Off to Massachusetts to Learn a Few Things

This morning I’m off to the Northeast Treatment Free Beekeeping conference. (I wonder if those people in charge realize that “Treatment-Free Beekeeping” requires a hyphen because there isn’t one in their title. You can’t just throw a bunch of words together and have it make sense…unless you’re me).

I don’t know if I should pack my hat and veil and my bee-working clothes. I did pack them, but it sure would have saved some room if I’d left them out. Next year, if I go back, I’ll have a better feel for things. I’m not taking my pith helmet (which I love)…just a regular hat to keep the veil out of my face.

And apparently we move to the campfire for evening things. I’m not taking my camp chair. That would be overkill, I think…don’t you? I’ll just have to lug one out from the conference center. Or sit on a log. Which is very uncomfortable.

I’ll also take my old jean jacket. I can’t remember a trip when I haven’t taken that jacket. You see it in all the pictures.

So, I guess the next time we visit, I’ll be in Massachusetts (which is not easy to spell, but I hate the MA and Mass. abbreviations of it).

That's What Friends Are For

Jim’s bees made him some beautiful honey this year, and yesterday he made a little party out of harvesting it.

I helped pull honey from the supers…it was only around 96 degrees out there! Actually, the fact that the honey was so danged warm made it easier to extract (and, oh my gosh…you should taste warm honey straight from the hive. To. Die. For).

Jim's first frame of honey, 2010
Bees swirling as Jim pulls honey supers

Then we picked up Christy and all her harvesting equipment. Christy lives and keeps her hive about two blocks away from Jim…she inherited and then refurbished an extractor made in the 1800s. In the 1800s, lids for extractors must have been considered sissified, so we ended up covered in a little glorious mist of honey.

Jim set up his honey shop in his basement laundry room. First, Jim decapped the honey by either scraping or by using a hot decapping knife. I prefer the scraper…it’s simpler, and when it comes to bees, I like it simple.

Jim scraping his first frame of honey, 2010

We all took our turns doing all the jobs. Here, Christy takes the first turns of her ancient-but-perfectly-workable extractor.

Christy at the helm of her ancient extractor

Jim and Jennifer invited other friends over, too. And Jennifer made BLTs. I mean, how absolutely wonderful is a house filled with friends and with the smells of both warm honey and BLTs?—Heaven.

Current and future beekeepers share the love

When Jonathan said he wanted to take his turn with the extractor, Jim beamed (that’s funny!)…he said he’d dreamed of this day. Thanks for sharing the dream, Jim.

Jonathan and Jim

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)

Tricky Box and Frame Configurations

Those bees are bearding like crazy. Which means they are hot and crowded. But they won’t move up into the new supers I’ve added in order to give them some extra room. And yesterday I found swarm cells in Tomboys again. Shit.

I would normally add an empty box below one of the brood boxes in each colony, but I’m trying to transition from using 10-frame deep boxes to 8-frame medium boxes…I won’t go into it here because it’s so danged confusing, but this translates into some tricky box and frame configurations.

Yesterday the light came on in my brain about this. Of course, the light went on about two hours after I’d inspected the bees…which means I get to go out there and do it again today.

Here’s my plan: I stacked together two shallow supers (to form one box) and filled them with 10 medium, foundationless frames. Today, I’ll insert the two-shallow unit between the deep brood boxes in Girls of Summer. This way, they’ll have room to work and frames on which to draw comb in which the queen can lay eggs. AND, because these are medium depth frames, once they’re drawn, I can eventually move them into my 8-frame medium boxes.

I hope this works. I’m proud of myself for thinking outside of the box about this stuff.

Yes, the bees will most likely build some funky comb in the gap that shouldn’t be there…between the bottom of the frames in the two-shallow box and the top of the deep brood box. But I guess I can cut that excess comb off and tie it into it’s own frame later. Which means that I’ll get a lot of bang for my buck if they draw comb below these new frames.

I’ll need to move some already filled deep frames containing brood into the two-shallow box in order to encourage the bees to move up. This interspersing of differently sized frames is going to make for a very very interesting situation when I dig in there next spring.

I have two concerns: first, that they won’t draw any comb whatsoever and that they’ll still feel crowded; and second, that I’ll forget that I experimented this way and I’ll have a real mess on my hands when I unsuspectingly discover the interspersed medium and deep frames and the medium frames with that huge gap beneath them.

One reason I’m posting some of this dull information is so I can refer back to them later…so I’m not surprised (more than usual) during my inspections—or, if I am surprised, I can refer to these posts and see what on earth I was thinking.

I TRIED to take pictures for you yesterday, but that dang iPhone just will not respond to my gloved fingers. I got the phone all gooped up with propolis before I decided I just couldn’t spend the time taking the pictures for you. Sorry. I have to work at a better system and use another camera.

Deb's swollen hand (she doesn't usually wear a ring on her pinky!)

A Bee Got Her

Deb got stung by one of her uncle Doyle’s bees.

We spent a couple of days on the farm in Waco, Kentucky; and when we visited with her uncle Doyle, we all went out to look at his bees. He has only one hive now, but it’s stacked with six honey supers…it’s tall, and you can’t believe my envy.

The bees sort of gave us a warning that we were too close, so we moved back a little bit. But then Deb got stung. And while her uncle Doyle looked through his pocket for his knife with which to scrape the stinger out, Deb pulled it out. I think that’s why she swelled so badly.

Here’s the rule of thumb: When you get stung, don’t pull the stinger out…scrape it off. When you pull a stinger from your skin, you milk MORE venom into your bloodstream. That whole stinger is loaded with bee venom and it’s designed to pulsate poison long after the bee is gone…if you can keep your wits about you, try to grab either a pocket knife, or a hive tool, or a credit card, or something with a sharp edge to it…a good fingernail will do. Then scrape the stinger off where it enters your skin. This way, the venom stays in the stinger and not in you.

Deb will not be golfing today—her hand won’t grip the club. And after icing it all the way home and taking two Aleve, a couple of Benadryl, and some Tagamet (all antihistamines of sorts) she may not wake up today, either.

Deb's swollen hand (she doesn't usually wear a ring on her pinky!)
Deb's swollen hand (she doesn't usually wear that ring on her pinky!)

My First Split

I discovered a couple of swarm cells in Tomboys before I left for Florida last week. I thought for sure Tomboys would swarm before I returned, and they may have…hard to tell.

Today the swarm cells were still there, so in order to keep the bees from swarming and to take advantage of the new queen cells, I used the swarm cells from Tomboys to make a split and create a new hive.

(I KNOW…I should have taken more pictures, but here’s the problem: My iPhone operates by touch, and my gloves aren’t exactly like skin, so in order to use the iPhone for pictures, I have to take off my glove, take the picture, put the glove back on, etc. Time consuming and awkward.)

Anyway, I took Michael Bush’s advice from I stacked two medium boxes together; in the center of the top box, I put 4 deep frames (one containing the swarm cells [these will supply the queen], one containing honey [this will supply food until there are active foragers] two containing brood [these will build up the colony with workers]; I filled the remainder of the boxes with empty, medium-depth, foundationless frames. The bees will certainly build some funky comb beneath the deep frames because there’s so much empty space there, but I can clean that mess up later.

I scooted Tomboys over a little bit, and I placed the new, as-yet-unnamed hive facing the entrance of where Tomboys previously sat. The foragers who left Tomboys this morning (before the move) should be confused as to which hive they belong when they return—50% should enter the new hive and build up the population there; 50% of them should head back into their Tomboys home. I’ll to reverse the two hives in 7 days to balance it all out.

I don’t know if I should name the new hive yet or not. This thing feels quite experimental, so I don’t want to pin any hopes on its survival.

Here’s what the set up looks like now:

On another note: Girls of Summer are building great comb on their new foundationless frames. Neither Amazons nor Tomboys are doing a thing with theirs yet…but I think each of those hives is trying to build up post swarming, so they aren’t drawing any comb whatsoever.

Swarm Cells Every Darn Time I Turn Around

Gosh darn crazy bees are driving me nuts.

I decided to begin my transition from 10-frame deep and shallow boxes to all 8-frame mediums, and I began the process today. I added a new smaller box to each of my three hives. Now they look a little bit lopsided and goofy, but transitions are tough, I tell you.

Anyway, as I was checking things out in the hives, I discovered a number of queen cells in Tomboys (yes, I should have taken a picture for you, but I forgot again). Crap. Which means I need to make a split of that hive or risk losing half its bees to the woods. But I’ve never split a hive before. I swear, I always have to do these things before I’m prepared…I haven’t though this situation out yet. Oh well. What do I have to lose, Reader, but a bunch of bees?

I’d better do it tomorrow or risk their swarming while I’m out of town.

So, as I understand it, to make a split I need to separate my current two deep brood boxes and create two separate hives from them…one hive will contain the queen cells, and the other hive (hopefully) contains the current queen. If something should happen to the queen or the queen cells as I’m making this split, the bees will probably rear another queen…so long as there are eggs and/or uncapped larvae in some of the frames.

I guess that’s my job for tomorrow. Split Tomboys into two hives and add another 8-frame medium super to one of the newly created colonies so they have room to grow. Before I know it, I’m gonna have yard full of beehives. Deb’s gonna kill me. She’s already very very worried about driving to the farm with one or two bee colonies in the back of the car.

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.

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?