Tag Archives: honey bees

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.



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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!


Filed under bees, summer

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.


Filed under bees, winter

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!


Filed under bees, urban farming, winter

The Swarm hive

It’s finally summer around these parts, and our time is our scarcest resource with so much going on around our farmlette, but I’m finally writing about our crazy bees. Yes, we have a garden too, but it is always taking backseat to the bees, as plants are substantially more patient than bees.

We really need to name the bee hives. It’s getting confusing to talk about them. The old queen is in the new hive, the old hive is going to have a new queen (hopefully). The situation does not lend itself to simple conversation at cocktail parties when people ask, “And how are the bees?” Anyway, this is a quick update on the swarm hive, which has the original queen that we bought in April.

The hive has eggs and brood in beautiful rainbow patterns, and a few frames of honey and brood. This website describes the rainbow pattern clearly:

It is typical for a frame to have a rainbow shape of stored nectar, pollen and brood. Usually the brood will be toward the lower part of the rainbow, and next to the brood will be pollen, then the nectar will be stored on the outer or upper part of the rainbow shape.

Last week, I added a second medium 10-frame box about a week ago, and they have started drawing it out. This week, I baited the upper box by moving one of the deep frames from the lower box today in hopes that more bee presence will speed up the building. I had to leave an empty space in the lower box so the bigger frame could hang down. I hope they move into the second box before they take advantage of the extra space in the lower box and build wild and crazy burr and brace comb.

Here’s an interesting shot of eggs on black plastic foundation. We use wax foundation usually, but the hive I borrowed from my fellow beekeeper, Duane, came with some black plastic foundation. I have to say, it does make for very easy egg spotting! It’s tough to imagine this tiny white thread becoming a honeybee, but it almost certainly will.

And this is an awesome photo that Levi took of the marked queen that came with our package of bees. This clinched it with all certainty that the swarm was most definitely from our hive — not that we really had any doubt, but you know. It was nice to see her again. She is certainly a lovely bug.

So, that’s the status of this swarm about three weeks after it was issued from the garden hive and ended up in the Italian plum tree. We’re supposed to have an awfully hot week, so hopefully these ladies can start making up for a lot of the lost weeks of rainy weather.

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Filed under bees, summer, urban farming

sting count

It’s hive inspection day here on the farm. Two hives to inspect, and we have some stings to report. I had a feeling somebody would get stung today, and I was right. Here is the tally of all the stings since we got our bees:

Jess: 3
Clementine: 2 (that we know of)
Levi: 1
Cash: 1
Krista: 0

Both of my boys were stung today.

First Cash. He’s always following us, no matter where we go. I snapped this while he was hovering. And all of a sudden he started running around our big yard in circles, shaking his head vigorously. Try to imagine the sound of Italian Greyhound ears flapping wildly. It was quite a feat to even catch him. I had to hand off the camera to Levi so I could pin him down and get the bee off of him. I was kind of surprised to find the stinger, because this is the loudest dog on earth and all he could muster was a tiny whimper. He has no swelling or redness whatsoever. Go figure.

While I was tending to Cash, Levi snapped a lot of great pictures of the queen. They found her in the new hive!

Levi and I didn’t get to watch too much of the inspection of the older hive because before too long a bee suddenly flew into Levi’s face. He didn’t say much either. I heard him blowing on his face and saw him hunched over, and quickly jumped into action when I saw a bee crawling up his nose. It was too late, though, it left a stinger behind in his lip.

He’s got a nice, fat lip. I’m pretty sure based on the amount of swelling that he is most definitely NOT allergic to bee stings. Now to purchase those veils. To our credit, we tried to buy them locally this past week and they were all out.


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