Tag Archives: beekeeping

Hive Inspection Gone Awry

Saturday’s hive inspection started innocently, as most of them do. The bees seemed busy, so I decided to open up the hives and make sure everyone’s ready for winter. The day was a little cool and gray, but not rainy or cold: good enough for a hive check in October.

The lady bees were busy bringing in bright pollen and many of them seemed to be bringing in heavy nectar loads, too. They fly a little bit drunk when they’re weighed down.


My guess is that this is goldenrod pollen.

I jiggered a 10-frame box to “fit” my 8-frame hive, which meant my bees built all kinds of burr comb that I had the displeasure of removing when I took off the box. (burr comb is comb that is inconvenient for the beekeeper – and it is usually the beekeeper’s fault).

I left the mashed up comb in an empty box nearby for the bees to lick clean. It would be more ideal to avoid burr comb entirely but, well, this is all a work in progress.

And then things took a turn for the worse. I cracked a box open and a cloud of bees flew out, directly into the unfortunate face of the resident photographer / my beloved wife, Krista. One bee stung her, and the isoamyl acetate started flowing. This chemical smells strangely like banana candy, and it calls all of the bees in the vicinity to join the attack. I’ve been in a cloud of isoamyl acetate myself, and it is a fairly horrifying experience to be the target of a lot of angry bees. It was Krista’s first experience with the banana smell, though. Her total number of stings since we installed the hives went from zero to seven in a matter of 60 seconds. I actually killed bees on purpose in my gallant efforts to rescue her. It was a first for both of us – Krista’s multiple stings, and my deliberate murder of bees.

I closed up the hive quickly, probably killing more bees in my haste, and went inside to check on Krista. It turns out that she inadvertently made a video of the bee attack. The video is a lot like a horror movie with all of the “Get them off of me!”s and slapping noises as I smacked the bees. As tempting as it is to upload it, we deemed it just too horrible. Fortunately, we discovered that Krista is barely allergic to bee stings. She said afterwards that the frightening cloud of bees trying to burrow to get into tender flesh was worse than the pain of the stings. I am very sympathetic to that sentiment; I feel exactly the same way.

This isn’t exactly normal behavior for a hive, so I guess we’re going to go back to using a smoker and consider upgrading our armor bee suits. Now, when someone asks if we get stung keeping bees, the answer is finally, Yes, every single one of us. The honey is sweeter for all the stings.

xoxo,
Jess

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could somebody bring over some scones?

Stat!

I remember buying honeycomb with my mom at a farm stand as a child. I learned recently that a lot of people have never tried honey in the comb. What!

I guess I better get to baking. We’ve been on this whole grain kick, but I think this is asking for some buttery, white flour-y scones, don’t you?

Thanks, honey, for taking all the stings.

(No, the stings don’t happen too often but we had one angry hive this week.)

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Summer progresses: blackberries, bees & honey

The blackberries are blooming in my neighborhood. I’ve written about our blackberry issues in the past. They are invasive weeds with sharp thorns, certainly, but lovely ones.

The bees go crazy for them. There is a lot of freshly capped honey in the hives.

Later, we’ll extract the honey. Something like this:

In a few short weeks, we’ll pick the neighborhood blackberries, make jams, jellies, syrups and shrubs. I can’t wait!

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a little solstice indulgence

Since we recently took our first jar of honey from the bees, I decided we should make something a little extra special with some of that honey. What could be more special than homemade ice cream? And what better day to do this than yesterday, the longest day of the year (not to mention it got up to 79 degrees for us and our tomatoes).

While Jess and Levi were at work I prepared a simple mixture of four ingredients: organic cream, organic whole milk, honey from our backyard, and two vanilla beans.

Yes, we like to do some things old school around here. Ice and rock salt and man power.


Clementine helped oversee Levi’s work. He insisted he do all the cranking, which was fine by me.


And then she took a nap because it kind of takes forever to make ice cream.


We peeked inside 3 or 4 times before finding this.


Yes, it does taste as good as you imagine. Better, even.

I used this recipe.

And Jess is celebrating extra. Now that I’ve tasted the rewards of all the work we’ve put into the bees, I don’t want anything to go wrong so I’ve agreed we could fit another hive or two into the yard. I’m so proud of her for keeping these bees going through their first year, and now we have two busy hives pollinating the neighborhood and making our lives a little sweeter.

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Sweeter than Honeycomb

The other day I told you about what’s happening in our backyard beeyard. I wanted to share a photo of the bee candy I mentioned in that post & talk about sugar cakes a bit more.

To make sugar cakes, I boiled five entire pounds of sugar for a long time with a little bit of water, heated it to hard-ball stage (250F), cooled it down to 200 F and then poured the molten sugar lava into greased paper plates. Once it cools and hardens, you can peel the plate off and feed it to the bees, or store the extras in the paper plates. (This is not a precise recipe or method, and if you need to make sugar cakes, follow along with someone who knows what they are doing. For example, this) 5 lbs of sugar made 4 cakes of bee candy.

The girls are crazy for it. They love it more than the frames of honey that I selflessly did not steal from them last fall. They are eating it like, well, like candy. The bees ate 1/2 of the first cake pretty much immediately, so I pushed a second cake into the hive on President’s Day. Since it’s started snowing in Olympia, I haven’t had a chance to check and see their progress on the second candy cake, but I’m sure they will eat through it in no time. At this rate, we are going to go through a lot of sugar before the spring nectar flow starts. Hopefully once the weather is a little warmer, the bees can move around the hive more freely & rediscover their honey stores. On one of my favorite bee keeping blogs, Honey Bee Suite, Rusty wrote recently:

The best advice I can give is this: buy sugar wherever and when it is on sale. Some places sell it in 50-pound bags which are often cheaper but harder to handle. Most stores have sales from time to time. If you stay in beekeeping you will never run out of a need for sugar.

I wish I had stocked up on sugar when the stores were having holiday baking sales. Sometimes you don’t fully understand your future needs and maybe you live in a little house that’s short on cool, dry storage options, so you don’t like to hoard things you might not use like 50 lbs of sugar. Then, you end up paying extra for sugar later. Live & learn, eh? I love how the sugar candy looks like the surface of the moon. I love to see the bees tunnel through the cake of sugar; they seem so excited about it. And now our bees have a better chance of making it in this big, crazy world. Thanks, sugar cakes.

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Queen Pest, our Serene Consort

The bees are tucked in for the winter, taking the occasional cleansing flight when the weather breaks. My biggest concern is the moisture in the hive. Days of rain turn into weeks of rain, and then the damp settles in, bringing mold, fungus, and their ilk. Bees can handle a good deal of cold weather, but the moisture is terrible. It’s enough to make me move to California.

Last weekend, I had a scare with the hive, though. I thought there were small hive beetles taking over! SHB have not been seen in Washington yet, but it seems like a matter of time since they can hitchhike with migratory bees. Anyway, I read up on SHB and looked at a few hundred gross beetle photos. I was just being paranoid. The beetles I found are nothing like SHB. These are beetles and they are on a hive, but they are larger than SHB and they look completely different.

Our beetles:

Small Hive Beetle:

I spotted a few varroa mites in the varroa drawer of the hive. I haven’t seen any adult mites in months on these bees, so that was a nasty surprise. It’s not an ideal time to treat the bees or do much in the hive, so I’m going to be patient for now, and plan to be super proactive about the mites when the weather is more favorable. My beekeeping goal for the year is to successfully overwinter my hive. That’s my main focus. I didn’t take any honey from the bees in the fall, so hopefully they will have plenty of food to see them through to the first spring blossoms. Please send good, hopeful, strong, healthy thoughts for the ladies!

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left hanging

Sorry faithful blog readers! I got a little busy and left you hanging on the story of our bee swarm, and then a little blog snafu happened and Jess’ reflections on the swarm were posted first. My bad! But I still have lots of really cool photos to share.

So, you probably know the end result already, but we’ll continue where we left off. We had borrowed a handy swarm catching tool from a bee club friend. The next step was pretty straight forward. Place the bucket over the giant clump of bees, knock it around to make them fall into the bucket, and put the lid back on the bucket. Mentally prepare yourself for a whole lot of pictures:

Look how well Duane’s catcher worked here! She pulled the string, and zoom! The lid popped back on.

At this point Jess is pulling down the bucket and getting the lid all the way on. During that moment, she says to Levi and I something along the lines of, “Crap, I didn’t get very many!”

She had a totally different view of the whole event, and we both were like, “Umm, no! I’m pretty sure you have a TON of bees inside that bucket.”

No kidding, she really did. Good job, babe! We were expecting it to take more than one catch due to all of Jess’ prior research and some advice from Duane.

The next step is to dump the bees into the hive we borrowed. Jess set it all up with a few frames out of the middle to give them some space as they go in. I already got to see tens of thousands of bees getting dumped in a big clump once before, and it will never get old. It is just so incredible. And on swarm day, with all the excitement and adrenaline and the “did we catch the queen?” question mark made it all the more dramatic. There was a lot more mayhem with bees filling the air all around us.

Somehow the charger to our camera with video capability hasn’t been seen since we went to New York (oops). So I created you a handy animated .gif of the BEE DUMP. It may take a second to load:

And if you want to see some of those images in all their giant splendor visit the swarm Flickr set. There are a lot more photos there, so if you’re really interested you should check it out. I will still be adding more photos as there are some that ended up on Jess’ computer that I haven’t even seen yet. But only a couple more for this post.

Here’s what was left in the tree after our first catch. Yep, we did the whole process one more time.

Levi and Jess display the second catch. After that, we decided to let the stragglers find their way home. After all, the bees we had put in the hive appeared to be doing their job. We were pretty confident that the queen was inside even though we never saw her.

Not only were these guys staying put…

But they appeared to be doing the textbook “fanning” Jess had read about, wafting the queen’s phermones to lead the other bees to her.

And as soon as we got everything all settled and cleaned up IT PROMPTLY STARTED TO RAIN. I could not believe it. It wasn’t just sprinkling. It was a genuine chilly, drippy Washington rain. I was pretty sure that if things hadn’t fallen into place the way they so serendipitously had, our swarm would not have survived. Although, the next morning I did find a fist sized ball of bees still in the tree dripping dry, alive and well.

And just like that, we have two hives. The most amazing thing to me about this whole thing is that our bee swarm appears to be bigger than the original 3 lb. bee package we started out with in April! And our old hive is still full of bees. Levi checks it daily for the sounds of rattling and piping from new baby queens.

And one last funny thing: before we had the chance to return the swarm catcher to Duane, he called Jess and had to rush over to borrow it back because his bees were swarming too. During this whole process, we learned a saying:

A swarm in May is worth a load of hay; a swarm in June is worth a silver spoon; but a swarm in July is not worth a fly.

We got the silver spoon! And only two stings to report so far. Jess was stung once during the bee dump and again when she checked on the new hive without gloves. They may be a little testy. Well, and that is not counting our Chihuahua, who still doesn’t quite seem to understand the concept of leaving the bees alone.

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