Friday, so I expected the rest would have hatched by now. They had. And yesterday, I noticed birds flying in and out of the new chickadee house. I didn't know what these birds were, but I knew what they weren't: chickadees. I couldn't get a good look at them, even with the binoculars, so I resorted to calling Wild Birds Unlimited for a consult. Based on the limiting size of the hole in the nesting box and my description of the nest being built (just a circular pile of twigs), I am pleased to report that house wrens are nesting there. This is a new species for me. I do not see these birds at my feeders, but I welcome them to my yard. The other chickadee box which has provided shelter for chickadees for five years remains empty.

The rest of my kids, Sam the Doodle, Wanda, Ketzel, the torts and Samson the ball python are also fine.

As for flora, Harvey and I planted two hemlocks, a horse chestnut, a dogwood, some spiderwort and a number of rootings of white raspberries in the ravine. A fine Mother's Day, for sure.

Sting count: 6. An unfortunate worker crashed into my right shoulder and gave me a teensy sting. There was no stinger and I wasn't even sure I hadn't imagined the whole thing, but there is a mosquito bite sized welt. I think I have to count it.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Not As Easy as They'd Like You to Beelieve

I have a little 19 second video of my bees buzzing madly about. I am giving up trying to post it, but I am going to tell you about it. If you want to see it, let me know and I'll e-mail it to you. Or maybe I can post it on Facebook.

As you may know, it has been raining in Ohio. A lot. The day I set up my third hive, Tuesday, the rain had stopped briefly, but for the most part, it had been raining for two days already. Hives 1 & 2 showed no activity. Wednesday was rainy, too. Yesterday, Thursday, we had some sunshine and from the kitchen window I could see bees zooming around, so I walked across the future meadow to see what I could see. Hives 1 & 2 had plenty of bees coming and going (they surely had been suffering from cabin fever), but the new hive was crazy with activity. So I shot 19 seconds of bee frenzy. Watching the zooming in the video is interesting, but listening to the buzzing really adds to the fun.

One thing I noticed is lots of dead bees in front of hive 3. There were a number of dead bees in that package and when I installed the bees, the dead ones fell in with the live ones. Bees are fastidious and do not allow dead bees to stay in the hive. They drag them to the front door and push them out. That explained the dead bodies in front of the hive. But the truly amazing observation came later. Worker bees came out of the hive, dropped to the ground and dragged off dead bees. They moved them farther from the hive and some of the workers actually managed to lift a dead bee and fly off with it. I wonder where they took them.

Picture Time: Say "BEEEZZZ!"

I have been taking photographs but have not taken the time to learn how to post them. Until now.

This is a picture of the inside of beekeeper Barry's barn where he builds hives and stores stuff other beekeepers want to buy. In the middle are many packages of bees which he drove to Georgia to fetch. Four packages are tacked together with thin strips of wood. Each 3 lb. package contains 10,000-12,000 bees, a queen in a cage and a can of corn syrup to give the girls something to eat until they move into their new digs.

This is what it looks like when you shake 10,000 bees into their new hive box. After I took this picture I got too busy to take more shots. Installing bees would make a terrific photo essay were it not for the distraction of 10-12,000 buzzers.

I have a short video that I will post in my next entry. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Easy Peasy, Got More Beesies

A while back Harvey sent me a YouTube clip of a beekeeper installing a package of bees. His demonstration looked nothing like what Susan and I encountered when we installed her bees but today's installation of a package into my third hive was a lot more like it. In the video, the beekeeper wore no gloves, no veil, no protective clothing of any kind while today I was wearing my hat and veil, gloves and velcro pants cuff cinchers, but the actual installation was by the book.

The day was rainy (do we have ANY other kind of weather?) but the rain stopped long enough to shake the bees into their new home. Later, Harvey and I went back out to coax the lingerers out of the package box. Mission accomplished. I'll check on the queen Saturday or Sunday, whenever it stops raining.

Hives one and two showed no signs of activity these last two rainy days. No doubt the girls made popcorn and gathered in their media room to watch The Swarm.