The Bee Tree Adventure: Part One

Where on earth to begin with this one? Seriously…I’m sitting here wondering how to tell you about the day yesterday.

We now have a new colony of bees in the TwoHoneys apiary: We call it August Boatwright, after the Queen Latifah character in the Secret Life of Bees. It is August, after all, right? And all these hives are named for strong women…Amazons, Tomboys, Girls of Summer, and now…August Boatwright.(We still haven’t officially named the split hive…I don’t know why I’ve hesitated at that one, but I have.)

Okay, I think I’ll tell you about the bee tree in stages…how would that work? That way, you won’t get bored and you’ll come back here for your update for a few days. Good idea. That’s what we’ll do.

So, Dave and Kyle met me at the tree at about 8:30 AM.

David Shaw and Kyle
David Shaw and Kyle

Then, just as we were beginning to trim the tree back in order to cut it down, the landowner roared up in his pick-up truck and threw a fit. Apparently there had been a bit of miscommunication between him and the folks who hired us to do this job…and I must say that being the neighbor of a big company with a big building would certainly come with big challenges. However, in the end, the guy was a pussycat. His anger soon subsided, and we worked out a little plan for proceeding. We even worked out the possibility of keeping some hives on his farm. See what a pussycat?


He enjoyed us so much that he came back later and brought his buddy, and they watched us work for a while.

Pussycat 1 and Pussycat 2
Pussycat 1 and Pussycat 2

Dotting the I's and Crossing the T's

We’re sort of waiting in limbo here about removing the bees from their tree.

Our wonderful arborist, David Shaw (whom I adore), is busy securing permission to access the tree via property owned by whoever owns the big field next to the tree. We’ll need to access the tree via this big field; and then, the tree needs to fall into the field, and then we’ll need to work on the tree in the field…we’re just not yet entirely sure who owns the all-important field, and we’re not sure we’ll get their permission to drive all that equipment in there. So, we’re on hold.

Dave-the-arborist emailed me yesterday to say that he’s already borrowed a bee suit from his beekeeping neighbor…and, to top it off, his neighbor also lent Dave a bee vac—it’s like a shop vac but with less power…so it’s more gentle…it vaccuums the bees out of tight spaces without killing them. Well, sure, some of them die, but it’s designed to be less traumatic on the bees, and it’s a real score for us.

However, I’m pretty sure the bee-tree adventure may not occur as we had hoped tomorrow. It all sort of depends on securing permission to run a few trucks through someone else’s property…we can’t just go in there as if we own the place.

Oh, but I ordered and finally received that awesome-looking bee suit from Golden Bee. It’s got that zippered-on veil and hood combo so bees can’t visit me inside my veil; and though it’s a still a little blindingly white…like new tennis shoes…I have to say I look pretty great in it.

Let the Bees Lead You

Crap. Yesterday I dropped my brand new iPhone and busted the screen. Not to worry…the wonderful folks at the Apple store replaced it right away with no questions asked. (But if you’ve got the iPhone 4, beware: That danged screen will crack at the drop of a hat. I’m thinking of getting a case for it.)

Anyway, I tell you this because I took pictures as I fed the bees yesterday…but I hadn’t yet backed up the iPhone (including those pictures) before Apple replaced it, so I lost yesterday’s photos.

ALSO, Deb and I drove out to the bee tree yesterday and met the arborist I’d lined up for the job. He was already on site when we arrived…and he’d checked out the tree by the time we got there. Once you know the vicinity of the tree, the bees will simply lead you to it. We really like our guy because he’s sort of embraced this adventure. He’s a softspoken Vietnam vet with a really calm presence about him. Cool that he got there early, and cool that he rode his Triumph motorcycle.

If this thing all goes down (literally) as we expect at the end of this week, you’ll see a lot of pictures of David Shaw, Tree Surgeon. And if you live in Cincinnati, call him for an estimate on your tree work. You’ll really like him.

My New Hat

Do you like my new hat and veil combination? I do. But I’m still not sure I’m tying the veil correctly, and bees occasionally visit me on the inside of it. It’s always the littlest things that give me fits.

Sometimes I Cuss

I think I’m probably a shitty beekeeper.

I watch videos of others working their bees, and they look so calm and confident. I’m sure a video of me would show me standing there swatting at bees and looking confused.

And inevitably I get a darn bee inside my veil. Trying to figure out which side of the veil the bee is on takes a minute…and some concentration—I go a little cross eyed doing it; but once you realize you’re seeing the top of the bee’s back rather than the bee’s feet when it’s latched onto the netting, you’ve got to take a little action. Or not. In the past, I’ve removed my veil only to get more bees in the hair. Yesterday, I kept the veil on and squished the bee inside the veil. It was at that moment that my self-esteem as a beekeeper sunk.

Many experienced beekeepers work their bees with no gloves, with no veil, and with little protective clothing. I don’t know if I’ll ever be comfortable doing that. I hope it happens. Those people look like they’re having more fun than I am. Fuckers.

This Bee-Tree Thing Is Following Me Around

You know I went to check out the bee tree, right? Well, for some reason, I thought I was heading to some guy’s house. I thought he had a tree on his property near some field he’d mown down to serve as a picnic area he’d planned on renting out.

Instead, I drove up to a HUGE company in Batavia. I was flabbergasted that I’d envisioned it so wrong. The chief engineer walks out to meet me and takes me back to the very very nice employee picnic area…off of which is a big old tree full of bees.

I told the guy that I couldn’t solve his problem unless they took the (almost dead) tree down…it’s dropping big branches around the picnic area anyway. So, the guy says, “Well, are you willing to get with an arborist and work up a proposal to take the tree down and remove the bees?” I thought about it for a minute. I realized that this thing just keeps opening up more opportunities for me, so I said, “Sure.” And now I’ve got a project.

My beekeeping friends say that this is a bad time to be taking bees from a tree. But this guy wants these bees gone right now…his employees can’t really enjoy their picnic area with all the bees visiting their soda cans and sandwiches.

I could try to talk him into doing all of this in the spring; then again, what do I have to lose by trying my hand at it now? Yes, I could lose the bees. But I lose bees anyway.

Diagram of How to Remove Bees from a Tree or a Structure

Reasons to Let the Bee Tree Be

Good morning, Reader. Amazing that a week can fly by as this one has.

Today I go to look at the bees in the tree. However, I’ve decided not to attempt removing them…unless I can convince the guy who owns it to cut the tree down. He says it’s pretty much dead anyway, and without access to the comb and queen and eggs and larvae, there’s little reason for me to attempt to collect the bees. Why? Well, all I would have at the end of the process is a single generation of bees.

Without the queen I have no egg layer, so the hive can’t propagate. Even if I couldn’t get to the queen for some reason, I’d like to get my hands on the comb because the comb contains all the eggs and larvae with which the bees could raise a new queen. But without access to the eggs or larvae (which is all in the comb, which is all inaccessible in the tree), the other bees have nothing with which to make a new queen, and they will all die out in a couple of months.

I could use the single generation of bees if I needed workers to beef up one of my already-existing weak colonies (and I don’t have any weak colonies…small, yes…weak, no), but in this current dearth there’s nothing for worker bees to do…no foraging, no comb building, etc. They’re all washboarding on the hives right now, and they only washboard when there’s no work to do. Additional workers would simply suck up the nectar and the honey from the hive, and I need that for the bees already living there.

So, if my goal is to build up a weak colony of my own, then collecting the bees from the tree works fine. But I don’t want to do that at this time of year.

All this thinking is good exercise.

Here’s a picture from The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture. If I wanted to collect only the bees and not the queen or the comb or the eggs or the larvae from either a tree or a structure, this is how I’d rig it up.

Diagram of How to Remove Bees from a Tree or a Structure

I Can Learn, Can't I?

Every day lately, Reader, I get a call about bees. People call me to say they have a swarm of bees in their attic or in their doorframe or in a tree trunk.

They don’t really mean “a swarm.” A swarm is a mass of bees that hasn’t yet found its next home. The people who call me mean that they have a lot of bees flying around…a “swarm” is a technical term, but these folks are using it as a description of many bees flying. There’s a difference. I totally get the mixup and am happy to decipher the terms. What my callers want is someone to cut or trap the bees out of their home or tree.

At first I responded that I don’t do cut outs. I’ll collect swarms, but I’m not in the business of tearing homes and buildings apart to get the bees out. But the calls persist. So now I’m thinking that maybe I should try collecting those bees happily living in people’s homes or in other buildings. Why not? So I don’t have a good saw. Or a great ladder. So I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. I can learn, can’t I?

Don’t worry, Reader, I’ll start small. I’ll take the advice of those nice people on and start with easy jobs…out buildings…waist-high things…etc.

Yesterday I received a call about bees in a tree. I called my bee buddy, Chris, and he’s game to go see it with me. The guy who owns the tree sent me this picture from his phone.

Bee Tree
Bee Tree

I mean, sometimes I start thinking that my days are getting routine…that I’m getting old and that my life is growing dull. Yes, sometimes I think that way. And then these calls start coming in, and I think…Hey! Why not jump in and try some new things that’ll add some spice? So tomorrow I’m going to get Chris, and we’re heading out to see if we can’t get us some bees from this tree. What the hell.

Feed the Bees

I began feeding the bees yesterday.

After months of worrying about it, I decided to post my concerns on and run it by the nice treatment-free beekeepers there. To a person, they responded that if the bees haven’t built up ample stores for winter, then I should feed.

Of course, there’s also an understanding that I won’t harvest honey from the bees only to turn around and feed them. I need to leave enough honey in the hive to allow their winter survival—which requires about 60 pounds of honey per hive.

And, you know, when you come right down to it, there isn’t really anything “natural” about keeping bees. So, if I’m gonna do all this beekeeping stuff like manipulating frames, making splits, harvesting honey, etc., then I have to come to terms with the responsibilities I accept as a result. If I were to keep livestock, I’d have to feed livestock. That’s all there is to it. When new bees arrive at my house in something as unnatural as screened packages, I have to feed them until they get on their feet.

Interestingly, when there’s a nectar flow (in spring and fall) and nectar is available to them, the bees won’t touch the sugar or sugar syrup. But when there’s a dearth, as there is here now, they suck it up like crazy.

I mixed 3 parts water to 5 parts sugar to make a syrup. I boiled the water, let it cool just a little bit, added sugar, stirred, let it cool.

I poured the syrup into Ziplock bags and zipped them up. Then I placed the baggies on top of the frames inside the hives…one baggie per hive…and, with a very sharp knife, I cut an X in the baggie. Amazingly, the syrup doesn’t completely run out.

I had to add an empty medium super to make room on top of each hive for the fattened baggie…but now I’ve got room to feed while keeping the hive closed to bees from neighboring colonies who may want to rob the syrup.

I’ll check today to see how much they eat. I can see already that I’m gonna have to run to Sam’s for huge bags of sugar…this may be another compromise…for years, I’ve sort of boycotted Sam’s and Walmart. And now I’m gonna have to boycott Target for their idiotic decision to back anti-immigration legislation in Arizona. But this has nothing to do with bees, so I’ll save it for another blog.

Here are pictures from the first feeding:

Extra medium-depth supers to use around the baggies filled with syrup.
Extra medium-depth supers to use around the baggies filled with syrup.
A bowl full of syrup-filled Ziplock baggies
A bowl full of syrup-filled Ziplock baggies
Bees feeding from the slit in the Ziplock bag
Bees feeding from the slit in the Ziplock bag
Gallon-sized Ziplock baggie of syrup atop frames
Gallon-sized Ziplock baggie of syrup atop frames

The Feeding Dilemma

Once again, it’s time to start worrying if the bees will live through the winter. It’s just the weirdest thing to begin planning so early for winter, but the bees do it. They probably don’t worry, though…they simply do what they can do and that’s that. Maybe they’re too busy to worry. Maybe I should get busier, too.

All of my hives are full of bees and are bursting with brood. Even the new little split is coming along nicely. But yesterday’s inspection showed that none of the colonies have much in the way of honey stores. I keep telling myself that we still have a few months of fall foliage and all those bees can probably collect enough nectar to convert to honey before super-cold weather.

I remain committed to not treating the bees. I guess that means that I’m not going to feed them either. I don’t know. I don’t want to coddle them, but I don’t want them to starve, either.