Honeybee Swarm

Face It. The Days Are Getting Shorter.

The minute I put that wax melter out in the sun, the sun disappeared. Then the temperatures dropped. And no wax on earth will melt at 70 degrees and under cloudy skies. So, we’ll try when the weather heats up again.

But doesn’t it feel great out there? Every single one of our windows is open, and I’m sitting here in a flannel shirt.

Which brings me to the solstice. Once the days begin to get shorter, the queen’s egg laying begins to slow, too. Which means that—even though it’ll still feel like summer around here for a few months—the hive begins to prepare for fall and winter. Conservation begins. Then, in January, when the winter solstice arrives and the days begin to be imperceptibly longer, and even though it feels as if the cold will never end and the earth will never thaw, the queen begins to gear up for egg laying again. She beings laying in earnest in February. The cycle of the hive is perfectly synced with the cycle of the sun.

No matter where you live or what your temperatures are like, your hive cycle depends not on temperature but on the length of the day.

And here’s what it feels like when your hive swarms in April, May, or June.

Honeybee Swarm
Honeybee Swarm

At first, I had this image filed under “Telling the Bees” because the beekeeper looks so distraught. Maybe that’s one reason I really love this piece…it fits many emotions.

Where'd the Sun Go?

I’ve got no honey to harvest, and I don’t want to keep bugging the bees. I want to leave them alone to do whatever they do. So, I decided to harvest some wax.

A few weeks ago I needed some wax, so I melted down some of the extra foundation I have; with the leftover wax, I made some awesome lip balm: melted beeswax, almond oil, and a little bit of vanilla. I love it! I keep it in a little pan in the kitchen, and I dip into it whenever I want (Deb’s ready to get the pan out of the kitchen, though). I plan to buy some of those lip-balm tubes and fill them with my concoction.

So, here are pictures of my wax preparations (thanks to instructions from Linda over at Linda’s Bees).

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Loads of wax saved from my several frames of honey (this stuff smells so wonderful. I wish you could smell it, Reader).

A Styrofoam cooler and a piece of glass cut to fit as a lid:

A plastic container with about 1/2 inch of water in the bottom and covered with a doubled-up piece of paper towel.

The container goes into the foil-lined cooler, and the wax piles on top of the taut paper towel.

The glass goes on top, and the whole contraption goes out into the sun to heat up for the day.

Of course, the minute I set this thing in the garden, the sun disappeared. I’ll let you know how it works.

Nothing New under the Sun

I rode that scooter of mine all the way out to the Creation Museum and then completely forgot to take a single picture of Doug or of his bees there or of anything at the museum. What on earth is wrong with me? You know, I’m just not a big picture taker, and I completely forget to do it. I get caught up in stuff.

I caught the tail end of Doug’s lecture about bees. I’d say there were 30 people there, which surprised me. What surprised me even more was the number of people at the Creation Museum. It was flat-out packed. I thought that maybe my presence there would set off an alarm of some kind, but not one of the thousands of people there seemed to notice me.

We visited the 6 hives Doug keeps behind the gardens at the museum, but to tell you the truth, I didn’t see anything I hadn’t already seen. We opened only a couple of hives and pulled only a couple of frames from each, but I didn’t get to watch Doug make any decisions. And I guess that’s what I need…to watch experienced beekeepers make decisions based on what they see in the hive.

Doug’s a very very nice guy, and I want to shadow him as he works his hives and makes splits, but there just wasn’t much for him to do on this visit. One of Doug’s four sons, Elijah, was there, too…he’s about 7 years old…and, wow, is he comfortable with the bees. Amazing, isn’t it, how you can sort of see a kid’s future in how they do what they do at 7?

After I got home, Suzanne came to visit and we ran out to Home Depot for a hell of a lot of nails (because a lot of new 8-frame, medium-depth supers and all their frames arrived this week, and I get to hammer them all together), and then we grabbed an ice-cream cone at Hold the Nuts; then we came back to visit the bees…who, as you can see from these beards, are hot, too.

Returning Bees to the Farm

This morning I brought up the idea of keeping a few hives of bees at the farm, and Deb did not say “No.” Actually, I think I heard an actual “Yes” somewhere in her response.

The 80-acre farm in Waco, Kentucky is a 2-hour drive from here, and we get down there for a couple of days about once every 6 or 8 weeks. We wouldn’t need to check on the bees any more than that. I’m inspecting my backyard hives weekly only because I’m trying to learn what goes on in there…what patterns and signs to attend to. But it’s not necessary in the long run.

We’d need to do some adding of supers in the spring and some taking of honey in the fall, but really, we could just let them generally take care of themselves. And Deb’s uncles would be happy happy happy to have bees in the yard there once again.

Oh gosh. Now my mind is going gangbusters trying to figure out the logistics of having bees in an outyard so far away.

Telling the Bees

A question arose on one of the forums I read: Do you talk to your bees?

Well, of course I do. I can’t imagine not. After a while, you know, I believe we get to know one another. I already ask them to forgive me for squishing them, to tell me what they’re doing, to move just a little bit so I can put this thing back, to get the heck off my veil, to quit head butting me.

I’m eager for the day when I can simply tell them what’s on my mind…to tell them the events of the day. Well, come to think of it, I guess I already do this. It’s funny…both Deb and I walk back there at least once a day and visit them. I don’t know what Deb says to them, but I see her there.

There’s a long tradition of “telling the bees” when there’s a death in the family. Someone, usually a child, is sent with black cloth to tell the bees of the death. The cloth is then draped over the hives. And, you know, I love this idea. When I die, will someone please tell the bees?

Unleveled hives

Transitions Are Tricky

I spent a little bit of time yesterday leveling my beehives. Why do that, you ask? Well, I’m slowly shifting from using foundation in my frames to using only foundationless frames, that’s why. And when bees build comb into thin air (and it is beautiful and perfect comb…I don’t know why we ever ever ever ever switched to using preformed, recycled beeswax as a guide) they let gravity lead them. And gravity always pulls one way…if the hive isn’t level, the comb will not be straight in relation to the hive. See? It could get quite messy.

So, as nice and “homey” as those hives look up on the unlevel hill, I had to straighten them out.

From Home Depot I bought enough cinder blocks (of various sizes) and 8′ 4×4’s to construct a platform for the colonies. I have enough room on this platform to add one more hive; and I have enough material to construct another platform. Deb’s gonna freak out when she learns we now have material enough to hold 8 hives.

I also raised the hives a little bit. This will keep the rascal mice out and the skunks and possums from disturbing the bees.

In the after-leveling picture, you’ll see a blue tarp in front of the hives…I’m killing the tall grasses that grow right in front of the boxes because I think it may be disrupting flights.

I’m transitioning all around…from using foundation to foundationless frames; from 10-frame deeps and 10-frame shallow supers to all 8-frame mediums; and from bottom-entrance hives to top-entrance hives. These transitions will take some time, but I think they all make great sense. So, once I move to top entrances, the grass won’t matter too much because the bees won’t need to reach the bottom of the hives. But, for now, I have to kill the grass and raise the boxes.

Unleveled hives

Don’t you think the raised cover below makes Tomboys (center hive) look like a little tomboy with her baseball cap tilted back? I love it. She looks like my friends do in the summertime…happy, relaxed, sweaty, worn out.

Leveled and raised hives

I’ll be glad when I get to lower the new platform a little bit. I don’t love seeing it, but I guess it’s the best alternative for now.

View from the yard of the leveled hives

What the Hell

So I sent out a plea on the TriState Beekeeper forum asking for a mentor. You know, in an entire year of keeping bees, I’ve never seen another person working a hive. Sure, I’ve watched videos on YouTube until I’m blue in the face, but I’ve got questions, dang it.

And this morning, I received a response from one young guy on the forum, and I notice that his signature line is a quote from the Bible—“My son, eat honey, for it is good, Yes, the honey from the comb is sweet to your taste. (Proverbs 24:13).” You know, Reader, this is not uncommon. Interestingly, a lot of beekeepers attach Biblical quotes as their signature lines on various forums. I don’t know exactly why this is, though I do have to say that it is sort of a spiritual feeling to be among the bees.

This nice guy keeps 40-50 hives and invited me to attend a beginner’s beekeeping class in Kentucky this Saturday…after which he’ll open and inspect the hives he keeps at the Creation Museum. Which is also where he conducts the beekeeping class. Yes. That’s what I said. The Creation Museum. Which I have thus far rigidly avoided.

So, imagine my surprise to realize that I’ve been invited to the Creation Museum by a very nice Proverbs-quoting fellow who has offered to help me learn about bees…he’s the first responder to my plea for help, and, Reader, I intend to go. I intend to go to the Creation Museum and learn whatever this young man is willing to teach me. What the hell. Adventures all around.

Beautiful Comb Drawn (in One Week) on Foundationless Frames

Upon today’s hive inspection I have one very clear realization: I have no idea what I’m doing.

Why on earth did I think I could manage a hundred-thousand bees? I am not as smart as I look.

Seriously, I get in there with those bees and all those cells and eggs and larvae and brood and nectar and honey and pollen and whatever else the hell goes on in those alien worlds and everything I think I know disappears. Then I realize that I know nothing.

I keep asking the bees to forgive my clumsiness. They seem to. I hope they can teach me.

One thing I do know: Those foundationless frames work great! Look what my wonderful Girls of Summer did with the foundationless frames I gave them a week ago (and started from popsicle sticks as described in an earlier post):

Why Do I Keep Bees?

So. Yesterday I received news that Deb’s Uncle Doyle in Waco, Kentucky has collected tons of honey this year. Over the years he’s kept many hives, but now that he’s older he keeps only one—simply because he loves it…the heat in all that protective clothing keeps him from expanding his little operation again.

Anyway, I was bummed. Which, I quickly admit, is a lousy response to such news. It’s not that I’m bummed for him, I’m bummed for me. I’m envious. Although I have to say that I’m cherishing what little (gorgeous) honey I collected this year, so I guess you could say that I’m appreciative.

When that look of pain crossed my face, Deb asked me a simple quesion: Why is it that you keep bees? Which made me think for a while. It seems this answer should be simple. Or at least clear. And it’s not.

After much silence, I responded that I want a hobby that is both challenging and rewarding.

There. That’s my answer. So I guess I shouldn’t be entirely disappointed if I don’t harvest loads of honey each year…and in the long run, I’m not. I’m grateful that I’m up to my eyeballs in educating myself, in reading about bees, in thinking about bees, in planning ahead for next year, in developing a beekeeping philosophy, in spreading an interest in bees and beekeeping, in watching what blooms with a new eye, in paying closer attention to the weather, in thinking about the long-term consequences of chemicals in our lives, in aesthetics. Oh, Reader, you know I could go on and on.

Ten more reasons I want to keep bees:

  1. It’s not boring
  2. I want to give away honey
  3. I want my friends to learn more about bees
  4. Managing hives intellectually challenges me
  5. Beekeeping is an art
  6. Most of the time, there is no right or wrong way
  7. After all the reading and thinking and talking and experimenting, in the end, I have to go with my gut
  8. Managing hives demands innovation, which is something I  need to practice…I’m not entirely comfortable with it.
  9. I’m going to make some TwoHoneys T-shirts. They’ll be very cool
  10. Want one?

But, honestly, I’m still amazingly disappointed to have such a small crop of honey this year.

On Second Thought

You know, I’ve been thinking. I think I’d better stick with beekeepers who share my newly emerging philosophy of natural beekeeping: chemical-free hives, foundationless frames, small-cell comb, etc.

Then again, if I don’t work with beekeepers who subscribe to other philosophies, how can I hope to spread what I’m learning about natural beekeeping?  I don’t want to come off as an elitist know-it-all. And I’m sure I can learn a lot from experienced beekeepers of all philosophies.

But this fellow I mentioned in an earlier post greeted me by immediately telling me all about the chemicals with which to treat the hives at what time of the year. That’s not at all the way I want to go.  It doesn’t sound like fun. I want keeping bees to be a fun and innovative and creative and aesthetically pleasing lifestyle.