Honeybees as Housemates

I receive a lot of calls for bee removals at this time of year.

This is a lousy time of year to remove honeybees, and, believe me, it’s a tough challenge to encourage homeowners to live throughout the winter with their hive of bees as housemates.

Asking some people to live with their honeybees is sort of like asking them to live with their cancer for a little while longer (yes, I know this analogy falls short because cancer is serious business and honeybees are simply a nuisance, but go with me on this one).

Usually, the bees have been living undetected in the home for some time. So, it’s not as if this is something that needs to be addressed immediately. For some reason, however, simply KNOWING about the bees’ presence seems to instill a sense of urgency in their removal.

However, if we can keep our wits about us, we will make better decisions…decisions based on information and made with a cool head.

In just a few weeks, the honeybees in Ohio will cluster. They’ll be quiet. They’ll stop flying around the doorframe or the windowsill or from the attic where they’ve previously been so active. They will simply live out their winter in a quiet ball of sweet humming. Over the winter, the population of the hive will slowly decrease. And that great store of honey they’ve collected all summer will dwindle as the colony slowly consumes it.

If we were to remove the bees right now, the bees could not survive—removals are hard on the bees, and they need some nurturing from their beekeeper to recover from it…and this late in the season, they don’t have time to reestablish themselves before winter hits. So, even though we can rid the house of bees, we would lose the bees entirely. And my priority is to establish a viable hive from whatever bees I remove.

If I can convince the homeowner to wait until late March (or after) to part company with their bees, we would find three things beneficial to a successful removal:

  1. There are far fewer bees to remove because the hive population dwindles over the winter (this also translates into less expense for the homeowner).
  2. There is far less honey to deal with because the colony eats through the stored honey over the winter. Therefore, there’s far less mess to clean up from the space in which the colony overwintered (this also translates into less expense for the removal). It also means far less honey remains behind to draw ants, mice, and other pests which the homeowner surely wants to avoid.
  3. Most importantly, if we remove the bees and all their honeycomb in the spring, the hive stands every chance to recover and thrive and pollinate and produce local honey (a portion of which is usually gifted back to the homeowner). In the spring, we would expect a healthy, vibrant hive to carry on once it’s re-hived and re-established in a bee yard where it can forage and flourish. Doesn’t that make you happy, Reader?
I sort of like the thought of overwintering a hive of humming honeybees in the warm walls of my home—a dog, a cat, some mice, a few spiders, and a hive of honeybees. It all adds heart.




The Sweetest Sound

It’s March, but it’s still cold. Too cold to open the hive boxes and check on the bees. But I sort of did it anyway. I did it because on Sunday I discovered that my friend Jim lost his second hive. All dead. And then yesterday I discovered that my friend and bee mentor Chris lost all five of his hives this year. So, I braced myself for what I thought was the inevitable and lifted the lid of my Amazon girls.

I didn’t have to do much…I simply lifted the lid…and when I began to lift the inner cover, I heard them—loud buzzing. I put my ear right to the inner cover, and—sure enough—they’re still alive in there. I closed them back up as quickly as I could and practically danced my way back into the house.

On Saturday, we’re supposed to have temperatures in the 50s. Which means I’ll get to open the boxes and feed the bees. Hang on girls.


Even with the one hive of bees dead, I’m so so eager to get started with this stuff again. I’ve now got a basement brimming with pretty brood boxes, supers, bottom boards, inner covers, outer covers, feeders…and there’s nothing I can do with any of it until spring…meaning March or April. Okay…I need to settle down a bit because it’s only January.

But it’s the end of January. Which means it’s almost February. Which means my one sweet Amazon queen will begin laying her eggs. Which means there will then be new bees. Which means the possibility of swarming. YIPPEE.

I mean, really, it was quite affirming to see those girls so busy in that box yesterday. It warmed my heart. I want a yard and a garden full of them.

I like the guy in this video. He’s one of those hearty Minnesotans (if you’ve never been to Minnesota, trust me…GO!). I like the way his bee yard looks. I like the way he’s set up his hives (mine aren’t set up this way, but I might do it in the future). I like his attitude. Maybe I’ll go to Minnesota to meet him.


A Busy Bee is a Happy Bee

Don’t think the idea of some dead bees can stop me. Yesterday, I called Walter Kelley and ordered the supplies I need to complete my third hive. (I like the people on the phone at Walter Kelley’s; I always pepper them with a million questions, which they humor me to answer in that unhurried Kentucky drawl. And everyone I’ve ever spoken with over there keeps bees).

I’ve decided to plow ahead by adding another colony. Yes, I made some mistakes this year, but how else am I supposed to learn anything, Reader? I was pretty much on my own figuring this stuff out at first, but now I’ve discovered that two of my friends from church keep bees. (Have I told you what a cool church I belong to? I don’t want you thinking these people I’m talking about are typically churchy. They rock. And they’re smart!)

Anyway, these two friends are a year ahead of me with the bees; they live near one another (and not far from me), and they worked a bit together at this stuff last year. Once I discovered they were into it, I latched on to them like crazy…told them they’d be seeing me a lot in the coming years. Good thing I like them both so much.

Unfortunately, Jim’s bees died. But Christy’s are still going strong. Christy has chosen to go the organic route…no chemicals. I’m with her from here on out.

So, today or tomorrow I’ll be getting a big package from Walter Kelley, and then I’ll head down to the basement with my little hammer and those little nails and spend some otherwise cold and dreary January hours putting all the boxes and the little frames with their sweet-smelling beeswax foundations together.

And soon, if I keep adding colonies to our backyard, it’ll start to look like this! (I love this because you can hear the bees sort of getting under the camera guy’s skin…literally.)


Anybody Home?

Just so you know, it never got sunny and it never got warm yesterday. But after my freezing and gray bike ride, I leaned my ear against the weak-hive box and tapped anyway. Nothing. So, I leaned my ear against the swarm-hive box and I tapped there, too, just to have some sound to compare it to…because I’m pretty sure there are live and active bees in the swarm colony. Nothing. I rapped louder on the weak colony. Nothing. Harder on the swarm box. Nothing. Nothing and nothing and nothing. No buzzing. And no more knowledge today than yesterday other than to say that I don’t think you can make the bees buzz when they’re freezing cold.

Everything Feels January

This blog looks bland. Flat. Blah. We need to snazz it up, don’t you think?

But you know, most things look sort of blah in January. The hive boxes out back look downright depressing all dressed in black.

I planted hundreds of daffodils on the bees’ hillside in October and November, and I’m itching to see it burst out in color in a couple of months.

Today, if the sun comes out and hits the hive boxes, I plan to tap on the side of the box containing the weaker colony (if I named each of the colonies, writing about them would be easier). I hope I hear buzzing, but I’m thinking they’re dead. Why? Because there is no activity at their site. The ground outside their hive box is not littered with dead bees that have been removed by the living. Last week I thought the pile of bee corpses outside the swarm-hive colony was a sad sign; now that I’ve learned more, the absence of those corpses at the weaker hive worries me.

Cleansing Flights. Ahhhh.

I just mailed my $35.00 check for the March 27th Beekeeping School. I’m stoked about it. And I just learned that the queen begins laying her eggs again in February. Reader, have you noticed yet that it’s almost February?! The days are lighter longer…I noticed that these past few days…and this week we’re supposed to have some mighty nice temperatures in the 40s and 50s. Which means the bees will be taking what are called “cleansing flights.”

During the winter when the weather is sunny and warm, the bees leave the hive to cleanse themselves…which means they fly away and relieve themselves outside. Bees will not—I repeat, not—relieve themselves in the hive. They will hold it for weeks or months at a time. They will only go outside. And then the snow gets little yellow dots all around the hive boxes.

Doesn’t knowing that just make you love them even more?

Getting Out: Hive Fever

Yesterday I hiked up to look at the bees in the snow. It was in the late afternoon when the winter light finally hits the hive boxes, and when I stooped to peek in the entrance a little bee flew out. I was so happy to see her! She flew out into the woods, and I can’t for the life of me figure out what she’s looking for out there. There is nothing to eat and everything is covered in snow. Maybe she just had cabin fever and needed some space…I can relate to that…and it was a lovely sunny afternoon.

A few more bees were moving around at the bottom of the hive, but most of the bees littering the bottom were dead. This shouldn’t be surprising…lots of them die off over the winter…but it was sort of sad to see.

Two Hives and One Entrance Reducer

So, yesterday I slogged up to the two snow-dusted hives with my one-and-only entrance reducer. And then I stood there. One entrance reducer and two hives poses one of those philosophical moments: To which hive do I choose to give the advantage of warmth?

The hive we call the “swarm hive” is the stronger of the two, and I expect it to winter better than the hive we received through the mail. But this is the first year at this location for each colony, and I don’t think either of them stored enough honey to make for an easy winter. So, do I focus energies on the stronger hive or do I give the leg up to the weaker one?

I’m pretty sure that folks who know would suggest sticking with the stronger hive to ensure successful cold months for them. But I placed the entrance reducer on the weaker hive. I think the swarm hive has the gumption to handle the elements…at least until I can get a second entrance reducer over here. But I feel as if the weaker colony needs all the help it can get, so it now sports a brand new and smaller door.