The Bad News

I have good news, and I have bad news, Reader. Let’s go with the bad news first and get it over with. It’s not the worst news in the world, and we all sort of knew it was coming anyway. And better that it came early rather than late. Everyone said it would happen, and they are 100% correct.

First and worst bad news: The August Boatwright hive—the bees we collected from the tree—is a goner. I’m gonna recycle the comb, and I’m gonna recycle the wonderful colony name, but as of yesterday, the bee-tree colony is a thing of the past. But it was a wonderful experience, wasn’t it?

I inspected all the hives yesterday, and when I got to the August Boatwright colony, I discovered no eggs, no brood, no queen, no stores, no pollen, and only a very very few bees. And the comb I collected from the tree was quickly filling with wax moths…it’s like peering into a home that’s been vacated…you know how the thing goes to pot right off the bat without people to care for it…how grass grows where it isn’t welcomed, etc. I’ll go into the reasons for this some other time…for now, all you really need to know is that I dismantled their hive, and I scooted another colony over near the spot previously occupied by the tree bees so the returning bee-tree foragers (if there were any) had a place to call home when they returned.

The second other bad news (which isn’t too bad…see how things are already looking up?): The little swarm I spent an afternoon capturing from our tree last Tuesday absconded. That means that every single one of them flew the coop. They’ve sought greener pastures. I hadn’t yet grown to love these bees. I hadn’t set them on their permanent site. I hadn’t named them. I hadn’t even peeked into their box to see how they were doing. But with no drawn comb and no food and nothing to make the place feel lovely, they left. I would have made it wonderful for them, Reader, but I don’t have any more comb to give them. All my other hives need everything I’ve got, and that late-season swarm had little chance of survival to begin with.

So, that’s all my bad news. Two late-seasoned bee experiences are a bust. I do feel awful about the tree bees. The triple traumas were just tooo much for them: their removal from the tree and their relocation; their getting dumped on the ground when I accidentally turned their box upside down (still cringing when I think of it); and their being robbed of all their nectar and sugar water by other bees who sensed their weakened state.

Tomorrow…I report better news (not earth shattering, just better).

Wax moths on comb collected from the bee tree
Wax moths on comb collected from the bee tree
Wax-moth larva weaving through the comb cells
Wax-moth larva weaving through the comb cells

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.

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.

Meet Some Treatment-Free Beekeepers

Sometime during the day yesterday, I got bored. Maybe because 13 hours of anything just wears me out…I’ve been slipping away from the conference. I slip out of the room and outside to the sun. I take long walks in the woods. I slip into the car and drive to the hotel for a nap. I slip back into the room but feel as if I’ve not missed much.

I do like these people, but as you know, Reader, I get tired of all people…even those I like.

I like this person a lot. She’s smart and strong and riles people up—government people…scientists…that kind of people.

Dee Lusby, Arizona commercial, treatment-free beekeeper and rabbel rouser.
Dee Lusby, Arizona commercial, treatment-free beekeeper and rabbel rouser.

And Kirk Webster is one of the most gentle, thoughtful, and understatedly intelligent people I’ve met in a long long time. I sort of want to be like him.

Kirk Webster, Commercial beekeeper from Vermont's Champlain Valley
Kirk Webster, Commercial beekeeper from Vermont's Champlain Valley

Sam Comfort is “living the dream.” Words hardly describe him. Once I get to know him better, I’ll tell you more about him. You’ll like him.

Sam Comfort, barefoot beekeeper who marches to the beat of a different drummer
Sam Comfort, barefoot beekeeper who marches to the beat of a different drummer

This is a home-fashioned top-bar hive. I think I’ll make one over the winter. You can buy them commercially made, but they won’t look this cool.

One of Sam Comfort's home-built top-bar hives
One of Sam Comfort's home-built top-bar hives

Dean Stiglitz blows me away. I think he’s simply brilliant. I could listen to him teach all day long without slipping out for a break.

Dean Stiglitz, co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping, commercial treatment-free beekeeper, and a most-natural teacher
Dean Stiglitz, co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Beekeeping, commercial treatment-free beekeeper, and a most-natural teacher

Beekeeping By the Gut

I’ve found my people. (I found my people after getting pretty crazily lost in Boston. I must have passed Fenway Park 3 or 4 times. I swear to you…I could smell the hot dogs before I spotted Fenway. No lie.)

Eventually I got back on track and made it to Leominster, Massachusetts in time for the first session of the 2010 Treatment-Free Beekeeping Conference. I alway anticipate feeling bored or disconnected at these kinds of get togethers, and I was completely prepared to feel that way here. But from the get go, I felt at ease and I’ve made friends with whom I’m already comfortable.

I’d say there are about 75-100 people here…which isn’t many by most conference standards, but it’s a healthy number when you consider that these folks are keeping their bees treatment free. Which—and I cannot impress this upon you enough, Reader—is RARE. The bees that make the honey that most of us eat and think of as “natural” have been treated with some pretty powerful and pretty nasty shit. And it’s coming back to haunt us. The people here are here to stop the madness.

One speaker last night off-handedly began talking about reading the bees…how one learns to watch the bees’ flight and listen to their music or their grumblings and to smell the different smells we smell from their hives and to feel their different vibrations. And he spoke so poetically that I got choked up.

Anyway, this morning I want to tell you that I’m not lonely and I’m not bored and I like these folk. They’re odd. And strong. And vocal. And smart. And nice. And friendly. And generally more gracious and open minded than I am. And I intend to shut up and listen and learn.

More Space Has Stopped the Bearding


Yesterday I inserted a box I fashioned from two shallows between my two brood boxes in Girls of Summer. They’re the most robust of our colonies, and they’ve been mighty crowded and hot and bearding like crazy.

So, I pulled deep frames of brood up from the bottom box and into the center of the new box; I interspersed medium, undrawn foundationless frames among all the fully drawn comb in the bottom two boxes. Then, I restacked them. This should give them the room they need to operate.

Yep, I’ve got a real mishmash of frames going on in there now, and there’s quite a bit of empty space that the bees will surely fill up with wild comb, but I guess I can figure out how to deal with all of it later.

My goals:

  1. Keep these bees from swarming before winter.
  2. Keep these bees alive over the winter.
  3. Switch from deep boxes to medium-depth boxes.
  4. Harvest some honey next year.
  5. And do all of this without introducing any chemicals.

So, now that I know this addition of space and new frames has stopped the bearding in Girls of Summer, I need to do the same thing for Amazons and Tomboys. Which means I’ve got to head down into the basement and make 20 frames today.

Here are some pictures. They don’t show you much other than what it looks like to rearrange a bee colony.

Two shallow boxes fashioned with medium-depth, foundationless frames---to be used as a single box.
Rearranging a bee colony. (The lighter colored frames are foundationless and are interspersed among frames already drawn)
Rebuilt Girls of Summer (including the two-shallow box in the center)

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.

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?