I had to look

I took advantage of this fine day to check on the ladies.  I downsized the apiary last year because I didn’t have enough time to manage the buildup I had last year – 24 colonies spread over 3 locations.

Went into this winter with 3 colonies.  Came out with 3!  So far I haven’t lost any, a first for me.

They’re bringing in orange and light yellow pollen.

Popped the top and the inner covers just to grab a quick look down in.  Healthy looking colonies, some honey left yet!  The smell of healthy hives wafted from all 3.

Spread 4 lbs of sugar on the inner covers between the 3 colonies for justin (just in case they need additional groceries) 🙂

A new bee year

I finally had the weather and a day off to check in on the ladies. Went into the winter with 6 hives, came out with 5. Not quite as good numerically as last year’s 7 to 6 but I’ll take it.

The NUC that I really didn’t think would make it was so full I moved them into a bigger home! They got a mansion (2 – 10 frame full size) compared to 2 – 5 frame. This was a daughter colony from the queen I got from my friend Tucka Bee, who is from the town I grew up in. I figured the genetics from up by the Canadian border would come through this winter and they sure did!

The parent colony to the NUC is still booming along. I have yet to be able to isolate the queen. This colony is very fecund, and a great honey producer. Too bad the queen is all over the place. I need to put queen excluders between all the boxes to isolate what box she’s in.

One colony I thought made it didn’t, they starved with 2 medium supers of honey over their heads. There was fighting going on at the entrance, but surprisingly, the honey supers above were not robbed. I rescued the honey supers and will extract that honey sometime soon.

One colony has become aggressive, I will address that when the queen production starts up for the season. Basically you kill the old queen, wait a few days for her pheromones to dissipate, then introduce a new queen. I did flipflop the boxes on this colony to get the queen out of the honey supers and into the supers I want her to lay brood in. Once the regicide has been committed it will take around 3 weeks for the aggression to end.

I hope to keep the number of colonies down to no more than 6, I plan on selling bees to help keep the number of colonies down to a manageable number.

Only 1 sting through the suit, again that’s a win.

An unpleasant evening

I have written before about beekeeping. As a hobby it brings me much joy (and honey!).

I went into last winter with 7 hives. I tried a different mite treatment regimen before the real winter arrived. I normally expect to lose about 30% of my hives over the winter. Came out with 6 hives, a 15% loss. I’ll buy that for a dollar!

This time of year it is a lot of work. The bees are undergoing the spring population explosion. If one does not really pay attention, the bees will swarm, meaning half of the bees leave to find a new home because the population outgrew the old homestead.

The 6 hives had turned into 11. I made a “split”, making 12 hives. One of the hives was a little aggressive last fall. I wrote it off as old worker bees dying off and generally were unhappy with that whole deal. I took the “daughter” of this hive to a nearby farm, by request of the owners. This hive had a population explosion and had her own “daughter”

This makes 3 hives from last fall’s aggressive colony. One is as docile as could be. The other two somehow inherited the bad attitude. Bad enough that simply mowing 20 feet away from the apiary here was rewarded with 2 stings. The apiary at the farm followed me 1/4 mile down the road before the last guard bee gave up the chase. I had inspected the hives there which makes bees “testy”.

Yesterday morning I sat on the porch and watch several people cross the street as they walked past. One young lady definitely had a close encounter of the bee kind. That just won’t do. In town beekeeping is tolerated as long as the ladies do not cause trouble.

The farm is a gathering place and sometimes campground so there are generally lots of people working and playing there. Many stings would definitely be a bad thing for the farm.

None of the typical external reasons a colony will get mean were present. The only “internal”reason I can think of is genetics. Re-queening will sometimes work, but results will not happen until almost a month passes. That leaves the only option euthanasia. I do not want people to get stung, and I definitely do not want this aggressive gene spreading into the wild.

So tonight I had the most unpleasant task of killing 2 colonies. Somewhere over 160,000 bees. Rubbing alcohol and dry ice. The rubbing alcohol kills most of the bees, and carbon dioxide sublimating from the dry ice will asphyxiate any survivors of the alcohol. As the dry ice evaporates away it carries cold down through the hive, chilling the brood in the pupal, larval, and egg stages. The brood need to stay about 90 degrees to survive.

The magnitude of what I have done does not escape me. All those bees had every right to exist. But the little old ladies shouldn’t have to cross the street as they pass on their morning walk. Of course, the visitors are assumed to not have doing anything “unwise” around the hives. The visitors at the farm should leave with good memories of the farm, which even had BEEHIVES!

Thank you for reading this. I feel a bit better having gotten this off my fingertips.

Oh yeah the little old ladies are going to be surprised with a jar of honey 😉

Jume 8 2021 Inspection

Did the inspection in ascending hive # order.

Hive 1 was recently re-queened (thanks Fred!). The ladies were happy, mellow, Her Majesty is laying well and no issues were found.

Hive 2 yielded another honey super ready to go. Earlier in the week I had pulled another one off this hive and replaced it with an experimental super. The theory is the bees draw and fill the comb in the jars. So far so good.

Hives 3,4, and 5 are empty, but we will revisit 5.

6 is now a VERY aggressive hive. They have a laying queen, she has room to lay, all the things I know they need are there. Stole a couple frames of honey from them but that has nothing to do with the aggression. I will watch and see but think I may well order a replacement queen if my queen castle experiment doesn’t work out.

7 is a mystery to me. Last time I was in it, there were eggs and larvae above the queen excluder. Below the queen excluder there was also a laying queen. I moved the queen excluder up, but it happened again. I took the super from above the queen excluder and put it in 5, hoping to create a new colony there.

8 was a NUC that made it through the winter. I moved them into a 10 frame hive with a second brood box and a couple honey supers over that. They still haven’t drawn any comb in the 2 supers and are still working in the second brood box so I left the supers off when I put the top back on.

9 is doing fine, busy and good population, no issues there, stole a couple frames because.

10 will be done another day. It got moved out of the rotation because the last inspection got rained on at the end so I will check it next week.

All hives with pronounced drone comb got the drone mite inspection (scrape an uncapping fork over the drone comb and look for mites. Only saw a couple mites in 8. Next inspect I will do the alcohol wash to see if I need to treat for mites.

I really like my vented suit. It keeps me cooler than my un-vented, and lets some breeze through. I kind of like the fencing veil hood except it can get pressed against the face when looking down. I got stung twice in the chin and now resemble Robert Z’Dar (RIP).

Busy bee morning

After a couple weeks of not great weather, I anticipated today and tomorrow would bee busy beekeeping days. I was wrong.

Today was a frenetic beekeeping day. I walked outside to retrieve a wayward bucket up by the apiary and noticed a swarm in the making by one of the hives.

Small swarm
This small swarm caught my attention when I was passing by the apiary.

I “just happened” to have a few hives set up in anticipation of such an event, and moved these ladies in short order. A bit later, I spotted another similar sized swarm and put them in yet another pre-prepared hive.

I then sadly watched a swarm up in the pine tree decide they were going “that-a-way” and off that way they went.

All was not lost though. As I went to the garage to get more hive bits and pieces, I saw this:

Swarm in a tree
What a swarm in a tree or shrub looks like

Needless to say, I shook them into the hive I just pulled out of the garage for use as a “bait hive” in case more swarms decided to go house hunting.

As long as I was all geared up and at the apiary, I figured it was time for an inspection on everyone.

Hive 1 is strong, queenright, and needs to lose a super of honey.

Hive2 is also strong, queenright, needs to lose a super full of honey, and Her Majesty popped out and said hello.

Hives 3,4, and 5 got established as caught swarms. 4 needs a better fitting inner cover, and is the beginning of the all medium frame hive experiment. Feed.

Hive 6 swarmed, found several nice queen cells. Split it, making hive 10, It had shown signs of varroa mites, this brood break should mitigate the mites. Will check on it in 2 weeks as well.

Hive 7 is in good shape, her Majesty said hello, and needs a queen excluder and a 10 frame honey super.

Hive 8 is a NUC established a few weeks ago, has a nice queen cell and I will have to check again in a couple weeks for eggs/larvae.

Hive 9 is one that swarmed, left it alone because I have bad luck not damaging queen cells, and I expect there’s a big juicy one in there. I may go in with the endoscope for a look once things calm down.

Hive 10, just established with nice queen cell from 6. Leave it alone for a coupe weeks. Feed.

I need to make a couple queen castles to accommodate all the queen cells I’ve been finding – time to start raising queens on a small scale.

Why do I keep bees?

Long ago in New York state (far away from where I live now), I saw hives in the apple orchards every spring. After a while they would vanish, and I wondered what that was all about. I asked one of the owners of an orchard along my route to work at the ruck stop and he extolled the virtues of renting honeybee colonies to pollinate his orchard.

Several years later I worked on a farm in Massachusetts as a side job, cutting roads through the woods, mowing, and maintaining vintage tractors. There was a cabinet maker with a shop on the farm, and he kept several hives there. He would be all dressed out in his beekeeping outfit and I would be standing next to him and a pair of shorts and boots watching him working. I was totally fascinated.

A decade or more after that, I was living on a farm in North Carolina, working for a company building swords and armor. One day as I sat in my pickup looking through the mail, a swarm flew in the window of the truck, right in front of me, and out the drivers window. I followed them into the woods hoping to find where they ended up. No luck.

A few years after that, my lovely wife bought me a starter beekeeping kit, and classes on how to be a beekeeper. I dutifully followed the directions (mostly) and despite my ineptitude, including robbing them of as much honey as I could, my first colony made it through the winter.

I added several more colonies and built a top bar hive to experiment with. I was hooked.

I moved out of the country for several years and gave away my beekeeping stuff, since importing agricultural stuff into South America and Ireland would have been much more trouble than it was worth. While in Peru, there was a guy on the corner that squeezed sugar cane stalks for the juice. He always had bees hanging around. I wasn’t there long enough to get an apiary going though I had a good idea where the colony lived.

Once we returned to the states, I decided that I wanted to resume the hobby. It’s been a joy, frustrating, and rewarding beyond my wildest dreams. It’s not for everyone, but those of us that do, understand the fascination.



Every morning before I leave for work, I take the dogs out to take care of doggy related things. While they are busy with the dog stuff I have the opportunity to enjoy the morning stillness before the chaos of the day.

Since it is now still dark out, I tend to look up. Really, more people should do this. I spent some time in the U.S. Coast Guard and besides the obvious learning the navigational stars, I had years of opportunity to look up without the light pollution prevalent in the populated areas of the modern world. Few people have seen the sky as I have, and it truly is a shame. Staring into the bowl of stars, seeing cascades of “falling stars”, and the Milky Way shining brighter than most people will ever see. Gave me a sense of perspective – I’m a minuscule mote in the cosmos.

Despite the fact that I live in a populated area, this small town isn’t too bad for stargazing. I see familiar stars and constellations. Planets come and go, right now Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are visible to the naked eye. Sirius, the Dog Star follows Orion in his annual journey through the sky. Rising above the horizon in the morning in October, Sirius portends the arrival of fall, and the cold of winter to come. I always feel ambivalent about the arrival of cold weather – it’s a break from the swelter of SW Virginia summers, but increased energy consumption because we have to use lights, and I do turn the heat on because I’m not a fan of being uncomfortably cold.

The trees lose their leaves, the bees put up the last of their groceries for the winter, and the other bees try to steal the groceries. The walnut trees drop the nuts, squirrels stash them away for their winter. The circle of life in scale both grand and tiny.

It’s not cold enough yet to get all bundled up in winter coat, thus far a hoodie is enough to ward of the chill. I see the folks who grew up in this part of the country wrapped up in so many layers they can barely move, and it’s 50 degrees out. I just smile, and wonder how they would react to a nice crisp 50 below morning.

When I was a young’un I had a Ford Pinto. I had gone up to Saranac Lake to visit my little sister. As was my routine, before starting the Pinto, I checked the oil. It was down a quart so I grabbed one out of the back seat, shoved the metal spout in the can, and tipped it up to replenish the engine oil supply. The familiar glug glug glug didn’t happen. After a few minutes, I lifted the can and the oil was still in it. I pulled the spout out, brought the can inside and opened it with a can opener. Took a spoon and used the spoon to dig the oil out of the can and into the top end of the engine. The trusty Pinto did turn over tho slower than usual. The fuel air mixture fired and she started. I let her run a while to warm up before I left. Thing is, I was in my boots, jeans and a t-shirt while all this was going on. It felt crispy cold but there was no wind at all. Went inside, put on my jacket, grabbed my bag, said goodbye and left. On the way out of town, the radio said that Saranac Lake had just set a new record for low temperature, -52 Farenheight. Yes, 52 below. No wonder the oil didn’t flow. I was out in it in a t-shirt.

In 3 more months, Orion will be setting when the dogs and I go out to take care of the dog related things. I will look up and smile, knowing that soon it will be warm enough to check on the bees, and the winter coat will return to its hanger for the next 8 months or so. The power and gas bills will diminish, and the people will soon start complaining about how hot it is.

Watch them go!

Walked out this morning to load the bicycles up so we could go for a ride. Heard that sound beekeepers hate to hear – an almost agitated buzzing. Looked over at the apiary and sure enough there was a cloud of bees swirling around over hive 6.

It’s way too late to prevent a swarm once it’s started so all I could do is watch the magic of bee colony multiplication at work. Whipped out my phone and got a video of the process.

Kim’s video

The ladies went into the Catalpa tree, way up where I could not reach them. Thought about cutting the tree down, since I value the bees more than that tree, but that would just agitate them and make a mess in the yard. Also that tree shades the dog pen.

So what’s a beekeeper to do? I have some spare beehive parts lying around so I quickly built a hive, gave it some frames with foundation, and a square of paper with some Lemongrass oil on it to entice the ladies into moving into this luxury accommodation. Set it up on the grape arbor where its shady in the afternoon, now we wait and see if the ladies like it enough to move in. The rent’s right anyhow!

Been quiet lately

Just because I haven’t put anything out lately doesn’t mean I haven’t been a busy bee. There are so many beekeepers out there, and we’re all going through the same things. I felt that I had nothing of significance to add to the din.

I’m up to 8 colonies (9 for a short time). At this point I am breaking my inspections up and doing them over a 2 day period. Yesterday was 1-4, today was 5-8.

Nothing of significance noted in 1 and 2. There has been a late June – July nectar flow that took us by surprise, and hive 1 had 2 full honey supers. Some of the honey has a purple/grey tint, and I noted purpleish pollen in the brood supers. I put a new honey super on and after I finish writing this will extract the honey.

Hive 3 got moved into a new bigger house, and next inspection they will get another brood super.

Hive 4 was the surprise, When I looked in they were queenless. That explains the cranky bees that stung me through the suit. Later on made arrangements to pick up a queen for this colony.

Hive 5 is booming, no surprises, they’re doing just fine.

Hive 6 is also doing well. This queen is friendly and will pop up and say hello. They colony also had 4 capped queen cells on 2 frames. I moved these frames into hive 4, let’s see if they’ll raise these queens.

Hive 7 is another nuc, they’ll get moved into a bigger house next inspect. They’re doing just fine.

Hive 8 is also queenless. I’ll put the queen I’m picking up this evening into this one and see how they fare.

I’m at the point where I don’t want to expend the apiary any more. 8 hives are enough for me to care for. I am, after all, doing this as a hobby. I have made hobbies into businesses/lines of work before and I found that I no longer enjoyed doing them. I still dig bees and beekeeping and so next year, when I am splitting my colonies for swarm prevention, will sell the colonies to other beekeepers, and maintain my apiary at this level.

I may add 2 more colonies next year, as I want to experiment again with Top Bar hives. I had really good luck with them the last time I had top bar hives and there have been some changes/improvements to the design since those days.

But that’s next year’s tale.


Preparations I through P

I have some queens showing up soon and today I had to make things ready for their arrival.

As much as I hated to do it, it involved regicide – I had a couple queens that were either way underperforming or were making aggressive bees. I found the underperforming queen and gave her a swift and gentle death. The queen making aggressive bees is usually friendly and pops up to say “Hi” when I’m inspecting the hive. Not today she didn’t. I will have to go back in and look for her when her replacement comes.

It also involved making another split (a new colony). While I was in the hive I took several frames of brood and shook out many bees into the new colony.

I will have to feed the 2 new colonies because the forager bees will leave the NUCs and return to their original hives. Feed is simply 1:1 sugar syrup that I make by the gallon.

The weather cooperated, rain holding off just long enough for me to do what I needed.