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.

Monday, May 2, 2011


So Harvey suggested that I should contact Barry, my beekeeping mentor and supplier, and find out if he has any extra packages of bees left over from his weekend of bee pick ups. I left Barry e-mail and a text message yesterday and when I didn't hear from him, I figured I would bee content with my two hives. Today, at dinnertime, I got a call that he did in fact have one package of bees that had gone unclaimed and he had the extra parts (feeder, inner lid, telescoping outer lid, bottom screen) that would allow me to start another hive. I have extra hive bodies waiting to be needed by hives one and two, so one of those will become the hive body to hive three.

Harvey and I headed off for Canal Winchester to pick up the newbees and when we returned home we hurried out in the rain to a soggy, muddy future meadow to put down pea gravel and level a pad for the new hive before the sun set. We then slapped paint on the new hive parts that need protection from the elements, I whipped up another batch of syrup and all that remains for me to do tomorrow is to figure out how to install the package, in the forecasted rain, most likely by myself.

Barry did tell me this package of bees is a different kind; they have webbed feet. Actually, the bees don't care about moving into their new digs on a rainy day and the last I checked, I'm waterproof.